Definition of nail in English:



  • 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’
    • ‘It was a long piece of wood connected to a smaller piece of wood by some nails and a screw.’
    • ‘My salvation came in the form of a little nail driven deep in the wood.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Now, the trick is to hit the flat part of the nail with the flat part of the hammer, thus driving it into the wood.’
    • ‘Built on sloping ground, the two-storey houses are made of wood held together by wooden nails and wedges with no iron or steel used.’
    • ‘Not only that: the lines and shadows that make up the drawing are created entirely from masonry nails.’
    • ‘I cut two big pieces of wood and drove nails into them and tied them together.’
    • ‘Some residents had complained about sharp wood splinters and nails encroaching upon the children's play area in the park.’
    • ‘The health and safety regulations included ensuring any wood collected had no nails in it and all materials prior to burning had to be fenced off.’
    • ‘I also need a hammer and nails, picture hooks and the step ladder.’
    • ‘The gypsum board must be attached to the wood furring strips or underlying masonry using nails or screws.’
    • ‘After all, those pockets could come in handy when you're juggling hammers, nails and screws.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘When choosing nails, bolts, screws and metal fasteners, use only hot dipped galvanized fasteners.’
    • ‘If you look closely, you can see some of the nails poking through the wood and it feels authentically gutsy.’
    • ‘Wood formwork designed for internal vibration is usually joined by nails between the stud and face sheet and between the stud and the walers.’
    • ‘One is a collection with dresses in black and white geometric patterns decorated with black leather and metal ornamental nails.’
    • ‘However, one thing is certain that it's time to get out the nails and hammer, locate the wood and wheels and build your own flying machine.’
    • ‘I mean people talk about how you'd like to see children play out practical games, if you like, give them a hammer and nails and a piece of wood.’
    • ‘Once I had it positioned, I used wood glue and brad nails from the inside to permanently fasten the front oak trim piece with no visible fasteners.’
    pin, spike, tack, rivet
    View 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’
    • ‘Make sure you get in between the fingers and under the nails where uninvited germs like to hang out.’
    • ‘The rest of the nail bed provides a surface for the growing nail to slide over as it advances at the rate of about 0.1 mm/day.’
    • ‘Muscles, organs, hair, nails and ligaments are all composed of protein, so it's obvious why protein is an important part of the diet.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Your nail bed is the skin beneath the nail plate.’
    • ‘Women have come to realize that they don't need to settle for a man with out-of-control eyebrows, chewed up nails, and dirty toenails.’
    • ‘To avoid ingrown toenails, cut your nails straight across.’
    • ‘For example - I know that vitamin E is good for human hair, nails, and skin - so does this apply to cats as well?’
    • ‘Laura started biting the nail on her right index finger.’
    • ‘She kept her index finger in her mouth, biting the nail to keep her sane.’
    • ‘Keratin is an extremely tough protein material that comprises the bulk of hair, nails and horny tissue.’
    • ‘The sisters had their nails done together, recently splurging an extra $5 to have tiny flowers painted on their wine-colored toes.’
    • ‘She placed her finger on the edge of the glass, scraping her nail across its surface.’
    • ‘Alex was clearly nervous, because she kept bending and flexing her fingers, and her nails were bitten down to the flesh.’
    • ‘Debris from under fingernails should be removed with a nail cleaner under running water.’
    • ‘Some of those patients had toenails so thick that they had outgrown the average nail clipper long ago.’
    • ‘In the grand scheme of things, dry skin, rough nails and cracked fingertips are not serious health problems.’
    • ‘Choking back my breath to keep from crying out I clutched at my chest and felt my nails bite into the flesh of my palms.’
    • ‘The surface of the nails were smooth and without any defects.’
    fingernail, thumbnail, toenail
    View synonyms
    1. 2.1 An animal's claw.
      ‘the clicking of a dog's nails on a wooden floor’
      • ‘The scratching that they do is a way of trimming their nails and it removes the old outer part of the claws.’
      • ‘According to zoo officials, the stuffing is almost over and finishing touches are being given to the animal's eyes and nails.’
      • ‘Click-Click-Click-Click… It was the sound of canine nails on a hard floor.’
      • ‘Clipping your dog's nails might be easier than you think.’
      • ‘They have sharp nails and their hind legs are naturally very strong.’
      • ‘Dugongids lack the vestigial nails on their flippers that are possessed by manatees.’
      • ‘In mammals, alpha-keratin is found in hair, bristles, hooves, nails, and claws as well as in soft skin.’
      • ‘The first two phalanges of each digit are flattened and expanded, while the last is reduced and bears a nail, not a hoof.’
      • ‘All toes except the hallux have claws; the hallux has a nail.’
      • ‘Closer examination, however, reveals the loris's close-set eyes and the nails on its feet and hands.’
      • ‘It was an agile climber, with long hind limbs for leaping, nails on its digits, and a grasping big toe.’
      • ‘Brushing a dog is not the end-all of grooming - clipping a dog's nails and cleaning his ears every week are also a part of the routine.’
      • ‘It may sometimes be unnecessary to trim the nails on the hind feet of your Shih Tzu as they seem to grow much slower than the fore feet.’
      • ‘The nails of the caviines are short and either sharp or blunt; those of Dolichotis are hooflike on the hindfeet and clawlike on the forefeet.’
      • ‘You should check your dog's nails at least once each month.’
      • ‘In one view, grasping ability with nails, and forward facing eyes evolved together to enable the animals to prey on insects found at the base of trees.’
      • ‘The nails are actually somewhere between true nail and hoof in form.’
    2. 2.2 A hard growth on the upper mandible of some soft-billed birds.
      • ‘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 21/4 inches.

