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. Commandos 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 There will be costs either way—in having the president attacking you and threatening your economic health, or in accepting that your business, by design, pollutes the public discourse. Noam Cohen, Wired, "There Can Be No Compromise In the Trump vs. Twitter Beef," 29 May 2020 According to the Tallahassee Democrat, McDade, 38, posted to Facebook Live before the alleged stabbing, promising revenge on a group of men who attacked him the day before. Breanna Edwards, Essence, "Black Trans Man Killed By Police In Florida," 29 May 2020 Health workers have been attacked and killed trying to find these last cases and vaccinate children. The Atlantic, "Listen: It’s a Small World Health Organization," 27 May 2020 These workers, mostly women, work long hours with difficult patients—patients who are confused, who may try to attack them, who won’t take their medications—for desperately low wages: an average of $24,200 a year. Libby Watson, The New Republic, "The Intolerable Cruelty of Our Eldercare System," 26 May 2020 The elder McMichael told police Travis McMichael fired after Arbery attacked him. Ray Sanchez, CNN, "Ahmaud Arbery's tragic final run grips an anxious America," 24 May 2020 Morrison then rushed toward Meuris and Blaydoe, the affidavit said, and attacked them. Crystal Hill, Indianapolis Star, "Former Indianapolis Colts LB Antonio Morrison accused of punching deputy at hospital," 20 May 2020 If your child is afraid of an actual, real-life monster, such as Gorgog the Annihilator or Ctharga the Eater of Souls, explain to her that, although those monsters are obviously real, the likelihood of them attacking her is only moderate. Simon Rich, The New Yorker, "Everyday Parenting Tips," 18 May 2020 Another person then took the phone and told dispatchers that a man was attacking them. Ashley Luthern, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Off-duty MPD officer charged with homicide, accused of putting man in fatal 'chokehold' during fight at his house," 13 May 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Their attacks this spring against Afghans are comparable to the level of fighting in past fighting seasons. Jamie Mcintyre, Washington Examiner, "Peace prospects in Afghanistan slip farther away in wake of ‘horrific’ attacks and Afghan offensive against Taliban," 13 May 2020 As the pandemic has raged, and states have rejected their attacks on vote by mail, von Spakovsky and Adams have slightly modified their position. Jessica Huseman, ProPublica, "Ignoring Trump and Right-Wing Think Tanks, Red States Expand Vote by Mail," 12 May 2020 The Titans, led by northeast Ohio native Mike Vrabel, and their old-school attack, will test the Browns run defense. Dan Labbe, cleveland, "Week-by-week look at Browns 2020 schedule: History and what to watch each game," 8 May 2020 Weezer is embracing their guitar attack and channeling their inner-Eddie on the new album, Van Weezer. Dan Snierson,, "Watch Weezer shred their way through the Simpsons theme song," 7 May 2020 At a moment of limited imagination among their emo peers, Williams and the rest of the band brought in dabs of R&B, ’80s pop and country music without diluting the intensity of their live attack. Ilana Kaplan, Los Angeles Times, "The hard-won liberation of Hayley Williams: ‘It wasn’t beautiful. It was painful’," 7 May 2020 His passing attack took a blow when top receiver Lee DeRamus was among a handful of players ejected in the third quarter after a skirmish. Jr Radcliffe, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "50 in 50: Darrell Bevell's surprise scamper and a Rose Bowl triumph for Wisconsin," 6 May 2020 The Taliban have also stepped up their violent attacks on the Afghan security forces. Kimberly Dozier, Time, "The American Hostages Left Behind for Trump's Taliban Peace Deal," 5 May 2020 The revelation comes as the Trump administration has intensified its attacks on China while critics accuse the federal government of responding too slowly and ineffectively to the pandemic. Jessica Flores, USA TODAY, "Coronavirus live updates: Senate reconvenes; California counties defy stay-at-home order; Pence regrets not wearing mask," 4 May 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective 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

1 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Attack.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Jun. 2020.

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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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More from Merriam-Webster on attack

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for attack

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with attack

Spanish Central: Translation of attack

Nglish: Translation of attack for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of attack for Arabic Speakers

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