\ ˈsāl How to pronounce sail (audio) , as last element in compounds often səl \

Definition of sail

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a(1) : an extent of fabric (such as canvas) by means of which wind is used to propel a ship through water
(2) : the sails of a ship
b plural usually sail : a ship equipped with sails
2 : an extent of fabric used in propelling a wind-driven vehicle (such as an iceboat)
3 : something that resembles a sail especially : a streamlined conning tower on a submarine
4 : a passage by a sailing craft : cruise
under sail
: in motion with sails set


sailed; sailing; sails

Definition of sail (Entry 2 of 2)

intransitive verb

1a : to travel on water in a ship
b : yacht
2a : to travel on water by the action of wind upon sails or by other means
b : to move or proceed easily, gracefully, nonchalantly, or without resistance sails through all sorts of contradictions— Vicki Hearne the bill sailed through the legislature
c : to move through the air the ball sailed over his head
3 : to begin a water voyage sail with the tide

transitive verb

1a : to travel on (water) by means of motive power (such as sail) sail the ocean
b : to glide through
2 : to direct or manage the motion of sail a ship
sail into
: to attack vigorously or sharply sailed into me for being late

Illustration of sail

Illustration of sail


sail 1a (of a schooner): 1 flying jib, 2 jib, 3 forestaysail, 4 foresail, 5 fore gaff-topsail, 6 main-topmast staysail, 7 mainsail, 8 main gaff-topsail

In the meaning defined above

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Other Words from sail


sailed \ ˈsāld How to pronounce sailed (audio) \ adjective


sailable \ ˈsā-​lə-​bəl How to pronounce sailable (audio) \ adjective

Synonyms for sail

Synonyms: Noun

Synonyms: Verb

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Examples of sail in a Sentence

Noun Wind filled the sails and our journey had begun. raising and lowering the ship's sails a sail to San Francisco Verb We'll sail along the coast. He sailed around the world on a luxury liner. She sailed the Atlantic coastline. She's sailing a boat in tomorrow's race. The ship was sailed by a crew of 8. I've been sailing since I was a child. a ship that has sailed the seven seas We sat on the shore watching boats sail by. We sail at 9 a.m. tomorrow. They sail for San Francisco next week.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun At least four ships cast off in the week before the original no-sail order and went on to experience COVID-19 outbreaks while at sea. USA Today, "How the CDC failed public health officials fighting the coronavirus," 11 Nov. 2020 The announcement came just days after the U.S. government effectively lifted its no-sail order despite a global spike in coronavirus infections. Star Tribune, "Cruise lines suspend sailings until 2021, but ski resorts are reopening soon," 6 Nov. 2020 The announcement comes just days after the U.S. government effectively lifted its no-sail order despite a global spike in coronavirus infections. Lindsay Schnell, USA TODAY, "Coronavirus updates: Kentucky passes 'grim milestone'; Europe increases restrictions; 21 states set weekly case records; 232K US deaths," 4 Nov. 2020 The announcement comes just days after the U.S. government effectively lifted its no-sail order despite a global spike in coronavirus infections. Matt Ott,, "Cruise industry throws in the towel on 2020, looks to 2021," 3 Nov. 2020 Cruise ships won't be setting sail in U.S. waters until next year, as major cruise lines continue to postpone their itineraries due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Christine Burroni, Travel + Leisure, "U.S. Cruising Docked Until 2021 As Major Cruise Lines Cancel More Itineraries," 3 Nov. 2020 Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted its no-sail order on cruises Sunday, the return of the large ships to the Port of Baltimore is not imminent. Mckenna Oxenden,, "CDC loosens restrictions on cruise ships, but phased return of voyages to and from Baltimore isn’t yet on horizon," 1 Nov. 2020 Local officials canceled port operations and barred fishers from setting sail. NBC News, "Typhoon Goni: Philippines orders evacuations as world's strongest storm of 2020 approaches," 31 Oct. 2020 In recent days, there have been news reports that the major cruise lines have been lobbying the White House to lift the no-sail order that has kept their ships idle since March. Lori Weisberg, San Diego Union-Tribune, "With cruising still in limbo, San Diego continues to lose millions of dollars in canceled sailings," 30 Oct. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Run wild through lunar sprinklers, sail a yacht, Or maybe cast a line and catch a fish? Washington Post, "Style Invitational Week 1410: Legends of the fall," 12 Nov. 2020 Some projects sail through the approval process, while others don’t. Phil Diehl, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Why do some housing projects pass and others fail?," 8 Nov. 2020 The choice still needed approval from the full Arts Commission, but usually the selections sail through. Heather Knight,, "S.F. City Hall wrong made right: Eye-catching monument to Maya Angelou to be installed after all," 5 Nov. 2020 Briefly: The Gwyons sail for Spain on the Purdue Victory out of Boston Harbor sometime around 1920. Christopher Beha, Harper's Magazine, "Because God Did Not Relax," 27 Oct. 2020 The truth is, our own birth certificate, the Declaration of Independence, was designed to sail high, flash across the sky, and crack open a brutally racist world. Michael D. Capaldi, National Review, "The Lies We’re Told about the American Story," 24 Oct. 2020 Hero says: Will be an entertaining game as the Pirate sets sail in the SEC, but LSU has too many athletes. Joseph Goodman |, al, "Auburn, Florida could struggle; Alabama shows no mercy," 24 Sep. 2020 Also on this day: 1815: Napoleon Bonaparte sets sail for St. Helena to spend the remainder of his days in exile. Fox News, "This Day in History: August 8," 8 Aug. 2020 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will allow cruise ships to sail in U.S. waters starting Sunday. Joel Shannon, USA TODAY, "Coronavirus updates: New virus restrictions roll out amid pushback; US daily deaths may soon triple; lockdowns in Europe," 31 Oct. 2020

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


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a(1)


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1a

History and Etymology for sail


Middle English, from Old English segl; akin to Old High German segal sail

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Time Traveler for sail

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for sail

Last Updated

18 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Sail.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Nov. 2020.

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More Definitions for sail


How to pronounce sail (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of sail

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a large piece of strong cloth that is connected to a ship or boat and that is used to catch the wind that moves the ship or boat through the water
: a trip in a ship or boat



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

: to travel on water in a ship or boat
: to control a ship or boat (especially one that has sails) while traveling on water
of a ship or boat : to travel on water


\ ˈsāl How to pronounce sail (audio) \

Kids Definition of sail

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a sheet of strong cloth (as canvas) used to catch enough wind to move boats through the water or over ice
2 : the sails of a ship They lowered sail as they approached the bay.
3 : a trip in a ship or boat moved especially by the wind We went for a sail on the lake.


sailed; sailing

Kids Definition of sail (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : to travel on a boat moved especially by the wind He sailed around the world.
2 : to travel on or by water Boats sailed by.
3 : to control the motion of (a ship or boat) while traveling on water
4 : to move or proceed in a quick and smooth way The ball sailed over my head.

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