vas·​sal ˈva-səl How to pronounce vassal (audio)
: a person under the protection of a feudal lord to whom he has vowed homage and fealty : a feudal tenant
: one in a subservient or subordinate position
vassal adjective

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web In the days leading up to the invasion, Lukashenko invited Russia to stage its troops and equipment on Belarusian soil in a move that seemed to formalize the country’s status as a Russian vassal state. Yasmeen Serhan, Time, 19 Oct. 2022 His only demand from Beijing is for a full grant of autonomy to the Uyghurs under the terms of China’s constitution and for an end to the vassal-like subordination of Uyghurs by the Han Chinese. Tunku Varadarajan, WSJ, 15 July 2022 Anyone not Dahomean was either a vassal, a victim, or a captive to be sold to European trading companies, which had established barracoons by the sea. David Wright Faladé, The New Yorker, 4 July 2022 This time round, the only ones on the Russian side are the Russian Federation itself, and Belarus, which has effectively become a Russian vassal state in the last couple years and served as a launchpad for this year's Ukraine invasion. David Meyer, Fortune, 1 July 2022 Basically, this would turn Russia into a colony of China and Putin into Xi’s vassal. Wal Van Lierop, Forbes, 19 Mar. 2022 The answer is to be seen in Belarus, now largely a Russian vassal state. Jason Fields, The Week, 22 Mar. 2022 Western analysts have warned that, despite tougher-than-expected resistance from Ukrainian forces and sanctions by the U.S. and its allies, Putin appears determined to prosecute the war until Ukraine is conquered and turned into a vassal state. Los Angeles Times, 10 Mar. 2022 Russia is now again promising humanitarian corridors…leading to Russia and its vassal Belarus. David Meyer, Fortune, 7 Mar. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'vassal.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Middle English, borrowed from Anglo-French, borrowed from Medieval Latin vassallus "serf of the manor house, household servant, lord's man who has received a fief," borrowed from Gaulish *wassall-, derivative of *wass- "servant" (whence Medieval Latin vassus "serf, servant, holder of a fief"), going back to Celtic *wosto-, whence Welsh gwas "boy, servant," Middle Breton goas, Old Irish foss "servant, attendant"

Note: Celtic *wasto- is generally taken to continue Indo-European *upo-sth2-o- "one who stands under," which may be correct if Gaulish *wass- shares with British Celtic unrounding of o in this position.

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of vassal was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near vassal

Cite this Entry

“Vassal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition


vas·​sal ˈvas-əl How to pronounce vassal (audio)
: a person in the Middle Ages who received protection and land from a lord in return for loyalty and service

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