\ 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

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 That’s more than the total number of passengers who fell ill from the norovirus on every cruise that set sail in 2018, the CDC said. David Oliver, USA TODAY, "Norwegian Joy cruise passengers fall ill with possible norovirus," 25 Nov. 2019 Climate change activist Greta Thunberg set sail back to Europe sooner than expected. Fox News, "Public Trump impeachment hearings set to begin as Dems bank on key first witnesses," 13 Nov. 2019 When the British East India Company set sail to explore—and exploit—the riches of the world in the 1600s, it was based out of an unpretentious London house. Abhishyant Kidangoor/ Hong Kong, Time, "Historian William Dalrymple Warns of Unchecked Corporate Power in His Latest Book," 7 Nov. 2019 From the seventies to the early nineties, tens of thousands of Haitians set sail for the U.S. on rickety boats. Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker, "As Protests Again Sweep Haiti, How Can the Nation Move Forward?," 24 Oct. 2019 The effort began Friday, when the German icebreaker RV Polarstern set sail from the Norwegian port of Tromso with scores of researchers and hundreds of tons of scientific equipment onboard., "The Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) is the largest Arctic research project in history and one of humanity’s greatest efforts to understand how melting at the pole will affect the rest of the planet.," 21 Sep. 2019 The sonar image of Grayback also shows serious damage behind the submarine’s sail. Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, "Lost World War II Submarine Rediscovered 75 Years Later," 12 Nov. 2019 Seeing a planet sail across our sun also offers a chance to witness a crucial method astronomers use to find planets beyond our solar system. Andrew Fazekas, National Geographic, "See Mercury glide across the sun in rare sky show," 8 Nov. 2019 When cleverness failed - such as a sumptuous cross-field pass that Mertens watched sail over his head - commitment was the answer, Insigne drove towards the Salzburg defence multiple times and breached them on a few occasions., "Napoli 1-1 RB Salzburg: Report, Ratings & Reaction as Azzurri Blow Chance at Early Qualification," 5 Nov. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Sometimes virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake is something to get excited about, particularly in the case of this saxophonist, who sails and squeaks with an encyclopedic knowledge of the music’s history. Bret Saunders, The Know, "The top 10 jazz albums of 2019, plus December concerts across the Front Range," 1 Dec. 2019 Police admit some liveaboards just sailed somewhere else. Fox News, "Californians who can't afford to live on land increasingly turning to water," 28 Nov. 2019 The contours of that idea may be found in the sermon delivered by John Winthrop before his Puritan fleet sailed to fortify the English presence in Massachusetts. Kevin D. Williamson, National Review, "This Pilgrim Republic," 28 Nov. 2019 In addition, bookings for families sailing after Dec. 27 feature Kids Sail Free options. Richard Tribou,, "Cruise lines offer up Black Friday, Cyber Monday deals," 25 Nov. 2019 When Salpointe got down by eight points with 7:46 to play after a snap sailed over the punter's head and Zion Magalei recovered it in the end zone for a Chandler touchdown, the Lancers didn't give Robinson the ball on their next series. Richard Obert, azcentral, "Chandler overcomes Salpointe Catholic with defense and a forgotten back to reach Open final," 24 Nov. 2019 Before Virgin Voyages' hotly anticipated first sailing kicks off next April, the cruise line has even more news: its second ship, the Valiant Lady, will hit the seas in May 2021. Louis Cheslaw, Condé Nast Traveler, "Virgin Voyages Will Cruise the Mediterranean, With an Overnight in Ibiza," 19 Nov. 2019 The junior quarterback moved the Senators in position for a game-winning field goal attempt, which sailed wide left to end Taft's season at 10-2. James Weber,, "High school football takeaways: 6 OHSAA teams left; Regional finals set for 6 NKY teams," 17 Nov. 2019 Former Stanford University sailing coach John Vandemoer is the only other person sentenced so far and received a day in prison. Collin Binkley, Anchorage Daily News, "Felicity Huffman gets 14 days in jail, fine, community service for role in college admissions scam," 13 Sep. 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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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 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Sail.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 6 December 2019.

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More Definitions for sail


How to pronounce sail (audio)

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

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for sail

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with 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

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very cautious or careful

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