There are 2 main definitions of tail in English:

Share this entry

tail 1

Pronunciation: /teɪl/


1The hindmost part of an animal, especially when prolonged beyond the rest of the body, such as the flexible extension of the backbone in a vertebrate, the feathers at the hind end of a bird, or a terminal appendage in an insect: the dog’s tail began to wag frantically
More example sentences
  • Lastly, all chordates have a post-anal tail, or extension of the notochord and nerve cord past the anus.
  • The tail, like the rest of the body, had no internal skeleton and was reinforced only by lines of scales.
  • During the acupuncture stimulation, animals were kept in plastic holders with their tails and hind legs protruding out.
hindmost part, back end, appendage;
brush, scut, dock;
hind part, hindquarters
technical cauda, uropygium
1.1A slender backward prolongation of each hindwing in some butterflies.
Example sentences
  • The butterflies have tiger striped underwings and little black tails on their back wings.
2A thing resembling an animal’s tail in its shape or position, typically extending downwards or outwards at the end of something: the tail of a capital Q
More example sentences
  • A number of Matisse's kite tails bear a shape that is ubiquitous in her oeuvre.
  • Shaped like a kite, trailing its tail along the sea, Myanmar is the largest country on the Southeast Asian mainland.
  • Next minute there are balloons with brightly coloured tails floating at ceiling level above Elvis' head.
2.1The rear part of an aeroplane, with the tailplane and rudder: the fuselage tapers sharply towards the tail
More example sentences
  • Use the rudder to keep the tail right behind the nose, independent of what you're doing with the ailerons.
  • The tail unit comprises all-moving horizontal tail surfaces and a single-fin vertical tail fitted with a rudder.
  • Before departing they are instructed to try and photograph identification numbers or aircraft tails, if possible, and bring back the evidence.
2.2The lower or hanging part of a garment, especially the back of a shirt or coat: he wiped his hands on the tail of his grubby vest he stormed off, the tails of his jacket flapping behind him
More example sentences
  • The tail of his shirt and parts of his pants and underpants were burned.
  • Nicanor wore a multicolored striped oxford shirt with the tails tied at his waist.
  • While she had been reading, he had unbuttoned the dark green cotton shirt and untucked the tails from his jeans.
2.3 (tails) informal A tailcoat, or a man’s formal evening suit with a tailcoat: the men looked debonair in white tie and tails
More example sentences
  • A tuxedo is required, and can include more formal tuxedos, such as evening tails.
  • He came faultlessly dressed in the formal white tie and tails, nor did he regale us with wise-cracking anecdotes about the music or some of his funny experiences in the past.
  • It is shown alongside DiCaprio's dress coat with tails.
2.4The luminous trail of particles following a comet.
Example sentences
  • It is this solar wind - seen only in comet tails - that carries storms from the Sun to Earth.
  • The refrigerator-sized satellite will collect dust particles from the tail of comet Wild 2 as the two pass each other on Friday morning.
  • They noted that comets had two tails - one of dust, one of ions - and only the dust tail could be explained by the pressure of sunlight pushing against the comet.
2.5The lower end of a pool or stream: shallow riffles and the tails of pools are prime feeding areas
More example sentences
  • When we arrived I could see at the tail of the pool a super looking slack on the left hand bank which literally screamed chub.
  • As I fished through the tail of the pool I allowed the fly to swing into the slow shallow water close to my bank.
  • On reaching the tail of the Pool just below the power lines I hooked a fish, which I soon realised, was substantial.
2.6The exposed end of a slate or tile in a roof: the slates are dressed with the bevelled tail and edge characteristic of thick, square stone roofing
More example sentences
  • If the walls are crooked, the rafter tails will also be crooked.
  • Nail a 1 x 6 facia board to seal and trim the end grain of the rafter tails.
  • Try to correct this problem; but if you are unable to, pop a chalk line across the rafter tails and trim them with your saw before attaching the sheathing.
2.7 Mathematics An extremity of a curve approaching the horizontal axis of a graph, especially that of a frequency distribution.
Example sentences
  • The mean is higher than that because you have some real significant weight gain at the far right end of the tail of the bell curve.
  • In that research, biologically meaningful T base estimates were obtained by excluding both lower and upper tails of cumulative germination curves, as was done here.
  • A kind of occupational Darwinism ensures that such people are way up on the upper tail of the curve of verbal facility.
3The end of a long train or line of people or vehicles: a catering truck at the tail of the convoy
More example sentences
  • If menaced with an attack, the divisions at the head and tail of the convoy will keep their positions and repel the enemy by their fire should he attack.
  • I lingered at the very tail of the crowd, trying to stay in the growing neutral zone between the cops and the rioters.
3.1The final, more distant, or weaker part of something: the tail of a hurricane
More example sentences
  • We got hit by the tails of the summer hurricanes and were switching between day and night shoots a lot.
  • The sting of this title is in its tail: traditionally we have had dictionaries of Hellenic or Egyptian or Roman mythologies.
  • The pancreatic head lies cephalad to and well to the right of the umbilicus, and the tail of the pancreas extends to the spleen.
rear, end, back, extremity, conclusion;
bottom, lowest part
British informal fag end
close, end, conclusion, termination, tail end
3.2 Cricket The end of the batting order, with the weakest batsmen: McDermott worked his way through the tail, finishing with ten wickets
More example sentences
  • Aided by some resourceful batting from the tail, Durham's last five wickets added 181 runs, and by the close Somerset had lost four big wickets.
  • Andy Harris cleaned up the tail to finish with 4 for 41 despite suffering a hand injury in the field.
  • He and Darren Cousins have been opening the bowling for Northants, and Blain has also been contributing with the bat from his position deep in the tail.
4 informal A person secretly following another to observe their movements: I can’t put a tail on him, I don’t know where he’s gone
More example sentences
  • Then again Jack had a reason to drive evasively; even if he hadn't detected a tail, which was likely.
  • In a scene right out of The Sopranos, a tail followed a BFI truck out of the Lincoln Tunnel one evening and nearly ran it off the road in New Jersey.
detective, investigator, private investigator, shadow
informal sleuth, private eye, tec
North American informal gumshoe, bogey, dick, private dick, shamus
5 informal, chiefly North American A person’s buttocks: the coach kicked Ryan in his tail
More example sentences
  • An honest man would have packed his bags, hopped in his truck, and hauled tail out of that place a long time ago.
5.1 vulgar slang A woman’s genitals.
5.2 [mass noun] informal Women collectively regarded in sexual terms: my wife thinks going out with you guys will keep me from chasing tail
6 (tails) The side of a coin without the image of a head on it (used when tossing a coin to determine a winner): the chances of heads and tails in the long run are equal
More example sentences
  • Each coin has one side smoothed down flat and in theory this should be the tails side of the coin since it is illegal to deface an image of the monarch in England.
  • I toss opportunities like coins, and call tails when I've already caught a glimpse of the queen's crown.
  • A mick is a throw of two tails; the tails side of a coin, or, the heads side of a coin.


