a fast naval vessel of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, generally having a lofty ship rig and heavily armed on one or two decks.
any of various types of modern naval vessels ranging in size from a destroyer escort to a cruiser, frequently armed with guided missiles and used for aircraft carrier escort duty, shore bombardment, and miscellaneous combat functions.

1575–85; < Middle French frégate < Italian fregata, Sicilian fragata (> Spanish, Catalan, Pg); of obscure origin Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
frigate (ˈfrɪɡɪt)
1.  a medium-sized square-rigged warship of the 18th and 19th centuries
2.  a.  (Brit) a warship larger than a corvette and smaller than a destroyer
 b.  (US) (formerly) a warship larger than a destroyer and smaller than a cruiser
 c.  (US) a small escort vessel
[C16: from French frégate, from Italian fregata, of unknown origin]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

1580s, from M.Fr. frégate, from It. fregata, like many ship names, of unknown origin. Originally a small, swift vessel, the word was applied to progressively larger types over the years, but since 1943 used mainly of escort ships.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Example sentences
All the birds are spectacular, particularly the great frigate bird and white-tailed tropicbird.
Navy was a little short on experience in sailing a three-masted frigate.
After graduation, he found his way into defense work as a junior officer on a frigate.
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