Definition of nail in English:

nail

Line breaks: nail
Pronunciation: /neɪl
 
/

noun

1A small metal spike with a broadened flat head, driven into wood to join things together or to serve as a hook: don’t try and hammer nails into the ceiling joists a masonry nail
More example sentences
  • I also need a hammer and nails, picture hooks and the step ladder.
  • My grandad was an engineer by trade and we had loads of tools and boxes of nails, screws, hooks and no end of other fixings.
  • Bolts, nails and other metal scrap are dangerously strewn about on the bridges posing threat not only to the pedestrians but to the vehicles as well.
Synonyms
2A horny covering on the upper surface of the tip of the finger and toe in humans and other primates: she began to bite her nails [as modifier]: a pair of nail clippers
More example sentences
  • Longitudinal striations are accentuated ridges in the nail surface that can occur as a normal part of the aging process.
  • The dorsal fold that lies on the surface of the nail is the eponychium, or cuticle.
  • Some of those patients had toenails so thick that they had outgrown the average nail clipper long ago.
Synonyms
2.1An animal’s claw: the clicking of a dog’s nails on a wooden floor
More example sentences
  • In mammals, alpha-keratin is found in hair, bristles, hooves, nails, and claws as well as in soft skin.
  • All toes except the hallux have claws; the hallux has a nail.
  • According to zoo officials, the stuffing is almost over and finishing touches are being given to the animal's eyes and nails.
2.2A hard growth on the upper mandible of some soft-billed birds.
More example sentences
  • Walking on land, they pick up food with the nail of their bill or strip seed heads and foliage with the bill's edge.
3A medieval measure of length for cloth, equal to 2 1/4 inches.
4A medieval measure of wool, beef, or other commodity, roughly equal to 7 or 8 pounds.

verb

[with object] Back to top  
1 [with adverbial of place] Fasten with a nail or nails: the strips are simply nailed to the roof
More example sentences
  • Secure each additional board to the furring strips by nailing diagonally through the top edge of the tongue.
  • Boards nailed on tree trunks frequently advertise computer training institutes, he said.
  • So the shelter was finished, the tin roof nailed down and the walls re-enforced.
Synonyms
2 informal Detect or catch (someone, especially a suspected criminal): have you nailed the killer?
More example sentences
  • The police, through hours and hours and hours of work, nailed that criminal.
  • The only people who can nail the perpetrators are the reporters who heard the leaks.
  • Detectives hunting a gunman who executed a father-of-three in a gangland murder have appealed to the criminal underworld to help nail the killer.
Synonyms
catch, capture, apprehend, arrest, take into custody, seize, take in, bring in
informal collar, nab, pinch, cop, run in, pull in, pick up, bust
British informal nick, nobble
2.1Expose (a lie or other deception): he spoke out to nail the lie that he’d had a row with his manager
More example sentences
  • The Clerk of the Senate nailed that lie five years ago when he pointed out the Constitution makes clear federal law takes precedence over state law.
  • Let me finally nail the lie that service pensions are free.
  • Must we wait another twenty years to nail this other lie to the wall as by then it will be too late for this radio station.
Synonyms
expose, reveal, uncover, unmask, bring to light, lay bare, smoke something out, unearth, detect, identify
archaic discover
3 informal (Of a player) strike (a ball) forcefully and successfully: she was stretched to the limit and failed to nail the smash
More example sentences
  • But after just a couple of swings, I started nailing the ball with a high draw.
  • Instinctively, I jumped into the air and nailed the ball with my right foot.
  • He can push the batsman on to his back-foot with a well-directed short-pitched delivery and then unleash a fuller length ball to nail him.
3.1 Baseball (Of a fielder) put (a runner) out by throwing to a base: he muffed a perfect throw home that should have nailed Slo-Joe by yards
More example sentences
  • Even if the throws don't nail runners, the goal is to keep them close enough so they can't score on singles.
  • A great defensive play to nail the lead runner would have left a man on 1st with 1 out, a run expectancy of 0.573.
  • For a split-second I thought he might have a shot at an inside-the-park homer, though a strong throw probably would have nailed him.
3.2chiefly North American (Of a player) defeat or outwit (an opponent): Navratilova tried to nail her on the backhand side
More example sentences
  • He held a narrow 8-7 advantage at the first bell, but turned on the style in the second round and nailed his opponent with some brilliant combinations.
  • The object is to hit your opponent while avoiding being nailed yourself.
  • The sharpshooter kept the West in the game down the stretch, nailing a couple jumpers to keep the score close.
3.3(Of a player) secure (a victory) conclusively: I fancy the Scots to nail a win
More example sentences
  • Last, but not least, for the first time in this league race, the Ibrox men entered into the encounter knowing pole position would be nailed with a victory.
  • His final birdie putt pulled him level with defending champion who failed to nail his own birdie putt for victory.
  • Though Kandy had the edge in the scrums and lineouts, the tough Sailors with their bruising play nailed their opponents.
4 vulgar slang , chiefly US (Of a man) have sexual intercourse with.