  • 4A medieval measure of wool, beef, or other commodity, roughly equal to 7 or 8 pounds.


[with object]
  • 1with adverbial of place Fasten with a nail or nails.

    ‘the strips are simply nailed to the roof’
    • ‘I've got most of the roof done, and all I need to do there is nail a few more boards to it and smear that roofing tar across it.’
    • ‘Nadia flicked the small wind chimes she'd nailed to the edge of her desk, taking comfort is the light echoes.’
    • ‘Finally, glue or nail an edging strip to the skirting board.’
    • ‘The two of them pulled the shelves away from the door and removed the boards that had been nailed over it from the wall, and then stopped to catch their breath.’
    • ‘Nobody plays at the park anymore, except for small children, and the school has been locked up, boards nailed over the windows, for the last ten years.’
    • ‘The coffin will be placed on a catafalque of rough pine boards, nailed together and covered with black cloth, which was first used for Abraham Lincoln's funeral.’
    • ‘Following local custom, they write the names of the crew and the dates of their stay on a board that is nailed to the wall of the original Portuguese chapel.’
    • ‘All windows had been nailed shut with boards, and the men especially complained about the darkness.’
    • ‘The block and facings were then attached to a quadrant-shaped board nailed to the underside of the carcass.’
    • ‘We nailed boards, tar-paper and old paneling over our broken windows.’
    • ‘Every opening was sealed and covered with a thick sheet of wood seemingly screwed down and into the frame with thick bolts at each corner and nailed along every edge.’
    • ‘Do not nail the edge rafters where the sheathing meets until the adjoining sheet is in place.’
    • ‘Every foot or so along the twenty-five foot climb from ground to balcony a board had been nailed to the front: an easy ladder to the trap door.’
    • ‘Toe board jacks nailed to the roof support you and your materials with a 2 by 6 plank.’
    • ‘Traditionally, skirting boards are nailed to the wall using oval or lost head nails which can then be punched into the board.’
    • ‘So the shelter was finished, the tin roof nailed down and the walls re-enforced.’
    • ‘Boards nailed on tree trunks frequently advertise computer training institutes, he said.’
    • ‘Secure each additional board to the furring strips by nailing diagonally through the top edge of the tongue.’
    • ‘Or were the flags put up in order to deflect racial tension, as if to brace for the worst, akin to Floridians nailing boards over their windows before the hurricanes hit.’
    • ‘Water gushed through as they began to nail another board in place.’
    fasten, attach, fix, affix, secure, tack, hammer, pin, post
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  • 2informal Detect or catch (someone, especially a suspected criminal)

