\ 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

crossing, cruise, passage, voyage

Synonyms: Verb

boat, cruise, ferry, navigate, ship (out), voyage

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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

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg will soon set sail on a solar-powered boat to attend a U.N. summit in New York. CBS News, "16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg says meeting with Trump would be a "waste"," 13 Aug. 2019 Virgin Voyages' first-ever cruise ship, the Scarlet Lady, will set sail in April 2020 Virgin Voyages’ crew will be ready to walk the runway while on board the new adults-only cruise ship, Scarlet Lady. Madison Roberts,, "Richard Branson's Adults-Only Cruise Line Reveals Uniforms — and They Look Like Sexy Superheroes," 13 Sep. 2019 The Grand Celebration cruise ship returned to its home port after setting sail Thursday for Freeport, Grand Bahama, to deliver more than 112 tons of supplies and ferrying dozens of health workers and emergency crews. Washington Post, "The Latest: Widespread blackouts as Dorian continues march," 10 Sep. 2019 The Grand Celebration cruise ship returned to its home port after setting sail Thursday for Freeport, Grand Bahama, to deliver more than 112 tons of supplies and ferry dozens of health workers and emergency crews. Ben Finley, Anchorage Daily News, "Stranded North Carolinians take stock of Dorian’s damage as storm bands reach Nova Scotia," 7 Sep. 2019 The ship believed to have carried the first enslaved Africans to what would become the United States of America set sail from Ghana. Heather Greenwood Davis, National Geographic, "What I’ve learned as a black traveler," 5 Sep. 2019 The vessel then set sail for Dubai and was de-flagged by the country of St. Kitts and Nevis, fearing retaliatory U.S. sanctions. Fox News, "US Treasury sanctions tanker filled with Iranian oil after Fox News report," 4 Sep. 2019 This year's expedition set sail on August 7 from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Megan Gannon, Smithsonian, "Divers Get an Eerie First Look Inside the Arctic Shipwreck of the HMS Terror," 30 Aug. 2019 The expedition set sail on May 19, 1845 and was last seen in July 1845 in Baffin Bay by the captains of two whaling ships. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "Fresh images of HMS Terror shipwreck could clear up lingering mysteries," 30 Aug. 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Now, after sailing across the Atlantic on an emissions-free yacht, Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, has disembarked in Lower Manhattan ahead of her speech next month at the United Nations Climate Action Summit. Anne Barnard, New York Times, "Greta Thunberg, Climate Activist, Arrives in N.Y. With a Message for Trump," 28 Aug. 2019 The British Heritage, a vessel owned by BP, a British oil firm, was sailing east through the Strait of Hormuz on July 10th when three Iranian gunboats allegedly tried to halt its passage. The Economist, "A British warship stops Iran seizing an oil tanker," 11 July 2019 Come sail away: Nineteen Cleveland teenagers returned home Wednesday after a weeklong sail from Milwaukee on the tall ship Denis Sullivan, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Cleveland. Cliff Pinckard,, "Cuyahoga County considers contribution to Say Yes to Education: The Wake Up for Wednesday, June 26, 2019," 26 June 2019 Jeffrey Eisenman, 65, sailed on the Carnival Sunshine out of Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Dec. 1, 2018, according to the lawsuit. NBC News, "Carnival Cruise Line accused of refusing to let a dying man off a ship to get medical care," 13 June 2019 The AmaWaterways’ ship was christened in July and sails on the Danube. Rosemary Mcclure, Los Angeles Times, "Are these cruise ships really seven of the world’s great places to visit?," 4 Sep. 2019 Updates have been made to Disney Dream’s sailing on 8/30 & 9/2. Leada Gore |, al, "Hurricane Dorian: State of emergency for Florida, Georgia; Disney World plans," 30 Aug. 2019 Henry James gave away the bride—and the pair sailed for the United States on the first leg of their honeymoon. Maya Jasanoff, The New Republic, "Rudyard Kipling, American Imperialist," 22 Aug. 2019 Controlled sailing Asked about this on Thursday, LightSail 2 Project Manager David Spencer told Ars that engineers have indeed been actively controlling the attitude of the spacecraft about two-thirds of the time. Eric Berger, Ars Technica, "So, how much did the Planetary Society’s light sail really sail?," 2 Aug. 2019

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

10 Oct 2019

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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 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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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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