Origin

Old English nægel (noun), næglan (verb), of Germanic origin; related to Dutch nagel and German Nagel, from an Indo-European root shared by Latin unguis and Greek onux.

Phrases

fight tooth and nail

see tooth.

(as) hard as nails

(Of a person) very tough or callous: I can fight for whatever I want and I’m hard as nails
More example sentences
  • ‘One of these days you're going to say something like that and someone is going to hurt you for it,’ he hissed, his voice cold and hard as nails.
  • Lisa, who's hard as nails, was clearly having none of it, and handed the woman a ten pound note for the £12.70 charge, saying ‘I don't care if your children do starve’.
  • Women are soft like fluffy cotton, men are hard as nails and plywood.
Synonyms
callous, hard-hearted, heartless, with a heart of stone, stony, stony-hearted, unfeeling, unsympathetic, uncaring, insensitive, unsentimental, cold-hearted, cold, hard-bitten, tough, unforgiving, lacking compassion, uncharitable, inflexible, unbending, implacable
North American informal badass

nail one's colours to the mast

see mast1.

a nail in the coffin of

An action or event regarded as likely to have a detrimental or devastating effect on (a situation or person): this was going to put the final nail in the coffin of his career
More example sentences
  • The Huntmaster said: ‘It is a nail in the coffin but they have got a few more to get in yet before we are gone completely.’
  • But while I am cognizant of the slippery slope, I think it's silly to say that every less-than-ideal action is a nail in the coffin of liberty.
  • Genetically modified crops could put a nail in the coffin of traditional and organic farming in the area.

on the nail (North American also on the barrelhead)

informal (Of payment) without delay: not paying on the nail could be extremely expensive
More example sentences
  • Why denigrate cash on the nail as a motive for art?
  • Pretty much everyone who couldn't afford to put cash on the barrelhead for a place at the banquet.
  • The other is to fight fire with fire and put our own cash on the barrelhead.
Synonyms
immediately, at once, without delay, straight away, right away, promptly, on the spot, directly, now, this minute; North Americanon the barrelhead

Phrasal verbs

nail someone down

Elicit a firm commitment from someone: I can’t nail her down to a specific date
More example sentences
  • I want people to know when they come to a show that it's going to be all over the place and that it's fun without having to nail us down to any other expectation.
  • Cos the last time a target was just a lofty goal, not a commitment or a promise. Let's nail him down this time.
  • Now, I am not looking to nail you down about what material you want to put on - I understand that those things are dependent upon how the material shapes - but what time are we looking at?

nail something down

1Identify something precisely: something seems unexpected—I can’t nail it down, but it makes me uneasy
More example sentences
  • I'll keep thinking about it and see if I can nail it down a little more precisely.
  • But the story by now has become a rollercoaster, and I am an agnostic until someone nails it down.
  • And because it's of course in our backyard - we're based down here - we had some very good sources and we were able to nail this story down.
2Secure an agreement: the company has finally nailed down the agreement with its distributors
More example sentences
  • He has had opportunities to win the job but hasn't come close to nailing it down.
  • Until common standards, definitions and interpretations are nailed down and agreed, participants in future talks may as well be speaking two different languages.
  • That's the great danger that nothing about this handover has been nailed down, nothing that - you can't say the ink has not dried yet - the document hasn't been written yet.

Derivatives

nailed

adjective
[in combination]: dirty-nailed fingers

nailless

adjective
More example sentences
  • This is a completely nailless system that snaps together for to form a smooth seam and pull apart easily.
  • The straw roofs and nailless construction techniques are endlessly fascinating and there is an interesting pamphlet available in English.
  • Our products are nailless and easy to assemble.

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