[ neyl ]
See synonyms for: nailnailed on

  1. a slender, typically rod-shaped rigid piece of metal, usually in any of numerous standard lengths from a fraction of an inch to several inches and having one end pointed and the other enlarged and flattened, for hammering into or through wood, other building materials, etc., as used in building, in fastening, or in holding separate pieces together.

  2. a thin, horny plate, consisting of modified epidermis, growing on the upper side of the end of a finger or toe.

  1. a former measure of length for cloth, equal to 2.25 inches (5.7 centimeters).

verb (used with object)
  1. to fasten with a nail or nails: to nail the cover on a box.

  2. to enclose or confine (something) by nailing (often followed by up): to nail up oranges in a crate.

  1. to make fast or keep firmly in one place or position: Surprise nailed him to the spot.

  2. to accomplish perfectly: the only gymnast to nail the dismount.

  3. Informal.

    • to secure by prompt action; catch or seize: The police nailed him with the goods.

    • to catch (a person) in some difficulty, lie, etc.

    • to detect and expose (a lie, scandal, etc.).

  4. Slang. to hit (a person): He nailed him on the chin with an uppercut in the first round.

  5. to focus intently on an object or subject: She kept her eyes nailed on the suspicious customer.

  6. Obsolete. to stud with or as if with nails.

Verb Phrases
  1. nail down, to make final; settle once and for all: Signing the contract will nail down our agreement.

Idioms about nail

  1. hit the nail on the head, to say or do exactly the right thing; be accurate or correct: Your analysis really hit the nail on the head.

  2. nail in someone's / something's coffin, something that hastens the demise or failure of a person or thing: Every moment's delay is another nail in his coffin.

  1. on the nail, Informal.

    • of present interest; under discussion.

    • without delay; on the spot; at once: He was offered a job on the nail.

Origin of nail

First recorded before 900; Middle English (noun) nail, nayl, Old English nægl, cognate with Old Frisian neil, Old Saxon, Old High German nagal, Dutch nagel, German Nagel, Old Norse nagl “fingernail,” all from unattested Germanic naglaz; akin as derivative to Lithuanian nãgas, nagà “hoof,” Old Prussian nage “foot,” Old Church Slavonic noga “leg, foot” (Serbo-Croatian nòga, Czech noha, Polish noga, Russian nogá; probably originally a jocular reference to the foot as a hoof), Old Church Slavonic nogŭtĭ, Tocharian A maku, Tocharian B mekwa “fingernail, claw,” all from unattested North European Indo-European ənogwh-; further akin to Old Irish ingen, Welsh ewin, Breton ivin, from unattested Celtic ṇgwhīnā,Latin unguis, from unattested Italo-Celtic əngwhi-;Greek ónyx, stem onych-, Sanskrit áṅghri- “foot” from unattested áṅghli-; Armenian ełungn, from unattested onogwh-;Middle English (verb) nail(e), nayle, Old English næglian, cognate with Old Saxon neglian, Old High German negilen, Old Norse negla, from unattested Germanic nagl-janan; compare Gothic ganagljan

Other words for nail

Other words from nail

  • nailless, adjective
  • naillike, adjective
  • re·nail, verb (used with object)

Words Nearby nail Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use nail in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for nail


/ (neɪl) /

  1. a fastening device usually made from round or oval wire, having a point at one end and a head at the other

  2. anything resembling such a fastening device, esp in function or shape

  1. the horny plate covering part of the dorsal surface of the fingers or toes: See fingernail, toenail Related adjectives: ungual, ungular

  2. the claw of a mammal, bird, or reptile

  3. slang a hypodermic needle, used for injecting drugs

  4. a unit of length, formerly used for measuring cloth, equal to two and a quarter inches

  5. a nail in one's coffin an experience or event that tends to shorten life or hasten the end of something

  6. bite one's nails

    • to chew off the ends of one's fingernails

    • to be worried or apprehensive

  7. hard as nails

    • in tough physical condition

    • without sentiment or feelings

  8. hit the nail on the head to do or say something correct or telling

  9. on the nail (of payments) at once (esp in the phrase pay on the nail)

  1. to attach with or as if with nails

  2. informal to arrest or seize

  1. informal to hit or bring down, as with a shot: I nailed the sniper

  2. informal to expose or detect (a lie or liar)

  3. to fix or focus (one's eyes, attention, etc) on an object

  4. to stud with nails

Origin of nail

Old English nǣgl; related to Old High German nagal nail, Latin unguis fingernail, claw, Greek onux

Derived forms of nail

  • nailer, noun
  • nail-less, adjective

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

Other Idioms and Phrases with nail


In addition to the idioms beginning with nail

  • nail down
  • nail in one's coffin

also see:

  • bite one's nails
  • fight tooth and nail
  • hard as nails
  • hit the bull's-eye (nail on the head)
  • on the nail

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.