\ 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

Even after pushing numbers forward and watching a deep shot from Emily Sonnett sail just over the bar in stoppage time, the Thorns simply didn’t have enough left to find an equalizer and head back to Portland empty handed. Tim Brown,, "Portland Thorns fall 1-0 to Reign FC in hard-fought Cascadia rivalry game," 7 Aug. 2019 It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and now offers public sails on Saturdays and Sundays. Kari Bodnarchuk,, "Here, there, and everywhere," 30 July 2019 Such sails could potentially propel tiny satellites known as CubeSats. Washington Post, "Images show Lightsail 2 spacecraft’s solar sail has deployed," 26 July 2019 The Planetary Society’s LightSail 1, a technology demonstrator that did everything but sail, was launched in 2015. Robert Z. Pearlman, Scientific American, "Solar Sailing Success: Planetary Society Deploys LightSail 2," 23 July 2019 Portuguese men-of-war set sail under translucent inflatable bladders, circumnavigating the earth like their namesake ship. Julian Lucas, Harper's magazine, "New Books," 22 July 2019 Lastly, the museum will host the Edna E. Lockwood (restored 2016/2018), the last sailing bugeye in the world, in Havre de Grace, Saturday, July 6, to Monday, July 8, as part of a National Park Service funded heritage sail of the Chesapeake. Ron Browning,, "Havre de Grace: A busy July starts with Independence Day celebrations," 4 July 2019 That proved to knock the wind out of Denmark's sails, as Serbia almost netted a late consolation goal., "UEFA European Under-21 Championship Roundup: Germany Progress With Denmark Missing Out Despite Win," 24 June 2019 This is a tall ship year, which means the Sullivan will be doing a lot of traveling, so check out Discovery World's website to see when sails are scheduled. Amy Schwabe, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "From pirate ships to college tours, here are 10 things you've never done with your kids in Milwaukee," 21 June 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Instead many returned to the ships after Crozier wrote his note, and managed to sail farther south. National Geographic, "In 1845 explorers sought the Northwest Passage—then vanished," 8 Aug. 2019 In an effort to avoid emissions from air travel, teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg recently chose to sail across the Atlantic to attend a climate summit in New York in September. Akshat Rathi, Quartz, "You can now pay to turn your carbon emissions to stone," 8 Aug. 2019 There is even a crowdfunding campaign for activists in Europe to sail to the United Nations climate conference in Chile later this year. Umair Irfan, Vox, "Air travel is a huge contributor to climate change. A new global movement wants you to be ashamed to fly.," 1 Aug. 2019 The 38-year-old sailorette touched land at Shelter Island at 10 a.m. to become the first woman to sail across the Pacific Ocean alone. San Diego Union-Tribune, "From the Archives: In 1969 San Diego greeted woman who sailed Pacific Ocean alone," 25 July 2019 He and Dance planned to sail away and live the rest of their days abroad, but the boat was unseaworthy after years of neglect. Jordan Runtagh,, "The Most Interesting Man in Rock: How David Crosby Survived Everything — and Lived to Sing About It," 24 July 2019 However, LightSail 1 was in too low of an orbit to sail properly. Loren Grush, The Verge, "Spacecraft designed to ride on sunlight deploys its reflective solar sail," 23 July 2019 Some theorize that ancient indigenous populations carved it to depict Carthaginians consulting an oracle that would tell them when to sail home. Jennifer Billock, Smithsonian, "Eight Spots in the United States Where You Can See Petroglyphs," 18 July 2019 On Monday, the ships had 12 hours to sail 30 miles to Pelee Passage, past the Erie Islands. Laura Johnston,, "Tall Ships Cleveland race off to Michigan: See the start," 15 July 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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Dictionary Entries near sail



Saigon cinnamon



sail arm


Statistics for sail

Last Updated

15 Aug 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

Comments on sail

What made you want to look up sail? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to move or obtain by small maneuvers

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