Open main menu



From Middle English assay (noun) and assayen (verb), from Anglo-Norman assai (noun) and Anglo-Norman assaier (verb), from Old French essai. Doublet of essay.



assay (plural assays)

  1. Trial, attempt.
    • (Can we date this quote?) John Milton
      I am withal persuaded that it may prove much more easy in the assay than it now seems at distance.
  2. Examination and determination; test.
  3. The qualitative or quantitative chemical analysis of something.
  4. Trial by danger or by affliction; adventure; risk; hardship; state of being tried.
  5. Tested purity or value.
  6. The act or process of ascertaining the proportion of a particular metal in an ore or alloy; especially, the determination of the proportion of gold or silver in bullion or coin.
  7. The alloy or metal to be assayed.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Ure to this entry?)



assay (third-person singular simple present assays, present participle assaying, simple past and past participle assayed)

  1. (transitive) To attempt (something). [from 14th c.]
    • (Can we date this quote?) William Shakespeare
      To-night let us assay our plot.
    • (Can we date this quote?) John Milton
      Soft words to his fierce passion she assayed.
    • 1936, Alfred Edward Housman, More Poems, IV, The Sage to the Young Man, ll.5-8:
      Who seest the stark array / And hast not stayed to count / But singly wilt assay / The many-cannoned mount [].
    • 2011, ‘All-pro, anti-American’, The Economist, 28 May:
      Speaking before a small crowd beneath antique airplanes suspended in the atrium of the State of Iowa Historical Museum, an effortfully cheerful Mr Romney assayed an early version of a stump speech I imagine will become a staple of his campaign for the Republican nomination, once it "officially" begins some time next week in New Hampshire.
  2. (archaic, intransitive) To try, attempt (to do something). [14th-19th c.]
    • 1526, William Tyndale, trans. Bible, Acts IX:
      When Saul cam to Jerusalem he assayde to cople hymsilfe with the apostles, and they wer all afrayde of hym and beleved not that he was a disciple.
  3. (transitive) To analyze or estimate the composition or value of (a metal, ore etc.). [from 15th c.]
  4. (obsolete, transitive) To test the abilities of (someone) in combat; to fight. [15th-17th c.]
    • 1485, Sir Thomas Malory, chapter xviij, in Le Morte Darthur, book IV:
      I wold not by my wille that ony of vs were matched with hym / Nay said sir Gawayne not so / it were shame to vs were he not assayed were he neuer soo good a knyghte
    • 1977, Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, Penguin Classics, p.351:
      The marquis, in obsession for his wife, / Longed to expose her constancy to test. / He could not throw the thought away or rest, / Having a marvellous passion to assay her; / Needless, God knows, to frighten and dismay her, / He had assayed her faith enough before / And ever found her good; what was the need / Of heaping trial on her, more and more?
  5. To affect.
  6. To try tasting, as food or drink.


Derived termsEdit

Further readingEdit


Middle EnglishEdit

Etymology 1Edit

Borrowed from Anglo-Norman assai, from Late Latin exagium.

Alternative formsEdit



assay (plural assayes)

  1. Examining; investigation, looking into, research:
    1. Trialling, assaying; the ensuring of quality (usually of a substance, but also of a document)
    2. The trial or testing of one's personality or personal qualities.
    3. An attack (as a trial of one's mettle or ability on the battlefield)
    4. The trialling of comestibles or nourishments (mostly in ceremony)
  2. A try or effort towards something.
  3. (rare) Facts in support in assertion; evidence.
  4. (rare) One's personality; the nature of something or someone.
  5. (rare) A deed, action or doing; an endeavour or business.
Derived termsEdit

Etymology 2Edit

Borrowed from Anglo-Norman assaier.



  1. Alternative form of assayen