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

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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 Kondur’s Roma-rights organization had asked the police for protection, but according to Kondur, officers turned a blind eye when C14 returned the next morning to attack the remaining Roma with pepper spray. Aris Roussinos, Harpers Magazine, "The Armies of the Right," 5 Jan. 2021 With Wagner guarding Nance, the Wolverines were able to keep center Hunter Dickinson from spending too much time guarding on the perimeter or defending players who could attack off the dribble. Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press, "As Michigan basketball finds its stride, so does Franz Wagner," 5 Jan. 2021 What about standing up to a President, even one who likes to use Twitter to attack anyone who dares to speak out against him? Verne Kopytoff, Fortune, "CEOs found their voice in a year of upheaval," 16 Dec. 2020 Scott Patsko focuses on Chubb and Hunt and how the Browns should use them to attack the Titans. Scott Patsko, cleveland, "Diving into Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt on Gotta Watch The Tape – An Orange and Brown Talk Special Edition," 5 Dec. 2020 The Interior Ministry on Tuesday rejected 12 requests to hold rallies around the Parliament building amid concerns that extremist groups would attempt to use a protest to attack Parliament, according to the Associated Press. Tyler Van Dyke, Washington Examiner, "German officials ban anti-lockdown protests in Berlin," 17 Nov. 2020 That trip back in time nets intelligence needed to track Perseus, a Soviet mastermind who aims to use the bomb to attack the U.S. Mike Snider, USA TODAY, "'Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War' review: A spy game worthy of your time, regardless of your video game system," 13 Nov. 2020 The indictment said the suspects also wanted to use homemade bombs to attack law enforcement vehicles during the funeral procession. Julia Jones And Sara Sidner, CNN, "Lawyer for accused domestic terrorist says suspect was just 'playing army'," 26 Oct. 2020 Unlike the artist-activists who used hoaxes to reveal deeper truths about capitalist exploitation, these imposters use cloaking and pseudoanonymity to attack journalists, politicians and average users. Joan Donovan, Scientific American, "Trolling for Truth on Social Media," 12 Oct. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Wednesday’s violent attack on the U.S. Capitol was hard enough for adults to comprehend, as a mob egged on by President Trump breached the building in a bid to derail Congress’ certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Annie Vainshtein,, "How to talk to your kids about the U.S. Capitol riots," 7 Jan. 2021 However, my experience at Princeton University has taught me that the attack on free speech is hardly over. Adam Hoffman, National Review, "The New Strategy to Suppress Conservative Voices on Campus," 4 Jan. 2021 The rushing attack is just one part of the equation this time of year. Luke Johnson,, "The Saints rushing attack is peaking exactly when it's supposed to. 'We were all clicking'," 29 Dec. 2020 The attack was severe and the U.S. does not really know the depth of the damage yet. Elvan Katmer, Fox News, "Russian Cyberattack: It will take a long time to understand, perhaps years, experts say," 25 Dec. 2020 Hipps said the attack was in retaliation for giving an interview to the U.S. Marshals Service team, which was there investigating problems within the jail. Adam Ferrise, cleveland, "Cuyahoga County faces 27 lawsuits over jail misconduct in the wake of string of inmate deaths, have paid $1.35 million so far," 22 Dec. 2020 Yet the passing attack has been so inept that New England has gone three consecutive games with throwing for even 125 yards. Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY, "Opinion: Lamar Jackson is exactly why nobody wants to plays the Ravens in the AFC playoffs," 21 Dec. 2020 Even though the rushing attack was near-omnipotent, UAB still faced 18 third downs, converting eight times, and found success through the Tyler Johnston to Trea Shropshire connection. Evan Dudley, al, "Brown and Shropshire power UAB to 22-13 win over Marshall in C-USA title game," 19 Dec. 2020 But to call this incident a cyber attack would be off the mark. Erica Borghard, Wired, "Russia's Hack Wasn't Cyberwar. That Complicates US Strategy," 17 Dec. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective The Rapids were most successful in 2019 with a pressing and counter-attack style. Jake Shapiro, The Denver Post, "The Rapids are looking to end a playoff drought. Here are 5 keys to get them there," 28 Feb. 2020 But matters weren’t helped by MacArthur’s post-attack grandstanding. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, "Column: After Hoover’s police, like Trump’s, assaulted peaceful protesters, he lost reelection," 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, "Social issues take center stage at Tony Awards," 11 June 2018 Then another idea: Attack forces of evil not persons doing evil. Annie Sweeney,, "Nonviolence is a choice: Group's message of peace seeks footing in tough Chicago neighborhood," 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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Statistics for attack

Last Updated

13 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Attack.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for attack


How to pronounce attack (audio)

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
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

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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

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Comments on attack

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