v. at·tacked, at·tack·ing, at·tacks
1. To set upon with violent force.
2. To criticize strongly or in a hostile manner.
3. To start work on with purpose and vigor: attack a problem.
4. To act on in a detrimental way; cause harm to: a disease that attacks the central nervous system; lawn furniture attacked by corrosion.
a. To play (the ball) aggressively, especially by moving toward it rather than by waiting for it to arrive.
b. To move toward (the goal) on an offensive play, as in lacrosse.
c. In volleyball, to hit (the ball) forcefully over the net.
d. To make a sudden, intense effort to pass (a competitor in a race).
1. To make an attack; launch an assault: The enemy attacked during the night.
a. To make a play on offense; attempt to score.
b. To make a sudden, intense effort to pull ahead in a race.
1. The act or an instance of attacking; an assault.
2. An expression of strong criticism; hostile comment: vicious attacks in all the newspapers.
a. Offensive play, especially in lacrosse.
b. An offensive play: Two midfielders were involved in the attack that resulted in a goal.
c. The players executing such a play.
d. Scoring ability or potential: a team with a powerful attack.
e. A forceful shot over the net in volleyball.
f. A sudden, intense effort to pull ahead in a race: waited until the last lap to begin her attack.
a. The initial movement in a task or undertaking: made an optimistic attack on the pile of paperwork.
b. A method or procedure: Our attack on this project will have two phases.
5. An episode or onset of a disease, especially an occurrence of a chronic disease: an asthma attack.
6. The experience or beginning of a feeling, need, or desire: an attack of hunger; an attack of melancholy.
a. Music The beginning or manner of beginning a piece, passage, or tone.
b. Decisiveness and clarity in artistic expression: a careful performance, but one lacking the rigorous attack the work demands.
[French attaquer, from Old French, from Old Italian *estaccare, of Germanic origin.]
Synonyms: attack, assail, storm, assault, batter, beset
These verbs, drawn from military activity, mean in their figurative senses to act forcefully or aggressively toward someone or something. Attack applies especially to hostile verbal criticism: reviews that attacked the film for its senseless violence; attacked the ruling as detrimental to business interests.
Assail suggests repeated forceful attacks: Critics assailed the author's second novel.
Storm refers to a sudden sweeping attempt to overwhelm or win over: "After triumphantly storming the country, [the President] is obliged to storm Capitol Hill" (The Economist).
Assault and batter can suggest relentless attack or debilitating force: "We are all assaulted by so many messages battering us from the outside every hour of the day that our capacity for listening to our own inner voices is often drowned out" (Harvey Cox).
Beset suggests beleaguerment from all sides: "Rural and suburban areas have been beset by white-tailed deer gnawing shrubbery and crops, spreading disease" (Andrew C. Revkin).
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.
American Heritage Dictionary Products
The American Heritage Dictionary, 5th Edition
The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms
The American Heritage Roget's Thesaurus
Curious George's Dictionary
The American Heritage Children's Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots
The American Heritage Student Grammar Dictionary
The American Heritage Desk Dictionary + Thesaurus
The American Heritage Science Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary of Business Terms
The American Heritage Student Dictionary
The American Heritage Essential Student Thesaurus