at·​tack | \ ə-ˈtak How to pronounce attack (audio) \
attacked; attacking; attacks

Definition of attack

 (Entry 1 of 3)

transitive verb

1 : to set upon or work against forcefully attack an enemy fortification
2 : to assail with unfriendly or bitter words a politician verbally attacked by critics
3 : to begin to affect or to act on injuriously plants attacked by aphids
4a : to set to work on attack a problem
b : to begin to eat (food) eagerly At the table he attacked his meal with such singleminded ferocity as to be, as Boswell put it, disgusting to those whose sensations were delicate.— Donald R. DeGlopper
5 chess : to threaten (a piece) with immediate capture

intransitive verb

: to make an attack They were unprepared when the enemy attacked.


plural attacks

Definition of attack (Entry 2 of 3)

1 : the act of attacking with physical force or unfriendly words : assault the victim of a knife attack a verbal attack
2 : a belligerent or antagonistic action launched an attack against his political opponents
3a : a fit of sickness especially : an active episode of a chronic or recurrent disease an attack of bronchitis
b : a period of being strongly affected by something (such as a desire or mood) an attack of the jitters
c : an aggressive attempt to take or extend a lead over others in a race (such as a bicycle race) … he crushed his rivals in the first mountain stages by going on relatively long solo attacks.— Samuel Abt
4a : an offensive or scoring action won the game with an 8-hit attack
b : offensive players or the positions taken up by them
5 : the setting to work on some undertaking made a new attack on the problem a new plan of attack
6 : the beginning of destructive action (as by a chemical agent)
7 music : the act or manner of beginning a musical tone or phrase
on the attack
: making an attack The soldiers were on the attack. often used in the phrase go on the attack with the meaning "to begin attacking" Last week he challenged Bradley to debate him and went on the attack, accusing his challenger of "disloyalty" to the party …— Matt Bai
under attack
: in the process of being attacked soldiers under attack a politician who is under attack from his opponents often used in the phrase come under attack with the meaning "to begin being attacked" a theory that has recent come under attack



Definition of attack (Entry 3 of 3)

1 : designed, planned, or used for carrying out a military attack an attack helicopter
2 : expressing or involving aggressively negative and harsh criticism of someone (such as a political opponent) attack ads Early in my magazine career, I at times participated in a form of attack journalism that today fills me with remorse—picking a target and sending out a reporter to bring back the scalp.— Daniel Okrent

Other Words from attack


attacker noun, plural attackers

Choose the Right Synonym for attack


attack, assail, assault, bombard, storm mean to make an onslaught upon. attack implies taking the initiative in a struggle. plan to attack the town at dawn assail implies attempting to break down resistance by repeated blows or shots. assailed the enemy with artillery fire assault suggests a direct attempt to overpower by suddenness and violence of onslaught. ommandos assaulted the building from all sides bombard applies to attacking with bombs or shells. bombarded the city nightly storm implies attempting to break into a defended position. preparing to storm the fortress

