From definitions I found elsewhere, All these words mean some kind of attack. What are the subtle differences between them? When can we use them interchangebly and when cannot?

Research done:

Definitions from http://www.wikidiff.com/:

Attack: To apply violent force to someone or something.

Assail: To attack violently using words or force.

Assault: To attack, threaten or harass.

These definitions don't pinpoint the exact difference in their usage.

  • They are not all the same. No two words have the same denotation and same connotations in all contexts.
    – Drew
    Nov 1, 2016 at 14:40
  • @SvenYargs Research would be searching among a list of dictionaries which are not written to explain "the-difference-between". Another relevant website is wikidiff.com, which in this case doesn't pinpoint the exact difference. BTW I didn't see why this question is any better or has more research done but has 30+ upvotes (english.stackexchange.com/questions/105/…). Being Question 105 it was asked years ago, though.
    – Cyker
    Nov 17, 2016 at 6:25
  • @Cyker Please edit the body of your question to include whatever research you did, the results you obtained, and why you found them inadequate to answer your question.
    – MetaEd
    Nov 17, 2016 at 16:54
  • Your observation that the lay/lie question from August 2010 shows no prior research is undeniable. But as this site has evolved, the standards that questions are expected to meet have risen. It isn't difficult find instances where even recently asked questions don't show research, but that fact doesn't shield other researchless questions from the standards; it simply reveals that enforcement of the standards is inconsistent. So you can reasonably argue that your question was unlucky in failing to escape proper enforcement, but not that it actually satisfies current prescribed site standards.
    – Sven Yargs
    Nov 17, 2016 at 19:28
  • 1
    I have upvoted your question and voted to reopen it. Thanks for making the effort to satisfy current site standards.
    – Sven Yargs
    Nov 17, 2016 at 21:00

1 Answer 1


Assail is more commonly used to describe the action of launching a verbal attack but does not exclude a physical attack, whereas assault is more commonly used in a physical attack but does not exclude a verbal attack. However, attack amounting to an assault per se in civil law (Common Law) may constitute the mere threat of a battery (physical assault) so that, for example, when someone shakes his fist at an intended victim and motions menacingly towards him, the inchoate action alone constitutes a civil assault (but not a criminal assault), even where the intended victim of the threatened civil law battery (physical attack) manages to run out of harm's way.


to attack someone violently or criticize someone strongly (emphasis added) -- Cambridge Dictionary


1). The definition of an assault is an act that causes verbal or physical (emphasis added) injury -- (yourdictionary.com)

2). (Law) An act that threatens physical harm to a person, whether or not actual harm is done -- (yourdictionary.com)


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