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essay Syllabification: es·say

Definition of essay in English:


1A short piece of writing on a particular subject.
Example sentences
  • Apart from the novels, Sundara Ramaswamy has written several short stories and essays on literary criticism.
  • That might be the inevitable price of writing short essays.
  • He began writing plays, essays, short stories and then film scripts declaring that he planned to devote his life to art as a force for social change.
2 formal An attempt or effort: a misjudged essay
More example sentences
  • Tourism at its best is an attempt, an essay, and not all essays are trivial.
attempt, effort, endeavor, try, venture, trial, experiment, undertaking
2.1A trial design of a postage stamp yet to be accepted.
Example sentences
  • He had a beautiful collection of essays and proofs, obtained largely from the designers and engravers with whom he was intimately acquainted.
  • The Prince Consort essay shown here can be regarded as the forerunner of later Victorian stamps.


[with object] formal Back to top  
Attempt or try: essay a smile
More example sentences
  • The newsreader forced a glassy smile and essayed a limp defence.
  • The Socialist Party alone seems to be essaying a relatively sophisticated campaign, and taking the trouble to tell voters who its candidates are.
  • For any sportsperson, the point of contact in essaying a stroke is the moment of joy.


Late 15th century (as a verb in the sense 'test the quality of'): alteration of assay, by association with Old French essayer, based on late Latin exagium 'weighing', from the base of exigere 'ascertain, weigh'; the noun (late 16th century) is from Old French essai 'trial'.

  • Essay is a variant of assay (Middle English) ‘try, test’, going back to Latin exigere ‘ascertain, weigh’. In writing contexts, it referred initially to ‘a first draft’ but came to mean ‘a composition’. This use seems to have been taken from the French philosopher and essayist Montaigne (1533–92) whose Essais were first published in 1580.

Words that rhyme with essay

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