See more synonyms for nail 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.
  3. a former measure of length for cloth, equal to 2¼ inches (6.4 cm).
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.
  3. to make fast or keep firmly in one place or position: Surprise nailed him to the spot.
  4. to accomplish perfectly: the only gymnast to nail the dismount.
  5. Informal.
    1. to secure by prompt action; catch or seize: The police nailed him with the goods.
    2. to catch (a person) in some difficulty, lie, etc.
    3. to detect and expose (a lie, scandal, etc.).
  6. Slang. to hit (a person): He nailed him on the chin with an uppercut in the first round.
  7. to focus intently on an object or subject: She kept her eyes nailed on the suspicious customer.
  8. 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.
  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.
  3. on the nail, Informal.
    1. of present interest; under discussion.
    2. without delay; on the spot; at once: He was offered a job on the nail.

Origin of nail

before 900; (noun) Middle English nail(l), nayl(l), Old English nægl, cognate with Old Frisian neil, Old Saxon, Old High German nagal, Dutch nagel, German Nagel, Old Norse nagl fingernail, all < Germanic *naglaz; akin as derivative to Lithuanian nãgas, nagà hoof, OPruss nage foot, OCS noga leg, foot (Serbo-Croatian nòga, Czech noha, Russian nogá; probably orig. jocular reference to the foot as a hoof), OCS nogŭtĭ, Tocharian A maku, B mekwa fingernail, claw, all < North European Indo-European *Honogwh-; further akin to Old Irish ingen, Welsh ewin, Breton ivin < Celtic *ṇgwhīnā, Latin unguis < Italo-Celtic *Hongwhi-; Greek ónyx, stem onych-, Armenian ełungn < *Honogwh-; (v.) Middle English nail(l)(e), nayl(l)e(n), Old English næglian, cognate with Old Saxon neglian, Old High German negilen, Old Norse negla < Germanic *nagl-janan; compare Gothic ganagljan
Related formsnail·less, adjectivenail·like, adjectivere·nail, verb (used with object)

Synonyms for nail

See more synonyms for on Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for nail

Contemporary Examples of nail

Historical Examples of nail

  • In the beginning, a star, when drawn with a nail into a brick looked as follows.

    Ancient Man

    Hendrik Willem van Loon

  • On a nail driven into the door frame hung a heavy bull whip.

    The Monster Men

    Edgar Rice Burroughs

  • He was sent home, and hung upon a nail over against my table.

  • You left them hanging upon the nail, and you found them there.

    The Channings

    Mrs. Henry Wood

  • The latter was angered, and he swallowed her, tooth and nail.

British Dictionary definitions for nail


  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
  3. the horny plate covering part of the dorsal surface of the fingers or toesSee fingernail, toenail Related adjectives: ungual, ungular
  4. the claw of a mammal, bird, or reptile
  5. slang a hypodermic needle, used for injecting drugs
  6. a unit of length, formerly used for measuring cloth, equal to two and a quarter inches
  7. a nail in one's coffin an experience or event that tends to shorten life or hasten the end of something
  8. bite one's nails
    1. to chew off the ends of one's fingernails
    2. to be worried or apprehensive
  9. hard as nails
    1. in tough physical condition
    2. without sentiment or feelings
  10. hit the nail on the head to do or say something correct or telling
  11. on the nail (of payments) at once (esp in the phrase pay on the nail)
verb (tr)
  1. to attach with or as if with nails
  2. informal to arrest or seize
  3. informal to hit or bring down, as with a shotI nailed the sniper
  4. informal to expose or detect (a lie or liar)
  5. to fix or focus (one's eyes, attention, etc) on an object
  6. to stud with nails
See also nail down, nail up
Derived Formsnailer, nounnail-less, adjective

Word Origin for nail

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

Word Origin and History for nail

Old English negel "metal pin," nægl "fingernail (handnægl), toenail," from Proto-Germanic *naglaz (cf. Old Norse nagl "fingernail," nagli "metal nail;" Old Saxon and Old High German nagel, Old Frisian neil, Middle Dutch naghel, Dutch nagel, German Nagel "fingernail, small metal spike"), from PIE root *(o)nogh "nail" (cf. Greek onyx "claw, fingernail;" Latin unguis "nail, claw;" Old Church Slavonic noga "foot," noguti "nail, claw;" Lithuanian naga "hoof," nagutis "fingernail;" Old Irish ingen, Old Welsh eguin "nail, claw").

The "fingernail" sense seems to be the original one. Nail polish attested from 1891. To bite one's nails as a sign of anxiety is attested from 1570s. Nail-biting is from 1805. Hard as nails is from 1828. To hit the nail on the head "say or do just the right thing" is first recorded 1520s. Phrase on the nail "on the spot, exactly" is from 1590s, of obscure origin; OED says it is not even certain it belongs to this sense of nail.


Old English næglian "to fasten with nails," from Proto-Germanic *ganaglijanan (cf. Old Saxon neglian, Old Norse negla, Old High German negilen, German nageln, Gothic ganagljan "to nail"), from the root of nail (n.). Related: Nailed; nailing. Meaning "to catch, seize" is first recorded 1766, probably from earlier sense "to keep fixed in a certain position" (1610s). Meaning "to succeed in hitting" is from 1886. To nail down "to fix down with nails" is from 1660s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

nail in Medicine


  1. A fingernail or toenail.
  2. A slender rod used in operations to fasten together the divided extremities of a broken bone.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

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.