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Late 14th century, as Middle English attempten, from Old French atempter, from Latin attemptō (I try, solicit), from ad (to) + temptare, more correctly tentare (to try); see tempt. The noun is from the 1530s, the sense "an assault on somebody's life, assassination attempt" (French attentat) is from 1580.


  • IPA(key): /əˈtɛmpt/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɛmpt


attempt (third-person singular simple present attempts, present participle attempting, simple past and past participle attempted)

  1. To try.
    I attempted to sing, but my throat was too hoarse.
    to attempt an escape from prison
    A group of 80 budding mountaineers attempted Kilimanjaro, but 30 of them didn't make it to the top.
    • 1842, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Village Blacksmith:
      Something attempted, something done, / Has earned a night's repose.
    • 2013 July-August, Sarah Glaz, “Ode to Prime Numbers”, in American Scientist, volume 101, number 4:
      Some poems, echoing the purpose of early poetic treatises on scientific principles, attempt to elucidate the mathematical concepts that underlie prime numbers. Others play with primes’ cultural associations. Still others derive their structure from mathematical patterns involving primes.
  2. (obsolete) To try to move, by entreaty, by afflictions, or by temptations; to tempt.
  3. (archaic) To try to win, subdue, or overcome.
    one who attempts the virtue of a woman
  4. (archaic) To attack; to make an effort or attack upon; to try to take by force.
    to attempt the enemy's camp
    • 1830, John Motley, The Rise of the Dutch Republic:
      without attempting his adversary's life

Usage notes[edit]




attempt (plural attempts)

  1. The action of trying at something. [1530]
    We made an attempt to cross the stream, but didn't manage.
    This poem is much better than the feeble attempt of mine.
    It was worth the attempt.
    No matter how many failed attempts we made, we maintained a positive attitude and tried again and again until we succeeded.
    • 2012 March 1, William E. Carter, Merri Sue Carter, “The British Longitude Act Reconsidered”, in American Scientist[1], volume 100, number 2, page 87:
      But was it responsible governance to pass the Longitude Act without other efforts to protect British seamen? Or might it have been subterfuge—a disingenuous attempt to shift attention away from the realities of their life at sea
  2. An assault or attack, especially an assassination attempt. [1580]
    • 1584 No man can charge us of any attempt against the realm. (Allen's Defence Of English Catholics, cited after Edinburgh review 1883, p. 378)

Usage notes[edit]

  • Adjectives often applied to "attempt": first, failed, desperate, last, half-hearted, unsuccessful, serious, successful, feeble, new, honest, vain, sincere, ambitious, earnest, clumsy, direct, hard, brilliant, official, useless, clever, sophisticated, amateurish.



Further reading[edit]