es·​say | \ ˈe-ˌsā How to pronounce essay (audio) ; senses 2, 3 & 4 also e-ˈsā How to pronounce essay (audio) \

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 How to pronounce essay (audio) , ə-ˈsā, ˈe-ˌsā How to pronounce essay (audio) \
essayed; essaying; essays

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

Other Words from essay


essayer noun

Synonyms for essay

Synonyms: Noun

Synonyms: Verb

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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

Noun 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 The book is a collection of his previously unpublished essays on a variety of topics. Verb 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
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Meanwhile, outside court, the crowd of fans who clamored for seats has evolved to include two emotional-support alpacas, according to the Washington Post, which also published the essay in question. Los Angeles Times, 25 Apr. 2022 Last fall, Vivian Gornick published an essay in Harper’s Magazine that described the most extreme experiences of shame as tantamount to annihilation. New York Times, 18 Mar. 2022 In that essay, Orwell reflects on the relationship between language, thought and politics. Mark Satta, The Conversation, 14 Mar. 2022 In that essay, Mr. Kamisar contrasted the care with which defendants were handled in the courtroom with the relative lawlessness that sometimes reigned in the police interrogation room. Emily Langer, Washington Post, 9 Feb. 2022 Writer Candice Benbow’s essay on her own journey to having a family struck a chord with me. Washington Post, 3 May 2022 Jerich was ordered to write a 25-page essay on the massacre at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. Jane Musgrave, USA TODAY, 26 Apr. 2022 For Mother’s Day 2021, Hord wrote a moving essay for Oprah Daily to explain her motivation behind starting the nonprofit organization named for her daughter. Dawn Ennis, Forbes, 26 Apr. 2022 The National Council of Teachers of English wants to ‘decenter’ book-reading and essay-writing as the fundamentals of English class. Daniel Buck, National Review, 23 Apr. 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Youth Speak Out, essay writing for individual students, and Youth Sing Out, songwriting for classrooms. Carol Kovach, cleveland, 26 Apr. 2022 These are the full contest rules for Outside’s survival stories essay contest. The Editors, Outside Online, 22 Sep. 2021 Meyers Taylor wrote in a recent USA Today essay that competing in the Beijing Olympics, despite human-rights concerns in the country, was important to her. Rachel Bachman, WSJ, 1 Feb. 2022 The uncertainty about the oldest living tree perhaps illustrates larger questions about nailing down tree ages—a point that the review essay tackles. Robin Lloyd, Scientific American, 24 Dec. 2021 This is Katherine Dunn writing from COP26 in Glasgow, taking over the CEO Daily essay today from Alan. David Meyer, Fortune, 12 Nov. 2021 And any buzzy novel, or even essay collection, now seems to be sold as a television show almost immediately, as if the former were just a sketch for the inevitable latter. Kyle Chayka, The New Republic, 4 Oct. 2021 Hansberry’s essay about how A Raisin in the Sun fits into the history of American theater more broadly is one of the most powerful aspects of Godfrey’s collection. Imani Perry, The New York Review of Books, 15 June 2021 The exhibition, which takes its name from a W.E.B. Du Bois essay about reconstruction in America, situated itself as a continuation in the larger project of liberation for Black people. Diana Budds, Curbed, 7 June 2021 See More

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.

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

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Last Updated

18 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Essay.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for essay


es·​say | \ ˈe-ˌsā How to pronounce essay (audio) \

Kids Definition of essay

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

More from Merriam-Webster on essay

Nglish: Translation of essay for Spanish Speakers

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


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