    ‘have you nailed the killer?’
    • ‘Maybe it's true they can't easily get hard evidence to nail the culprits.’
    • ‘The police, through hours and hours and hours of work, nailed that criminal.’
    • ‘Bosses at the coach company are offering a cash reward to anyone who helps nail the thugs responsible for a £15,000 wrecking spree.’
    • ‘And it's our duty as citizens to give police a fighting chance to nail them.’
    • ‘Retailers should do everything they can to nail store thieves.’
    • ‘Unlike now when households harbour criminals and share the loot, police will always find it difficult to nail the thieves.’
    • ‘And you know, again, it's so hard to nail these white collar criminals, because they get the best legal talent.’
    • ‘Federal prosecutors, at least in those cities, should be applauded for doing their best to nail cops suspected of abuse.’
    • ‘Scottish police hope eventually to nail the criminal as a direct result of traces of sweat he left behind on torch batteries.’
    • ‘ASBOs allow the police to nail people for offences too minor to be criminal.’
    • ‘Though not his most attractive feature, it may well be the one that nails his killer.’
    • ‘Catching him up on a financial technicality is akin to nailing Capone on tax evasion.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘It seemed like no problem nailing Oswald as the assassin.’
    • ‘The only people who can nail the perpetrators are the reporters who heard the leaks.’
    • ‘He knows that nailing cops is a rough task for even the most diligent prosecutor.’
    • ‘The technique is not unlike nailing the murderous Al Capone for tax evasion.’
    • ‘The rise in burglaries has disappointed police who have introduced two ‘target squads’ to nail burglars and car thieves.’
    • ‘It is a year since she was buried, yet we are no closer to nailing her killers’
    • ‘He only has an hour to nail his boss, the real killer, before being identified himself.’
    • ‘The principle of the police being able to view encrypted data, so that they can nail paedophiles, drug dealers, etc, has some genuine merits.’
    catch, capture, apprehend, arrest, take into custody, seize, take in, bring in
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    1. 2.1 Expose (a lie or other deception)
      ‘he spoke out to nail the lie that he'd had a row with his manager’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘We had already nailed the lies of the Prime Minister and his Chancellor.’
      • ‘The book sets out to nail the lies and myths about the man, to set the record straight.’
      • ‘Let me finally nail the lie that service pensions are free.’
      • ‘The referendum will give pro-Europeans the chance to nail these lies.’
      • ‘Moreover, they had a refreshing ability to avoid being nailed by those same tabloids that uncovered acts of debauchery by British players on a depressingly regular basis.’
      • ‘It nails the lie that there can't be any alternative outside of this Party.’
      • ‘Of course, each has a deep dark secret that the film painstakingly exposes, but attentive viewers will nail them all well before the end.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘But many white-collar crime experts question whether a similar tactic could nail this pair.’
      • ‘Secondly, Ryder recurrently nailed the more pained aspects of the human condition with laser-like insight.’
      • ‘A scientist involved in embryonic stem cell research nails the Senator's lies about the matter.’
      expose, reveal, uncover, unmask, bring to light, lay bare, smoke something out, unearth, detect, identify
      View synonyms
  • 3informal (of a player) strike (a ball) forcefully and successfully.

