[ uh-tak ]
/ əˈtæk /
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See synonyms for: attack / attacked / attacking / attacks on Thesaurus.com

Definition of attack

verb (used with object)
verb (used without object)
to make an attack; begin hostilities.
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Origin of attack

1590–1600; earlier atta(c)que<Middle French atta(c)quer<Italian attaccare to attack, attach

synonym study for attack

1. Attack, assail, assault, molest all mean to set upon someone forcibly, with hostile or violent intent. Attack is the most general word and applies to a beginning of hostilities, especially those definitely planned: to attack from ambush. Assail implies vehement, sudden, and sometimes repeated attack: to assail with weapons or with gossip. Assault almost always implies bodily violence: to assault with intent to kill. To molest is to harass, to threaten, or to assault: He was safe, and where no one could molest him.


Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is a basic definition of attack?

Attack means to attempt to inflict harm with physical violence, to attempt to inflict harm with words, or to initiate a military offensive against another. Attack has many other senses as a verb and a noun.

Attack means to engage in physical violence against something with the intent to cause physical harm, damage, or death. Attacking doesn’t have to result in harm, however. For example, a person may be attacked by bees but manage to escape before actually getting stung. Someone or something that attacks is an attacker.

  • Real-life examples: A lion will attack with its claws and teeth. In the past, soldiers would attack each other with swords, axes, and other weapons. A scared person may attack a lamp thinking it is a burglar.
  • Used in a sentence: Ashley relentlessly attacked the piñata with a broom handle.

Attack can also mean to try to harm someone verbally. In this sense, attack means to assault someone with criticism, insults, or harsh comments. The attempted harm would be to a person’s feelings, opinions, or arguments.

  • Real-life examples: Politicians are often attacked by political opponents, critics, or even the media. Unfortunately, many people are often attacked by trolls and harassers on social media. Bad or unpopular ideas are often attacked for being impossible or foolish.
  • Used in a sentence: The unpopular director was attacked on social media by fans of the movie franchise.

Attack is also used in both senses as a noun.

  • Used in a sentence: I barely survived the alligator’s attack.
    The company president was outraged by the reporter’s attack on his integrity.

Attack can also mean to initiate acts of war or begin a military offensive. This sense can also be used as a noun.

  • Real-life examples: Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. In 1863, General Robert E. Lee attacked the Union army at Gettysburg during the American Civil War. At the Battle of Thermopylae, almost 7,000 Greek soldiers attempted to resist the Persians’ attack.
  • Used in a sentence: The United Nations was outraged by the country’s unprovoked attack of its neighbor.

Where does attack come from?

The first records of the term attack come from around the 1590s. It comes from the Italian verb attaccare, meaning “to attack” or “to attach.”

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What are some other forms related to attack?

  • attacker (noun)
  • attacking (adjective)
  • nonattacking (adjective)
  • attackable (adjective)
  • postattack (adjective)
  • proattack (adjective)
  • reattack (verb)
  • unattackable (adjective)
  • unattacked (adjective)

What are some synonyms for attack?

What are some words that share a root or word element with attack

What are some words that often get used in discussing attack?

How is attack used in real life?

Attack is a very common word that most often means to physically or verbally assault someone.

Try using attack!

Is attack used correctly in the following sentence?

I attacked the fence with a sledgehammer until it was a pile of broken wood.

How to use attack in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for attack

/ (əˈtæk) /


Derived forms of attack

attackable, adjectiveattacker, nounattacking, adjective

Word Origin for attack

C16: from French attaquer, from Old Italian attaccare to attack, attach, from estaccare to attach, from stacca stake 1; compare attach
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012