See more synonyms for sail on
  1. an area of canvas or other fabric extended to the wind in such a way as to transmit the force of the wind to an assemblage of spars and rigging mounted firmly on a hull, raft, iceboat, etc., so as to drive it along.
  2. some similar piece or apparatus, as the part of an arm that catches the wind on a windmill.
  3. a voyage or excursion, especially in a sailing vessel: They went for a sail around the island.
  4. a sailing vessel or ship.
  5. sailing vessels collectively: The fleet numbered 30 sail.
  6. sails for a vessel or vessels collectively.
  7. (initial capital letter) Astronomy. the constellation Vela.
verb (used without object)
  1. to move along or travel over water: steamships sailing to Lisbon.
  2. to manage a sailboat, especially for sport.
  3. to begin a journey by water: We are sailing at dawn.
  4. to move along in a manner suggestive of a sailing vessel: caravans sailing along.
  5. to move along in a stately, effortless way: to sail into a room.
verb (used with object)
  1. to sail upon, over, or through: to sail the seven seas.
  2. to navigate (a vessel).
Verb Phrases
  1. sail in/into, Informal.
    1. to go vigorously into action; begin to act; attack.
    2. to attack verbally: He would sail into his staff when work was going badly.
  1. in sail, with the sails set.
  2. make sail, Nautical.
    1. to set the sail or sails of a boat or increase the amount of sail already set.
    2. to set out on a voyage: Make sail for the Leeward Islands.
  3. set sail, to start a sea voyage: We set sail at midnight for Nantucket.
  4. trim one's sails, Informal. to cut expenses; economize: We're going to have to trim our sails if we stay in business.
  5. under sail, with sails set; in motion; sailing: It was good to be under sail in the brisk wind and under the warm sun.

Origin of sail

before 900; (noun) Middle English sail(e), seille, Old English segl; cognate with German Segel, Old Norse segl; (v.) Middle English seillen, saylen, Old English siglan, seglian; cognate with Dutch zeilen, Old Norse sigla
Related formssail·a·ble, adjectivesail·less, adjectiveun·sail·a·ble, adjectiveun·sailed, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for sail

Contemporary Examples of sail

Historical Examples of sail

  • He didn't go on board till the morning on which the ship was to sail.

    Brave and Bold

    Horatio Alger

  • A five, a four and the main,' shouted the big man, with a voice like the flap of a sail.

    The White Company

    Arthur Conan Doyle

  • We had a ship, a brig, and twelve schooners, fourteen sail in all.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • A little later the larboard fore-sheet went, and the sail was split.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • We set it, double-reefed, which made it but a rag of a sail, and yet the ship felt it directly.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

British Dictionary definitions for sail


  1. an area of fabric, usually Terylene or nylon (formerly canvas), with fittings for holding it in any suitable position to catch the wind, used for propelling certain kinds of vessels, esp over water
  2. a voyage on such a vessela sail down the river
  3. a vessel with sails or such vessels collectivelyto travel by sail; we raised seven sail in the northeast
  4. a ship's sails collectively
  5. something resembling a sail in shape, position, or function, such as the part of a windmill that is turned by the wind or the part of a Portuguese man-of-war that projects above the water
  6. the conning tower of a submarine
  7. in sail having the sail set
  8. make sail
    1. to run up the sail or to run up more sail
    2. to begin a voyage
  9. set sail
    1. to embark on a voyage by ship
    2. to hoist sail
  10. under sail
    1. with sail hoisted
    2. under way
verb (mainly intr)
  1. to travel in a boat or shipwe sailed to Le Havre
  2. to begin a voyage; set sailwe sail at 5 o'clock
  3. (of a vessel) to move over the waterthe liner is sailing to the Caribbean
  4. (tr) to manoeuvre or navigate a vesselhe sailed the schooner up the channel
  5. (tr) to sail overshe sailed the Atlantic single-handed
  6. (often foll by over, through, etc) to move fast or effortlesslywe sailed through customs; the ball sailed over the fence
  7. to move along smoothly; glide
  8. (often foll by in or into) informal
    1. to begin (something) with vigour
    2. to make an attack (on) violently with words or physical force
Derived Formssailable, adjectivesailless, adjective

Word Origin for sail

Old English segl; related to Old Frisian seil, Old Norse segl, German Segel
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 sail

Old English segl "sail, veil, curtain," from Proto-Germanic *seglom (cf. Old Saxon, Swedish segel, Old Norse segl, Old Frisian seil, Dutch zeil, Old High German segal, German Segel), of obscure origin with no known cognates outside Germanic (Irish seol, Welsh hwyl "sail" are Germanic loan-words). In some sources (Klein, OED) referred to PIE root *sek- "to cut," as if meaning "a cut piece of cloth." To take the wind out of (someone's) sails (1888) is to deprive (someone) of the means of progress, especially by sudden and unexpected action, "as by one vessel sailing between the wind and another vessel," ["The Encyclopaedic Dictionary," 1888].


Old English segilan "travel on water in a ship; equip with a sail," from the same Germanic source as sail (n.); cognate with Old Norse sigla, Middle Dutch seghelen, Dutch zeilen, Middle Low German segelen, German segeln. Meaning "to set out on a sea voyage, leave port" is from c.1200. Related: Sailed; sailing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with sail


In addition to the idioms beginning with sail

  • sail close to the wind
  • sail into
  • sail through
  • sail under false colors

also see:

  • (sail under) false colors
  • plain sailing
  • set sail
  • smooth sailing
  • take the wind out of one's sails
  • trim one's sails
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.