I. nail 1 S3 /neɪl/ BrE AmE noun [countable]
[ Language: Old English ; Origin: nægl ]
1 . a thin pointed piece of metal with a flat top, which you hit into a surface with a hammer, for example to join things together or to hang something on:
The key was hanging on a nail by the door.
hammer/bang/hit a nail into something
She hammered a nail into the wall.
2 . your nails are the hard smooth layers on the ends of your fingers and toes:
I’ve broken my nail.
Stop biting your nails!
She sat painting her nails (=putting a coloured substance on them) .
He still had dirt under his nails.
⇨ ↑ fingernail , ↑ toenail
3 . nail in sb’s/sth’s coffin one of several bad things which help to destroy someone’s success or hopes:
Observers fear that this strike will be another nail in the coffin of the industry.
the final nail in his coffin
4 . as hard/tough as nails very ↑ tough and not easily frightened, or not caring about the effects of your actions on other people
5 . on the nail
a) British English if you pay money on the nail, you pay it immediately
b) especially American English completely correct:
They got it absolutely on the nail.
⇨ hit the nail on the head at ↑ hit 1 (26)
• • •
COLLOCATIONS (for Meaning 2)
Her long nails were painted a pearly pink.
Her nails were short and uneven.
How did you get such dirty nails?
His nails were neat and clean.
▪ finger nail ( also fingernail )
She had small hands with polished finger nails.
▪ toe nail ( also toenail )
His toenails were long and dirty.
▪ cut your nails
You should cut your nails more often!
▪ trim your nails (=cut a small amount off)
His nails were neatly trimmed.
▪ file your nails
A girl was filing her nails on the bus.
▪ bite your nails
Eddie bit his nails nervously.
▪ paint/polish/varnish your nails (=to put coloured liquid on your nails)
Don't paint short nails in dark colours.
▪ manicure your nails (=to make your nails look attractive by cutting them and making the skin around them neat)
She had manicured nails and expensive clothes.
▪ do your nails informal (=to cut or paint your nails)
She sat at her desk, doing her nails.
▪ break a nail (=to accidentally damage a nail on one of your fingers)
Oh, no, I've broken a nail.
II. nail 2 BrE AmE verb [transitive]
1 . [always + adverb/preposition] to fasten something to something else with nails
nail something to something
A sign saying ‘No Fishing’ had been nailed to the tree.
nail something down
The lid was firmly nailed down.
nail something up (=permanently close a window or door by fixing something across it using nails)
The windows had been nailed up.
2 . informal to catch someone and prove that they are guilty of a crime or something bad:
It took us 10 years to nail the guy who killed our daughter.
nail somebody for something
The state police finally nailed him for fraud.
3 . informal if you nail something, you succeed in getting it, after a lot of time or effort:
She finally nailed her dream job.
4 . nail a lie/myth British English informal to prove that what someone has said is completely untrue
5 . nail your colours to the mast British English to say clearly and publicly which ideas or which people you support
6 . nail somebody to the wall/cross especially American English to punish someone severely
nail somebody/something ↔ down phrasal verb informal
1 . to reach a final and definite agreement or decision about something:
Two days isn’t enough time to nail down the details of an agreement.
2 . nail somebody down to force someone to say clearly what they want or what they intend to do
nail somebody down to
Before they repair the car, nail them down to a price.