vas·​sal | \ ˈva-səl How to pronounce vassal (audio) \

Definition of vassal

1 : a person under the protection of a feudal lord to whom he has vowed homage and fealty : a feudal tenant
2 : one in a subservient or subordinate position

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Other Words from vassal

vassal adjective

Examples of vassal in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web But Ellwood is inclined to think that Moscow is planning a rerun of Putin’s previous efforts to carve political satellites out of former Soviet vassal states — such as the Crimea crisis and the 2008 intervention in Georgia. Joel Gehrke, Washington Examiner, "Russian invasion of Ukraine is 'imminent,' warns senior British lawmaker," 21 Apr. 2021 Brexit was the culmination of the growing realization that Britain was becoming a vassal state to the ever-expanding and intrusive, both geographically and politically, European Union superstate. New York Times, "Are Horses More Useful to Humans Than Pigeons? And Other Letters to the Editor," 2 Apr. 2021 Putin resents the fact that NATO expanded to allow former Soviet vassal states into the transatlantic alliance, but the Central and Eastern European nations regard the security pact as a bulwark against a potential Russian invasion. Joel Gehrke, Washington Examiner, "Kremlin is furious with Biden over ‘killer’ comment as experts see new low in U.S.-Russia relations," 18 Mar. 2021 Saudi Arabia’s founder, Ibn Saud, came to power through conquest and alliances rather than being selected by European powers to rule a vassal state in their name. Taylor Luck, The Christian Science Monitor, "Why Saudi Arabia (still) tests limits of US influence," 5 Mar. 2021 Officials in former Soviet vassal states fear the project will give Moscow leverage over Berlin while empowering Putin to cut gas supplies to Ukraine without affecting other Western European powers. Joel Gehrke, Washington Examiner, "Central Europe pleads for Biden to halt Russia-Germany gas pipeline," 22 Feb. 2021 Once a Chinese tributary, the kingdom became a vassal state of Japan in 1609. Amelia Lester, The New York Review of Books, "An Island at the Crossroads," 1 Dec. 2020 Zheng He, the supposedly peaceful admiral, launched a military expedition on the island of Sumatra (now part of Indonesia) against a rival to the local king and Chinese vassal. Michael Schuman, The Atlantic, "The Future of Chinese Power," 5 Oct. 2020 The vivid description of how the pharaoh and his army killed dozens of wild bulls sent not only a message of his prowess and strength, but also a subtle warning that the new king would put down any vassal state that tried to rebel. National Geographic, "King Tut's grandparents were Egypt's royal power couple," 17 Sep. 2020

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.

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First Known Use of vassal

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for vassal

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.

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Time Traveler for vassal

Time Traveler

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

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Last Updated

25 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Vassal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for vassal



English Language Learners Definition of vassal

: a person in the past who received protection and land from a lord in return for loyalty and service


vas·​sal | \ ˈva-səl How to pronounce vassal (audio) \

Kids Definition of vassal

: a person in the Middle Ages who received protection and land from a lord in return for loyalty and service

More from Merriam-Webster on vassal

Nglish: Translation of vassal for Spanish Speakers

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