es·​say | \ ˈe-ˌsā; senses 2, 3 & 4 also e-ˈsā \

Definition of essay

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : an analytic or interpretative literary composition usually dealing with its subject from a limited or personal point of view
b : something resembling such a composition a photographic essay
2a : effort, attempt especially : an initial tentative effort
b : the result or product of an attempt
3 : a proof of an unaccepted design for a stamp or piece of paper money
4 obsolete : trial, test


es·​say | \ e-ˈsā, ə-ˈsā, ˈe-ˌsā \

Definition of essay (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to make an often tentative or experimental effort to perform : try
2 : to put to a test

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Other Words from essay


essayer noun

Synonyms for essay

Synonyms: Noun

article, composition, paper, theme

Synonyms: Verb

assay, attempt, endeavor, seek, strive, try

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Choose the Right Synonym for essay


attempt, try, endeavor, essay, strive mean to make an effort to accomplish an end. attempt stresses the initiation or beginning of an effort. will attempt to photograph the rare bird try is often close to attempt but may stress effort or experiment made in the hope of testing or proving something. tried to determine which was the better procedure endeavor heightens the implications of exertion and difficulty. endeavored to find crash survivors in the mountains essay implies difficulty but also suggests tentative trying or experimenting. will essay a dramatic role for the first time strive implies great exertion against great difficulty and specifically suggests persistent effort. continues to strive for peace

Examples of essay in a Sentence


Your assignment is to write a 500-word essay on one of Shakespeare's sonnets. The book is a collection of his previously unpublished essays on a variety of topics.


There is no hint as to which of the approaches essayed in this book will prove most useful. he had been in gymnastics for some time before he even considered essaying that move
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Enough features, in fact, that the release notes, written by elementary OS's Cassidy James Blaede, are an impressive John Sircusa-style essay of some 8,000 words. Scott Gilbertson, Ars Technica, "A tour of elementary OS, perhaps the Linux world’s best hope for the mainstream," 28 Dec. 2018 Before the age of the internet, college admissions were seemingly just about getting good test scores and crafting the perfect essay. Kim Quindlen, Teen Vogue, "25% of College Admissions Officers Say They Look at Applicants’ Social Media," 28 Nov. 2018 Publishing house Delga said on its website that Quennedey traveled to the Koreas in his role as the head of the French-Korean Friendship Association, and wrote a book and essays about North Korea. Angela Charlton, The Seattle Times, "Arrested French official suspected of spying for North Korea," 27 Nov. 2018 What inspired you to write these particular essays right now? Candice Frederick, Harper's BAZAAR, "Phoebe Robinson Wrote a Manifesto to Help Us Cope with the Dumpster Fire We’re Living In," 17 Oct. 2018 They each published essays in the July issue of China’s internet regulator’s official magazine describing how their technologies can help the government build a safer cyberspace. Liza Lin, WSJ, "A Chill From Beijing Buffets China’s Tech Sector," 27 Dec. 2018 Harper’s published a similar essay at around the same time, and was also pounded for it. Ezra Klein, Vox, "The Ford-Kavanaugh sexual assault hearings, explained," 28 Sep. 2018 The faith published an online essay in 2014 that provided a detailed account of polygamous practices during the 1830s and 1840s in Kirtland, Ohio, and Nauvoo, Illinois. Brady Mccombs, The Seattle Times, "New Mormon narrative history book includes polygamous roots," 4 Sep. 2018 Diana Arterian published a sad, lyrical essay at the Los Angeles Review of Books on the legacy of the Armenian Genocide on descendants and diaspora members, skillfully weaving together family memories and verse by Armenian diasporic poets. Michelle Weber, Longreads, "In the End, It’s All Just the Stories We Tell," 17 May 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Like 48 voices all essaying the song stylings of the just-out-of-adolescence version of the figure now grandly known as His Lordship, or, to his friends, Sir Andrew, or, in the cheaper seats, plain old Andrew Lloyd Webber. Chris Jones,, "'Jesus Christ Superstar' means 'gig theater' is coming to the Lyric Opera," 18 Apr. 2018 But country twang is her guiding principle, and her songs vividly essay failed and burgeoning relationships. Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader, "Whitney Rose enfolds bits of Tex-Mex and 60s pop into her lush, retro-tinged sound," 5 July 2018 Specifically, documentaries essaying one particularly magnetic celebrity personality, or a singularly gripping tale. David Sims, The Atlantic, "What’s Driving Documentaries to Box-Office Success?," 11 July 2018 In 2011, Waller shifted her focus to essay and fiction writing and founded Crooked Door Storytelling, a Fine Arts consulting company that offers story programs, public speaking training and creative writing workshops to students and professionals. Chicago Tribune,, "Algren Award runner-up: "Here Is Where the Taxi Driver Set His Wife on Fire" by GKS Waller," 2 June 2018 Few records fully and frankly essay the realistic ups-and-downs of a young man’s fancy as has Khalid Robinson’s American Teen., "Memorial Day fireworks, Sail Philadelphia, Devon Horse Show, and other events in Philadelphia, May 25-June 1," 24 May 2018 Meghan recalled in her Elle essay how her seventh grade English teacher told her to check the box for Caucasian on a mandatory census. Caroline Picard, Good Housekeeping, "What Is Meghan Markle's Relationship With Her Dad, Thomas Markle?," 9 May 2018 Titanic, however, is no soulless junket into techno-glop wizardry but rather a complex and radiant tale that essays both mankind's destructive arrogance and its noble endurance. Thr Staff, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Titanic': THR's 1997 Review," 19 Dec. 2017 That combination is perfectly suited to his Christmas Tree-O project, which sanguinely essays holiday themes—both classic and schmaltzy—with gusto and ardor. Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader, "Drummer Matt Wilson’s Christmas Tree-O deftly walks the line between sincerity and kitsch with its stroll through holiday hits," 8 Dec. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'essay.' 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 essay


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for essay


Middle French essai, ultimately from Late Latin exagium act of weighing, from Latin ex- + agere to drive — more at agent

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Statistics for essay

Last Updated

18 Jan 2019

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Time Traveler for essay

The first known use of essay was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for essay



English Language Learners Definition of essay

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: to try to do, perform, or deal with (something)



English Language Learners Definition of essay (Entry 2 of 2)

: a short piece of writing that tells a person's thoughts or opinions about a subject


es·​say | \ ˈe-ˌsā \

Kids Definition of essay

: a short piece of writing that tells a person's thoughts or opinions about a subject

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More from Merriam-Webster on essay

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with essay

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for essay

Spanish Central: Translation of essay

Nglish: Translation of essay for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of essay for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about essay

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