Definition of tongue in English:

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Pronunciation: /təNG/


1The fleshy muscular organ in the mouth of a mammal, used for tasting, licking, swallowing, and (in humans) articulating speech.
Example sentences
  • Swallowing, which is accomplished by muscle movements in the tongue and mouth, moves the food into the throat, or pharynx.
  • The tongue and mucous membranes lose their glistening appearance and the buccal mucosa becomes sticky.
  • In a swallow, the tongue presses the bolus into the pharynx.
1.1The equivalent organ in other vertebrates, sometimes used (in snakes) as a scent organ or (in chameleons) for catching food.
Example sentences
  • Dissection of chameleon tongues revealed an elastic collagen tissue sandwiched between the tongue bone and the accelerator muscle.
  • When snakes flick their tongues in and out, they pick up chemical cues from the air, which they transfer to a sensory organ in the roof of the mouth.
  • The tongue contacts the food item forcefully, pushing it down into the papillae, maximizing the area of contact.
1.2An analogous organ in insects, formed from some of the mouthparts and used in feeding.
1.3The tongue of a hoofed mammal, in particular an ox or lamb, as food.
Example sentences
  • Stir in the remaining pork tongue, chili paste and miso.
  • Soak tongue in cold running water for three to four hours.
  • It might be impossible to move an entire case of tongue or oxtail or side of lamb unless the person requesting it buys at least half.
1.4Used in reference to a person’s style or manner of speaking: he was a redoubtable debater with a caustic tongue
More example sentences
  • When something about the magic act goes wrong, a glib tongue and a humorous manner can do much to gloss over the slip so that people do not notice that anything is amiss.
  • I cannot let Aoife's caustic tongue spoil this experience for me.
  • A caustic wit, a penetrating eye, a stiletto tongue that enjoyed drawing blood, she wasn't everyone's cup of tea.
way/manner of speaking, speech, choice of words, parlance
1.5A particular language: the prioress chatted to the peddler in a strange tongue
More example sentences
  • None of the inhabitants spoke French as a native tongue, and few understood it.
  • The drive has to come from the students who choose to speak their native tongue instead of a language that everyone understands.
  • The Chamorros and Carolinians are largely multilingual, speaking their native tongues, English, and Japanese.
language, dialect, patois, vernacular, mother tongue, native tongue, heritage language, lingua franca
informal lingo
1.6 (tongues) see the gift of tongues below.
2A thing resembling or likened to a tongue, in particular.
Example sentences
  • In spring it blooms loose, yellow, exotic tongues.
  • The safety strap consisted of two tongues of leather snapped together at the back of the slide.
  • Some of these plants resemble Venus flytraps, while others look like large eggplants to which protruding tongues have been attached.
2.1A long, low promontory of land.
Example sentences
  • Beneath the cries of curlews, low tongues of land balance precariously between sea and marsh.
  • The Wakhan, a tongue of land in Afghanistan's north-east, touches China.
  • Marshy tongues of land determined property lines more than geometric principles of land settlement.
2.2A strip of leather or fabric under the laces in a shoe, attached only at the front end.
Example sentences
  • Different models of the shoe had different pump systems, which were integrated into the tongue of the shoe.
  • What's stupider, putting extra tongues in your shoes or trying to skate in extra-tight women's pants?
  • At breakfast, he's wearing shoes with enormous tongues, loose-fitting trousers and an oversized shirt.
2.3The pin of a buckle.
2.4A projecting strip on a wooden board fitting into a groove on another.
Example sentences
  • Then remove the board and spread carpenter's glue on the tongues and grooves of the new and old pieces.
  • The last piece, next to the intersecting wall, should be cut to size and its tongue slipped into the groove of the adjacent board.
  • When you put a laminate floor in the bathroom, use a little bit of glue on the tongue and on the groove just to make sure we have a really tight, moisture-proof seal.
2.5The vibrating reed of a musical instrument or organ pipe.
2.6A jet of flame: a tongue of flame flashes four feet from the gun
More example sentences
  • I still hear the screams of terrified people through the hissing of fire, still see tongues of flame rear high into a night sky, darkened even more by heavy black smoke.
  • Flames like tongues of fire engulfed the farmhouse, porch and all, angry, cracking flames that left no exit.
  • The moment the blade touched it, it flared into flame, sending tongues of fire up the blade.

verb (tongues, tonguing /ˈtəNGiNG/, tongued)

