v. trailed, trail·ing, trails
1. To allow to drag or stream behind, as along the ground: The dog ran off, trailing its leash.
2. To drag (the body, for example) wearily or heavily.
a. To follow the traces or scent of, as in hunting; track.
b. To follow the course taken by; pursue: trail a fugitive.
4. To follow behind: several cruisers trailed by an escorting destroyer.
5. To lag behind (an opponent): trailed the league leader by four games.
1. To drag or be dragged along, brushing the ground: The queen's long robe trailed behind.
2. To extend, grow, or droop loosely over a surface: vines trailing through the garden.
3. To drift in a thin stream: smoke trailing from a dying fire.
4. To become gradually fainter; dwindle: His voice trailed off in confusion.
5. To walk or proceed with dragging steps; trudge: trailed along in glum silence.
6. To be behind in competition; lag: trailing by two goals in the second period.
a. A marked or beaten path, as through woods or wilderness.
b. An overland route: the pioneers' trail across the prairies.
c. A marked course through one or more bodies of water, as for recreational boaters or divers.
a. A mark, trace, course, or path left by a moving body.
b. The scent of a person or animal: The dogs lost the trail of the fox.
3. Something that is drawn along or follows behind; a train: The mayor was followed by a trail of reporters.
4. A succession of things that come afterward or are left behind: left a trail of broken promises.
5. Something that hangs loose and long: Trails of ticker tape floated down from office windows.
6. The part of a gun carriage that rests or slides on the ground.
7. The act of trailing.
[Middle English trailen, probably from Old French trailler, to hunt without a foreknown course, from Vulgar Latin *trāgulāre, to make a deer double back and forth, perhaps alteration (influenced by Latin trāgula, dragnet) of Latin trahere, to pull, draw.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.