\ 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 sail (audio) \ adjective


sailable \ ˈsā-​lə-​bəl How to pronounce sail (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 When the Diamond Princess cruise ship set sail from the port of Yokohama, Japan, on Jan. 20, 2020, the World Health Organization had just started reporting on coronavirus cases in China. oregonlive, "HBO’s ‘The Last Cruise’ tells the story of an Oregon couple and others stranded after COVID outbreak on a cruise ship," 26 Mar. 2021 In the heavy winds, for example, the ship’s cargo could have formed a sail-like effect, propelling it off course. Washington Post, "How did a ship get stuck in the Suez Canal?," 25 Mar. 2021 Fun for him was nailing a canvas tarp to a post fixed to a farm wagon and setting sail down dusty rural roads. David D. Haynes, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Opinion: At a COVID-19 vaccination site in Milwaukee, a glimpse of our united effort to defeat a deadly pandemic," 23 Mar. 2021 The reality is that denim as billowy as Mr. Lauren’s might make for an amusing social-media meme, but those sail-sized jeans won’t be blowing into stores anytime soon. Jacob Gallagher, WSJ, "Bigger, Wider, Better? Why Giant Jeans Are Making a Comeback," 17 Mar. 2021 Costa Cruises, the Italian line that is a subsidiary of cruise giant Carnival Corp., will not be setting sail this Christmas or New Year's Eve. Charles Trepany, USA TODAY, "Costa Cruises cancels Christmas, New Year's cruises in 'further economic sacrifice' amid COVID-19," 4 Dec. 2020 The Disney Dream will set sail from Miami for the first time on June 7, offering three-, four-, and five-night cruises that stop at Castaway Cay and other beachy locales like Nassau, Grand Cayman, or Cozumel. Elizabeth Rhodes, Travel + Leisure, "Disney Cruise Line Just Announced New Sailings for Summer 2022," 19 Mar. 2021 With Ohio clinging to a 56-55 lead with just under four minutes left, Ball State’s Sydney Freeman got a steal and set sail. cleveland, "Ohio gets big plays when it matters, outlast Ball State 61-59 in MAC women’s basketball quarterfinals," 10 Mar. 2021 The ship will set sail from Israel, the first country in the world to vaccinate more than 50% of its population. Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, Forbes, "Another Cruise Line Signals That Vaccine Mandates Are The Way Forward," 2 Mar. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb This time around the legislation is likely to sail through, with the opposition drummed out of the legislature and much less heed paid to public opinion. Wenxin Fan, WSJ, "Hong Kong Revives Move to Reduce Corporate Transparency Now That Opposition Is Gone," 4 Apr. 2021 Normally, a big ship like the T.Jefferson would sail up the Oakland Estuary straight from sea and not have to spend time at anchor. Carl Nolte, San Francisco Chronicle, "Forget highways, Bay Area's biggest traffic jam right now is on the bay," 3 Apr. 2021 The Ever Green has been partially re-floated, raising hopes that the vessel will sail again soon, and that global trade will unclog. Bernhard Warner, Fortune, "Margin mayhem—finance stocks sink as Wall Street frets over billions in bad trades," 29 Mar. 2021 Its first Alaskan cruise departs on May 10, and six ships will sail there this season. Susan B. Barnes, Condé Nast Traveler, "As Cruising Prepares for a Comeback, More Lines Announce Vaccination Requirements," 25 Mar. 2021 In June, Royal Caribbean will sail seven-night cruises from its new homeport in Nassau, Bahamas. Alison Fox, Travel + Leisure, "These Cruises Will Set Sail This Summer to the Caribbean — and Nearly Everyone Will Have to Be Vaccinated to Board," 22 Mar. 2021 In its final form, though, the measure is widely expected to sail through the Senate before being sent to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has signaled support for legalization. New York Times, "Mexico Set to Legalize Marijuana, Becoming World’s Largest Market," 10 Mar. 2021 Garland is likely to sail through confirmation for attorney general. Nicholas Rowan, Washington Examiner, "Merrick Garland move to Justice will give Biden new pick for influential DC appeals court," 8 Jan. 2021 Most of the changes are expected to sail through the approval process, which includes the White House releasing the final version and publication in the Federal Register. The Salt Lake Tribune, "Trump pushes new environmental rollbacks on way out the door," 18 Nov. 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

5 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Sail.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 Apr. 2021.

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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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