Examples of attack in a Sentence

Verb He attacked the guard with a knife. Troops attacked the fortress at dawn. The troops attacked at dawn. People are attacking the mayor for breaking campaign promises. The professor has been widely attacked for her position on the issue. Did you see the way the kids attacked that pizza? Noun The immune system is the body's defense against attack by germs. The spray protects plants from attacks by many common pests. The surprise attack came at dawn. There is a threat of nuclear attack. There have been many attacks against the professor for her position on the issue. The newspaper editorial is an attack on policy-makers. Adjective The bombers were in attack formation.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Verb That belief led some of Trump’s most ardent supporters — including some from Georgia — to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an effort to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s victory. David Wickert, ajc, 1 Jan. 2022 On Tuesday, the District of Columbia’s attorney general sued the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, alleging the far-right groups conspired to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. New York Times, 14 Dec. 2021 Strong waves could attack the bluffs on the south end of town, and the homes that sit on top could lose the ground beneath them, engineers concluded in the study. Alena Naiden, Anchorage Daily News, 12 Dec. 2021 Eventually, the considerable talent gap grew clearer, as did the way to attack on offense. Nick Moyle, San Antonio Express-News, 17 Nov. 2021 That systemic immune response includes fast-acting antibodies to attack the virus on sight. Erin Allday, San Francisco Chronicle, 31 Oct. 2021 But the Dolphins have history with Matt Skura, who is starting at left guard after spending training camp with the Dolphins, and should know how to attack the journeyman offensive guard with twists and stunts. Omar Kelly,, 2 Dec. 2021 Vaccines train the body’s immune defenses to target and attack these spikes. New York Times, 1 Dec. 2021 Gomez has been public about her battle with lupus, a disease that causes the body's immune system to attack its own organs and tissues, since being diagnosed in 2014 and undergoing chemotherapy to treat it in 2015. Carrie Wittmer, Glamour, 1 Dec. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Offensively, Oregon had by far its most productive rushing attack of the Mario Cristobal era, but also its fewest passing yards over the past four seasons. oregonlive, 11 Jan. 2022 Jordan has been identified as one of the lawmakers who sent a text message to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in the lead-up to the attack, which the committee has in its possession. Ryan Nobles, CNN, 10 Jan. 2022 Led by their league-leading rushing attack (160.4 yards/game), the Eagles seem to be peaking at the right time. Steve Gardner, USA TODAY, 9 Jan. 2022 His attack drew national attention as part of a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in New York and around the country. Washington Post, 8 Jan. 2022 One of the images that most stuck with me last year was a photo taken by Nishimura in the wake of the attack that shows a group of National Guard members asleep inside the U.S. Capitol, its forms both graceful and tragic. Los Angeles Times, 8 Jan. 2022 The attack, which is still being investigated, came amid a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes in the U.S. Sophie Reardon, CBS News, 8 Jan. 2022 From Florida, Trump revived his attack on the elections. Arkansas Online, 7 Jan. 2022 Carrillo telegraphed his attack in Boogaloo Facebook groups, which were allowed on the platform until a month after the attacks, and in private messages to Justus, according to a federal complaint. NBC News, 6 Jan. 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Many of the reactionary shifts in public opinion after 9/11 have reverted to pre-attack levels, according to fresh analysis by Pew Research Center. Philip Elliott, Time, 10 Sep. 2021 Then, with the click of a button, the original data can be immediately rolled back to its pre-attack state, essentially rendering ransomware threats impotent. Yuen Pin Yeap, Forbes, 3 Mar. 2021 Among its findings are that most attackers exhibit indicators of pre-attack behavior. Anthony Man,, 23 Feb. 2021 The Rapids were most successful in 2019 with a pressing and counter-attack style. Jake Shapiro, The Denver Post, 28 Feb. 2020 But matters weren’t helped by MacArthur’s post-attack grandstanding. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 2 June 2020 While there was clearly an undercurrent of resistance to the current administration in Washington, winners did not overtly attack President Trump. Jocelyn Noveck, The Christian Science Monitor, 11 June 2018 Then another idea: Attack forces of evil not persons doing evil. Annie Sweeney,, 25 May 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'attack.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of attack


circa 1576, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1


1655, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1686, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for attack

Verb, Noun, and Adjective

Middle French attaquer, from Old Italian *estaccare to attach, from stacca stake, of Germanic origin; akin to Old English staca

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Time Traveler for attack

Time Traveler

The first known use of attack was circa 1576

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Dictionary Entries Near attack

attachment plug



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Statistics for attack

Last Updated

13 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Attack.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for attack



English Language Learners Definition of attack

 (Entry 1 of 3)

: to act violently against (someone or something) : to try to hurt, injure, or destroy (something or someone)
: to criticize (someone or something) in a very harsh and severe way
: to begin to work on or deal with (something, such as a problem) in a determined and eager way



English Language Learners Definition of attack (Entry 2 of 3)

: a violent, harmful, or destructive act against someone or something
: harmful or destructive action against something by a disease, insect, chemical, etc.
: an attempt by a military force to defeat an enemy : a military offensive



English Language Learners Definition of attack (Entry 3 of 3)

: designed for or used in a military attack


at·​tack | \ ə-ˈtak How to pronounce attack (audio) \
attacked; attacking

Kids Definition of attack

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : to take strong action against : try to hurt, injure, or destroy Troops attacked the fortress at dawn.
2 : to use harsh words against : criticize harshly People attacked the plan as being too complicated.
3 : to begin to affect or to act upon harmfully A disease attacked our crops.
4 : to start to work on in a determined and eager way She attacked the problem.

Other Words from attack

attacker noun



Kids Definition of attack (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : a violent, harmful, or destructive act against someone or something a shark attack
2 : strong criticism a verbal attack
3 : the setting to work on some undertaking They made a new attack on the problem.
4 : a sudden short period of suffering from an illness or of being affected by a strong emotion an asthma attack an attack of nerves


transitive verb
at·​tack | \ ə-ˈtak How to pronounce attack (audio) \

Medical Definition of attack

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: to begin to affect or to act on injuriously tumors attacked the kidneys attacked by a fever



Medical Definition of attack (Entry 2 of 2)

: a fit of sickness especially : an active episode of a chronic or recurrent disease



Legal Definition of attack

: an attempt to prove something invalid or incorrect especially through judicial procedures made an attack on the will as not properly witnessed specifically : an attempt to have the judgment of a court corrected or overruled
collateral attack
: an attack on a judgment made during or by a proceeding brought for a different purpose — see also habeas corpus ad subjiciendum at habeas corpus
direct attack
: an attack on a judgment made in a proceeding (as an appeal) brought for the specific purpose of having the judgment corrected or overturned

Other Words from attack

attack verb

More from Merriam-Webster on attack

Nglish: Translation of attack for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of attack for Arabic Speakers


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