In Portuguese we have a specific word for that, cravar (as in to nail or to affix with nails, from Latin clavare) but I don’t know if in English there's a single word that works like that. It’s about piercing or pinning the flesh with really sharp pointed claw, like how you’d nail a picture to the wall by driving a sharp pointed nail into the wall.

I first thought about to carve, but then I found out these are false friends (because carve in English is etymologically related to verbs for notching and probably even to engraving).

Someone also told me that the animal “drives its claws into” the prey’s flesh, and that makes sense, I’ve heard this before, but I’d like to know of more words that describe this action.

  • 2
    The usual term is mauled.
    – Robusto
    Nov 28, 2021 at 0:31
  • 2
    There is the verb "to claw" - The scratch or tear with the claws, however this tends to imply the motion of the claws through the skin/flesh. "The cat clawed my hand." "The dog clawed at the door but it would not open." For example, for describing a lion attacking an antelope, we would say, "The lion sank its claws into the antelope."
    – Greybeard
    Nov 28, 2021 at 0:36
  • Which precise action? Is it specifically a word for making a single deep wound into flesh (like stabbing or even impaling), or is it a more general term for a savage attack with claws that a wild animal makes (mauling, as mentioned). "Drives its claws into" indicates getting a hold of someone in a cruel way, more than it indicates a savage attack likely to cause death.
    – Stuart F
    Nov 28, 2021 at 0:52
  • @StuartF Rem acu tetigisti! as once upon a time you said to somebody who'd really nailed it. Think more in that direction. :)
    – tchrist
    Nov 28, 2021 at 1:00
  • @tchrist Kudos for editing my question, it was a great improvement altogether, thanks.
    – Otter
    Dec 7, 2021 at 0:58

2 Answers 2


The word that comes to my mind is maul:

Maul is both the name of a heavy hammer, and also a verb meaning beating and scratching. Tigers, lions, bears––animals with powerful paws and sharp claws, will maul their victims. —Vocabulary.com

One of the funnier examples of the word in action: Friends: Ross Gets Mauled by Cat.

  • Being better educated than us moderns, Shakespeare in Cymbeline wrote “...More sweet than our blest fields: his royal bird / Prunes the immortal wing, and cloys his beak / As when his God is pleased”, and ever since then folks have pondered what he really meant. If you back up one entry you’ll likely see why he used it like that, taking the French cognate to the asker's Portuguese verb. Pity it’s obsolete: nobody uses it in quite that inclavating sense now.
    – tchrist
    Nov 28, 2021 at 1:16

The verb sink can be used as in "to sink its claws". It can be better understood than the verb claw because to claw usually implies the motion of the claws through the skin/flesh as @Greybeard mentioned in the comments. Claw doesn't imply deep penetration or inflicting a deep wound.

Macmillan definition of the verb sink and an example sentence:

to push something sharp into something solid
The cat sank its claws into my leg.

Sink can be used both transitively and intransitively; and even figuratively.

OED definitions of the verb sink:

intransitive. Of a sharp weapon or object: to force a way into or through something, to penetrate. With into, through, or adverb complement.
transitive. To thrust or force (something sharp) into (also in) a solid object or body.

OED definitions of the verb claw:

transitive. To scratch or tear with the claws, or (transferred) with the nails or a pointed instrument.
To seize, grip, clutch, or pull with claws.
intransitive. To lay hold with the claws or (transferred) hands; to grasp or clutch (at, etc.); to scratch at.

Interestingly, talon is listed as an obsolete verb in OED also, derived from the noun talon (the claws of a bird of prey):

Obsolete (transitive) to tear with the talons; to claw.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.