\ 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

Majeski passed Apel for the lead on the 126th lap and set sail, only to see the field bunched by a spin with 27 laps to go and another with 13 remaining. Dave Kallmann, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Matt Kenseth wins his eighth Slinger National title in the final turn, with no apology necessary," 10 July 2019 Bobby Nightengale, Cincinnati Enquirer DENVER – David Hernandez watched his pitch sail over the fence in right-center field, put his hands on his knees and bent over at his waist. Bobby Nightengale,, "David Hernandez coughs up Cincinnati Reds' lead in 3-2 loss to Colorado Rockies," 8 July 2019 Walker showed his new crew how to steer with the tiller, hoist the sails, trim the jib (adjusting it to help modulate speed) and tack the boat (bringing the bow around through the wind). Washington Post, "Take Someone Sailing Day gives newbie sailors nautical skills," 6 July 2019 Today Japanese whaling vessels set sail to hunt whales commercially for the first time in more than three decades. The Economist, "Japan resumes commercial whale hunting after more than 30 years," 1 July 2019 Royal Caribbean even has a three-night Bahamas island-hopping sail, which would otherwise be a bear to coordinate. Stephanie Wu, Condé Nast Traveler, "These Three-Day Cruises Take the Planning Out of a Long Weekend," 27 June 2019 Stammen ended the eighth by striking out Dwight Smith Jr. on a full-count sinker Smith watched sail over the plate’s inside edge. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Padres hit five more home runs to finish off sweep of Orioles," 26 June 2019 The spacecraft also had solar cells embedded in its kite-shaped sail to generate electricity. Amy Thompson, Smithsonian, "LightSail 2 Launches to Space to Soar on the Power of Sunshine," 25 June 2019 After some testing to make sure everything is working correctly, the cubesat will begin to unfurl its mylar sail, which is about the size of a boxing ring and thinner than a human hair. Daniel Oberhaus, WIRED, "SpaceX Is Launching a Solar Sail the Size of a Boxing Ring," 24 June 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Six oil tankers sailing through that region have been damaged since May in apparent sabotage operations amid a months-long standoff between the US and Iran. Alex Ward, Vox, "The US has a risky new plan to protect oil tankers from Iranian attacks," 12 July 2019 The Grace 1 tanker was impounded in the British territory at the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea after sailing around Africa from the Middle East. NBC News, "Britain seizes tanker suspected of carrying oil to Syria, which could exacerbate Iran tensions," 4 July 2019 View Sample Sign Up Now Navigation rights The missiles could be used to target U.S. warships that occasionally assert free-navigation rights by sailing close to occupied Spratlys features, including a May 6 patrol by two destroyers. Brendan Scott / Bloomberg, Time, "Pentagon Calls China’s South Sea Missile Test ‘Truly Disturbing’," 3 July 2019 After sailing over from South Africa in a yacht, her parents began their life in London at a mooring near Tower Bridge. The Economist, "Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song," 22 June 2019 Duterte's reaction contrasted with that of some of his own officials, including the defense chief, who strongly condemned the Chinese vessel for sailing away as the fishing boat sank at night. Fox News, "Durterte calls for calm over Chinese sinking of fishing boat," 17 June 2019 In my opinion, there is no better way to travel than sailing on board a ship. National Geographic, "Wandering Europe's Waterways with Photographer Sisse Brimberg," 12 June 2019 On Saturday, Lady Katharine Cruises will offer a night of sailing down the river with dancing, drinks and food and both Herd and La Boca will host post-pride festival parties. Kathleen Mcwilliams,, "From drag queen story hour to a local beer garden, Middletown Pride promises weekend of celebration," 7 June 2019 Web-slinging boils down to a limited simple set of buttons, and these, combined with Insomniac's graceful inclusion of idiot-proof timing windows, make the act of sailing across Manhattan feel peerless in gaming. Sam Machkovech, Ars Technica, "Spider-Man PS4 review: Does whatever a spider can—and then some," 4 Sep. 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

18 Jul 2019

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 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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