\ˈsāl, 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 \ adjective


sailable \ˈsā-​lə-​bəl \ adjective

Synonyms & Antonyms for sail

Synonyms: Noun

crossing, cruise, passage, voyage

Synonyms: Verb

bowl, breeze, brush, coast, cruise, drift, flow, glide, roll, skim, slide, slip, stream, sweep, whisk

Antonyms: Verb

flounder, struggle

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Examples of sail in a Sentence


Wind filled the sails and our journey had begun. raising and lowering the ship's sails a sail to San Francisco


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

The marine unit of Britain’s Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC also has considered working on sails for ships, although currently the business is focused more on other technologies, such as battery energy storage. Robert Wall, WSJ, "Airbus Looks Windward, Will Put Sails on Ships Moving Plane Parts," 8 Sep. 2018 Grab your bestie, your mom, and all adventure-loving ladies in your life and set sail for the Bahamas with us. Temi Adebowale, Good Housekeeping, "Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King's BFF Cruise Sold Out in Just One Day," 14 June 2018 On top of that, HBO also released an overarching description for Season 7 as a whole: Daenerys Targaryen has finally set sail for Westeros with her armies, dragons and new Hand of the Queen, Tyrion Lannister. Erica Gonzales, Harper's BAZAAR, "Find out what happens in the first three episodes.," 7 July 2017 Set sail for Sifnos in the afternoon, arriving for a late afternoon walk down to the site of Kastro. Jack Dancy, Town & Country, "How to Plan a Trip to Europe," 5 Oct. 2016 Set sail for a stylish bash by topping your confection with this classic seafaring motif. Jessica Leigh Hester, Country Living, "These Wedding Cake Toppers Are Perfect for Summer," 18 June 2014 In the 1980s, French ocean explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau commissioned the Alcyone, a vessel named after the daughter of the wind in Greek mythology, which used turbo-sails that provided thrust in the direction of travel along with the engines. Costas Paris, WSJ, "Maersk Tankers Turns to Wind Power to Cut Soaring Fuel Costs," 30 Aug. 2018 In 2016, the organization announced its Starshot program, a $100 million effort to equip a microchip-size spacecraft with a camera and light-sails. Daniel Clery, Science | AAAS, "What is Alpha Centauri hiding? Searches for Earth-like planets ramp up around our nearest stellar neighbor," 11 Apr. 2018 Without getting all Black Mirror on you, the truth of the matter is that in addition to late-afternoon barbecues, sunset sails, and early-morning plunges into pools, summer also calls for a dark bride: the mosquito. Mackenzie Wagoner, Vogue, "Here’s Why You Are a Mosquito Magnet," 5 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

When Isner’s final forehand sailed wide, Anderson could have been excused for doing cartwheels or at the very least multiple fist pumps on the grass. Christopher Clarey, New York Times, "Wimbledon: After Many, Many Hours, Kevin Anderson Beats John Isner in the Semifinals," 13 July 2018 Hang out on the grassy knoll and watch passersby or catch the ships and yachts sailing on San Diego Bay. Carolina Gusman,, "San Diego Comic-Con 2018: 15 free things to do before and after Comic-Con around San Diego County," 13 July 2018 Kids start small – with a Sunfish sailboat, for instance – and work their way up, over the course of several summers to sailing a 24-foot sailboat by themselves. Page Leggett, charlotteobserver, "At these YMCA camps, kids learn to sail, take in nature and 'make friends for life'," 12 July 2018 That’s why Dornbos flexed his muscles after his first double had sailed over the left fielder’s head. Pat Disabato, Daily Southtown, "Cleaning up: Matt Dornbos drives in three runs as St. Laurence tops H-F for summer baseball regional title," 11 July 2018 The idea of an all-women sailing mission was seeded there and then. Tyler Wetherall, Condé Nast Traveler, "The All-Women Sailing Crew Trying to Save the Ocean of Plastic," 27 Nov. 2018 With a wingspan of about 16 feet (5 meters), the five-pound (2.45-kilogram) plane sailed along at about 11 mph (17 kph). Malcolm Ritter, The Seattle Times, "Experimental plane flies silently, may lead to quiet drones," 21 Nov. 2018 Though King sailed to reelection in 2016, his Democratic challenger J.D. Scholten is closing in recent polls. Zack Beauchamp, Vox, "Someone asked Steve King about his ideology at a forum. King called security.," 1 Nov. 2018 Rather than stand by the sidelines, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex took to the water to watch today's Invictus Games sailing competition The Duchess used the occasion wear a pair of Veja V-10 sneakers. Chloe Foussianes, Town & Country, "Meghan Markle Wears Sustainable Sneakers to Watch the Invictus Games in Sydney," 21 Oct. 2018

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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Learn More about sail

Dictionary Entries near sail



Saigon cinnamon



sail arm


Statistics for sail

Last Updated

5 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for sail

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

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More Definitions for sail



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 \

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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More from Merriam-Webster on sail

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with sail

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for sail

Spanish Central: Translation of sail

Nglish: Translation of sail for Spanish Speakers

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

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