    ‘she was stretched to the limit and failed to nail the smash’
    • ‘In the victory last Saturday over North Carolina, he nailed three field goals and all three extra points.’
    • ‘He was uncharacteristically astray with a third conversion attempt, but he showed the misses didn't rattle him by nailing a 30-metre penalty two minutes later to put the Bulls in front.’
    • ‘I told him, ‘This is a must-make putt, trust your stroke’, and he nailed it.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘It was a free-kick curled in from deep on the left, and Toni nailed a magnificent header past Barthez and low into the corner from 16 yards.’
    • ‘The striped ball he was aiming for ricocheted off the side of the wall and nailed the black 8 ball.’
    • ‘He promptly nailed his next tee shot right down the middle for about 200 yards.’
    1. 3.1Baseball (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’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Even if the throws don't nail runners, the goal is to keep them close enough so they can't score on singles.’
      • ‘He calls games effectively, blocks balls well and throws accurately, nailing 30 percent of runners.’
      • ‘On the mound, he had also nailed three Oriole batters with pitches.’
    2. 3.2North American (of a player) defeat or outwit (an opponent)
      ‘Navratilova tried to nail her on the backhand side’
      • ‘The sharpshooter kept the West in the game down the stretch, nailing a couple jumpers to keep the score close.’
      • ‘A linebacker came up and nailed him head-on, stopped him cold.’
      • ‘If we're going to fine people for hitting quarterbacks and receivers with the top of their helmets, we have to nail Hampton as well.’
      • ‘After being nailed by three successive left hooks flush on the face, he was sent to the canvas for a mandatory count.’
      • ‘She nailed both of her shots to even the score at 50 apiece.’
      • ‘The object is to hit your opponent while avoiding being nailed yourself.’
      • ‘Muriel meanwhile nailed Crystal with a shot when her back was turned.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘He nailed the Expos player twice in a game last week.’
      • ‘The Heriot's cover nailed him and the chance was lost.’
      • ‘Then he's going to have to throw the ball back into the infield, and sometimes, there's going to be a guy trying to take an extra base, and Chuck is going to have to try to nail him.’
    3. 3.3 (of a player) secure (a victory) conclusively.
      ‘I fancy the Scots to nail a win’
      • ‘His final birdie putt pulled him level with defending champion who failed to nail his own birdie putt for victory.’
      • ‘After all, a kicker who nails a game-winner one week can find himself cut eight days later if he doesn't come through during the next game.’
      • ‘Though Kandy had the edge in the scrums and lineouts, the tough Sailors with their bruising play nailed their opponents.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Two weeks later, they nailed it with time to spare.’
      • ‘If a player cannot nail the right combination of darts he will lose.’
      • ‘Which is essentially what Hassell did, nailing six of seven shots in the second half, and 7 of 10 overall.’
      • ‘Her opponent from Eastridge nailed a cross-court winner on the return.’
      • ‘He set the tone for the USA, opening the night's competition on the floor exercise and nailing his routine with a 9.7.’
  • 4informal Perform (an action or task) perfectly.

    ‘she absolutely nailed the high notes’
    ‘I guess they were indeed impressed (nailed it!)’
  • 5US vulgar slang (of a man) have sexual intercourse with.


  • (as) hard as nails

    • (of a person) very tough or callous.

