\ ˈflāl How to pronounce flail (audio) \

Definition of flail

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a hand threshing implement consisting of a wooden handle at the end of which a stouter and shorter stick is so hung as to swing freely


flailed; flailing; flails

Definition of flail (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1a : to strike with or as if with a flail The bird's wings flailed the water.
b : to move, swing, or beat as if wielding a flail flailing a club to drive away the insects
2 : to thresh (grain) with a flail

intransitive verb

: to move, swing, or beat like a flail arms flailing in the water

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms for flail

Synonyms: Verb

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Examples of flail in a Sentence

Verb They were flailing their arms to drive away the insects. The wounded animal lay on the ground, flailing helplessly. He was wildly flailing about on the dance floor. The bird's wings flailed the water.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun As pledges to improve policing flail, police continue to kill people, and especially Black people, every day. Time, 13 May 2021 In the video, cats stay in the upside-down position and flail, and even pigeons can’t decide which way is up or down. Caroline Delbert, Popular Mechanics, 24 Aug. 2020 Fans no longer could complain about watching an overmatched pitcher flail at the plate. Los Angeles Times, 14 June 2020 Who could resist watching Dash flail about in a tornado, and then promptly stop and let out a very earnest cat meow? USA TODAY, 27 Mar. 2020 Super-deep repertoire of falls and flails, plus a classic crybaby Flop Face. Scott Ostler, SFChronicle.com, 18 Dec. 2019 No errors, no flails on hanging curveballs, no baserunning mistakes. Paul Daugherty, Cincinnati.com, 29 Oct. 2019 Over in East Rutherford, the Giants are now considering a hard right turn to rookie quarterback Daniel Jones after watching Eli Manning flail in the pocket ineffectively in two straight losses. Conor Orr, SI.com, 16 Sep. 2019 The borderlands have no courts and tribal police flail in the face of paperwork and investigations. The Economist, 20 July 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb And yet, no matter how much her colleagues flail and scream, determined to leap into the abyss, Cheney insists on warning them about the calamity awaiting. Washington Post, 11 May 2021 The strut became more pronounced by the end of the sixth, after getting Josh Fuentes to flail at a slider for his eighth strikeout. Los Angeles Times, 2 Apr. 2021 That means pitchers who usually flail away will try to make contact after a year layoff. Ben Walker, Star Tribune, 31 Mar. 2021 The call seemed dubious after the Nets’ James Harden appeared to hook his arm underneath Leonard’s, then flail backward as Leonard gathered for a shot. Andrew Greif, Los Angeles Times, 21 Feb. 2021 Practicing flight moves, the owlets would leap and flail, tumbling to lower branches, sometimes to the ground. Val Cunningham Special To The Star Tribune, Star Tribune, 12 Jan. 2021 Do yourself a favor and take an hour to flail and dance around your house to any of her music while shrieking. Anne Nickoloff, cleveland, 21 Apr. 2020 Malone has also designed a pair of Jibbitz three-packs, which include images inspired by his hammer and flail face tats, as well as one featuring a rubber duck, a colorful heart and, of course, his favorite snack, grapes. Gil Kaufman, Billboard, 8 Dec. 2020 Apparently, a landed carp is comfortable and less prone to flail when bagged and tied to the dock. Kirk Deeter, Field & Stream, 5 Dec. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'flail.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of flail


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined above


15th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a

History and Etymology for flail

Noun and Verb

Middle English fleil, flail, partly from Old English *flegel (whence Old English fligel), from Late Latin flagellum flail, from Latin, whip & partly from Anglo-French flael, from Late Latin flagellum — more at flagellate

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More About flail

Time Traveler for flail

Time Traveler

The first known use of flail was before the 12th century

See more words from the same century

Statistics for flail

Last Updated

16 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Flail.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/flail. Accessed 23 Jun. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for flail



English Language Learners Definition of flail

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a long-handled tool that was used in the past for beating wheat so that the grain would become separated from the wheat



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

: to move or swing your arms or legs in a wild and uncontrolled way
: to strike or hit (something or someone) in a wild and uncontrolled way


\ ˈflāl How to pronounce flail (audio) \
flailed; flailing

Kids Definition of flail

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : to wave the arms or legs wildly
2 : to swing something with a violent motion



Kids Definition of flail (Entry 2 of 2)

: a tool for threshing grain by hand


\ ˈflā(ə)l How to pronounce flail (audio) \

Medical Definition of flail

: exhibiting abnormal mobility and loss of response to normal controls used of body parts damaged by paralysis, injury, or surgery flail joint

More from Merriam-Webster on flail

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for flail

Nglish: Translation of flail for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about flail


Test Your Vocabulary

Return of Name that Color!

  • a light greenish blue color
  • Name that color:
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!