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

Examples of vassal in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web But a retainer is still a samurai—the term refers to a vassal in feudal Japan, usually a samurai offering military services. Chantelle Lee, TIME, 16 May 2024 The great and growing imbalance in the relationship has induced analysts to speak of Russia as China’s vassal. Stephen Kotkin, Foreign Affairs, 18 Apr. 2024 Devoted to her faith as well as her duties as a vassal, a wife and a daughter of a disgraced family line, Mariko’s journey involves figuring out her purpose and how to live it out on her own terms. Tracy Brown, Los Angeles Times, 25 Feb. 2024 Meanwhile, Russia’s economy is suffering long-term setbacks, and the country is sealing its fate as China’s economic vassal. William J. Burns, Foreign Affairs, 30 Jan. 2024 This is what Putin’s Russia has been reduced to: a feudal system in which the supreme leader hands out pieces of property to his vassals to manage or delegates functions to them at his subjects’ expense. Andrei Kolesnikov, Foreign Affairs, 22 Aug. 2023 The agreement essentially reduced Iran to a vassal state. Christian Schneider, National Review, 21 Dec. 2023 In the post-Soviet era, Russia has interfered to create vassal states out of former Soviet republics. Dan McLaughlin, National Review, 2 Dec. 2023 Kill or be killed, win the throne or serve as vassal, sleep under your own roof or perish in the forest: No show has a darker heart. Tom Gliatto, Peoplemag, 24 July 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'vassal.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 15 Jun. 2024.

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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