      ‘I can fight for whatever I want and I'm hard as nails’
      • ‘To put it bluntly, they tend to be as hard as nails.’
      • ‘He was as hard as nails, and even if we weren't scared of him, he had our respect and a certain amount of hero worship.’
      • ‘He was light but as hard as nails and he would go through you for a shortcut.’
      • ‘Women are soft like fluffy cotton, men are hard as nails and plywood.’
      • ‘He was of the old school of player, brilliant in the air and hard as nails in the tackle, he gave as good as he got and was no mean player.’
      • ‘I wouldn't say I'm soft as putty but I wouldn't say I'm hard as nails either.’
      • ‘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’.’
      • ‘I loved watching him as he was hard as nails and a real winner.’
      • ‘Sharp as a tack, hard as nails and always good-humoured, he is a good man to have around.’
      • ‘‘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.’
      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
      View synonyms
  • 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’
      • ‘But today the Government has put a nail in the coffin of any future growth, because this Budget is a no-growth Budget.’
      • ‘So if the organisation were to die out with the older generation, would it be a natural death or would it be a nail in the coffin for local democracy and community spirit?’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’’
      • ‘So can broadband technology, an explosion of choice, and the continued cultural drift toward the short and the visual finally put a nail in the coffin?’
      • ‘She doesn't have any really obsession for writing stories anymore, the virus attack was just a nail in the coffin.’
      • ‘Genetically modified crops could put a nail in the coffin of traditional and organic farming in the area.’
      • ‘The Chancellor's £5bn raid on pension funds drove a nail in the coffin of final-salary pension schemes.’
      • ‘Because it is a last chance when you are behind, a nail in the coffin when you are ahead.’
      • ‘It could be that the bill is a nail in the coffin of our family structure, or it could be that it is simply a reflection of a change whose time is due.’
  • on the nail

    • informal (of payment) without delay.

      ‘not paying on the nail could be extremely expensive’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘The DCI chuckled: ‘You probably don't know that he bought that cottage cash on the nail.’’
      • ‘After considerable persuasion and $50 cash on the barrelhead, O'Shea went home with the kitten, who was about 10 weeks old by then.’
      • ‘Why denigrate cash on the nail as a motive for art?’
      immediately, at once, without delay, straight away, right away, promptly, on the spot, directly, now, this minute
      View synonyms
  • (as) tough as nails

    • (of a person) very strong and resilient in the face of hardship or pain.

      ‘a leader who is as tough as nails’
      as modifier ‘a tough as nails sergeant’
      • ‘She certainly can be as tough as nails when needed.’
      • ‘Her brother describes her as tough as nails.’
      • ‘He was a fighter, tough as nails.’
      • ‘Her mother was a midwife, tough as nails.’
      • ‘He looked as tough as nails and certainly not a man to mess with.’

Phrasal Verbs

  • nail someone down

    • Elicit a firm commitment from someone.

      ‘I can't nail her down to a specific date’
      • ‘We couldn't quite nail them down on their prices for the new service, but we can say that it will be comparable to other subscription services the company offers.’
      • ‘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?’
      • ‘Cos the last time a target was just a lofty goal, not a commitment or a promise. Let's nail him down this time.’
      • ‘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.’
  • nail something down

    • 1Identify something precisely.

      ‘something seems unexpected—I can't nail it down, but it makes me uneasy’
      • ‘Now was the time to find out for sure and nail 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.’
      • ‘But the story by now has become a rollercoaster, and I am an agnostic until someone nails it down.’
      • ‘I'll keep thinking about it and see if I can nail it down a little more precisely.’
      • ‘So it's very, very difficult to nail it down as to who put the information out.’
      • ‘Sometimes you can put a piece together quickly, and sometimes you just have to wait until your sources nail it down for you.’
      • ‘He even recently diagnosed a problem all on his own, nailing it down to one of three things.’
      • ‘If you are interested, here's one group's attempt to nail it down.’
      • ‘And so unexceptional, so mundane is the process that it took researchers over 20 years of observing parents and children together to nail it down.’
      • ‘I don't think it's important for me to nail the reason down.’
    • 2Secure an agreement.

      ‘the company has finally nailed down the agreement with its distributors’
      • ‘‘We spent the summer going over the language until we nailed it down,’ he says.’
      • ‘He has had opportunities to win the job but hasn't come close to nailing it down.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Until common standards, definitions and interpretations are nailed down and agreed, participants in future talks may as well be speaking two different languages.’
      • ‘True conservatives no doubt will rationalize this away with thoughts of what they will do to the dreaded welfare state once the partisan realignment has been nailed down.’
      • ‘They strive to nail these issues down early, and make sure that the marketing dude understands the impact of late decisions, and sees the value of the design ideas.’


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.