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 The book is a collection of his previously unpublished essays on a variety of topics.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

In a 2013 interview with the Guardian, Ellison put his tally at around 1,800 short stories, novellas, essays, and scripts. Keith Phipps, Vox, "Harlan Ellison wrote Star Trek’s greatest episode. He hated it.," 29 June 2018 The proliferation of essays and anecdotes (by women, in particular) detailing our personal shame and embarrassment at the hands of our physicians, helps underscore this point. Your Fat Friend, SELF, "Weight Stigma Kept Me Out Of Doctors’ Offices for Almost a Decade," 26 June 2018 Summer Writing Workshop: Work on your memoir, novel, essay or short story. Courant Community, "Community News For The Vernon Edition," 19 June 2018 His fiction, essays, and interviews have appeared in numerous publications. Brian Gresko, Longreads, "Wrestling With My Father," 12 June 2018 Our local schools that participated were Padonia International, Pot Spring and Warren featuring the elementary-level poster contest, Cockeysville Middle students who wrote essays and the Dulaney High School Oratorical Contest. Melissa Whatley,, "Hunt Valley Rotary Club promotes truth, fairness, goodwill among students," 16 May 2018 Veronica Scott Esposito is the editor in chief for the Quarterly Conversation, an online periodical of book reviews and essays. Veronica Scott Esposito, San Francisco Chronicle, "‘Warlight,’ by Michael Ondaatje," 9 May 2018 Bentley-Law was startled when the essay on leaving her job got 11,000 hits in three days. David Bauder, The Seattle Times, "Anger toward media spreads into local communities," 30 Oct. 2018 This essay is excerpted from Custodians of the Internet by Tarleton Gillespie, published by Yale University Press and used by permission. Tarleton Gillespie, WIRED, "How Social Networks Set the Limits of What We Can Say Online," 26 June 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

6 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

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

Comments on essay

What made you want to look up essay? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


living or existing for a long time

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