[with object]
1 Music Sound (a note) distinctly on a wind instrument by interrupting the air flow with the tongue.
2Lick or caress with the tongue: the other horse tongued every part of the colt’s mane
More example sentences
  • In some ways, the whole process feels like tonguing a bad tooth when you're too scared of going to the dentist.
  • Butterflies feast on her delicate wares: one hangs upside-down on wispy legs as it tongues a rosebud.
  • A hippo, you know, tongues you to death, you know what I mean?



find (or lose) one's tongue

Be able (or unable) to express oneself after a shock.
Example sentences
  • He was able to find his tongue again and struggle out a simple thank you to the elderly woman.
  • I think it's time I proved to myself and to those around me that I haven't lost my tongue just yet.
  • After a moment's pause, Louise found her tongue.

get one's tongue around

Pronounce (words): she found it very difficult to get her tongue around the unfamiliar words
More example sentences
  • Maori names can be difficult to get your tongue round and my mind blends similar names into one.
  • No, they used the local equivalent to Cockney slang and it took me quite a while to get my tongue round it.
  • As I had only been learning Spanish for 2 years at University in Scotland, I hadn't quite got my tongue round the lingo.

the gift of tongues

The power of speaking in unknown languages, regarded as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2).
Example sentences
  • If there was no Scripture translated into that language, might God grant the gift of tongues to a missionary so that the people would be able to hear the gospel?
  • Love mandates that all utterances be interpreted for the community, so that the gift of tongues will no longer divide God's church, but will instead contribute to its unity in Christ.
  • This descent was marked by the gift of tongues, and St. Peter is recorded in Acts as seeing in this the new dispensation that had been prophesied by Joel.

give tongue

(Of hounds) bark, especially on finding a scent.
Example sentences
  • The unseen hounds gave tongue; the clamor of the beaters grew louder.
4.1Express one’s feelings or opinions freely, sometimes objectionably so.

keep a civil tongue in one's head

Speak politely.
Example sentences
  • I don't care if the other countries do it - you're not living in another country, you're living in this one, and as long as you do I'll expect you to keep a civil tongue in your head.
  • Please sir, keep a civil tongue in your head and behave like a gentleman.
  • When he's ready to keep a civil tongue in his head and email me an apology, he's welcome back.

speak in tongues

Speak in an unknown language during religious worship.
Example sentences
  • Most Christians who speak in tongues believe that they are speaking in an existing language.
  • Once again, we see in both of these cases that the ability to speak in tongues was given for specific purposes.
  • This still allows for someone to speak in tongues when they are in prayer at home, or singing, or whatever else.

(with) tongue in cheek

Without really meaning what one is saying or writing.
Example sentences
  • The trouble with me is most of the things I say are tongue in cheek, very flippant.
  • The topic was chosen to some extent with tongue in cheek, not least because neither I nor my audience would be around in 800 years to verify the accuracy of my predictions.
  • An uncle of Niamh and Peter heard the youngsters playing and said, initially with tongue in cheek, that they should make a CD.

someone's tongue is hanging out

Someone is very eager for something: the tabloids have their tongues hanging out for this stuff
More example sentences
  • After seeing some of the sets, my tongue is hanging out and I am drooling on the keyboard.
  • I haven't got very far into the book but my tongue is hanging out to learn more about the political scene on Jersey.
  • We have returned as often as possible and my tongue is hanging out right now.



Pronunciation: /ˈtəNGləs/
Example sentences
  • One sickening moment which springs to mind is the bit in ‘Titus’ when we see the mutilated Lavinia for the first time, in all her handless, tongueless glory.
  • There are about 6 to 14 species of tongueless, aquatic African frogs.
  • With their large tongueless mouths, they'll eat anything, even birds.


Old English tunge, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch tong, German Zunge and Latin lingua.

  • Despite the difference in spelling, the Old English word tongue is ultimately related to Latin lingua, the source of lingo and language. In the 18th century to put your tongue in your cheek meant ‘to speak insincerely’. This came from a contemptuous gesture which involved poking your tongue in your cheek, and led to the expression tongue in cheek, ‘in an ironic or insincere way’. When the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit after the ascent of Jesus into heaven, they were given the gift of tongues, the power of speaking in unknown languages. Members of Pentecostal churches believe that they, like the Apostles, can speak in tongues.

Words that rhyme with tongue

among, bung, clung, dung, flung, hung, lung, outflung, rung, shantung, slung, sprung, strung, stung, sung, swung, underslung, wrung, young

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: tongue

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