[with object]
1 informal Follow and observe (someone) closely, especially in secret: a flock of paparazzi had tailed them all over London
More example sentences
  • Richard Tomlinson is racing down the autostrada just outside Rimini with two Italian secret service men tailing him.
  • Ilyich growled, but knew that he was outmatched for the time being, so with great reluctance, he bolted out of the room as fast as possible, with Jerwon and Greg tailing him closely.
  • Online shopping is hot this year with famous folk, since schlepping to FAO Schwartz with an entourage and a legion of paparazzi tailing you tends to negate the warm, holiday glow!
1.1 [no object, with adverbial of direction] Follow: they went to their favourite cafe—Owen and Sally tailed along
More example sentences
  • The decking market in Australia is huge, obviously tends to follow and tail along with the housing market in Australia.
  • Behind us my guards and H'risnth's entourage tailed along, Kh'hitch engaged in a subdued exchange with the ambassador.
  • When he's on a job on the weekend, she's usually right beside her dad, tailing along.
follow, shadow, stalk, trail, track, hunt, hound, dog, trace, pursue, chase, give chase to, run after, keep under surveillance
2 [no object, with adverbial of direction] North American (Of an object in flight) drift or curve in a particular direction: the next pitch tailed in on me at the last second
More example sentences
  • He also is following through better, which keeps his throws from tailing to the right or sailing high.
  • However, with the wind at his back, Bart Daly cruelly missed the forty-five and his side's last chance tailed to the right and wide.
  • To be fair to Carlow a number of good shots tailed out side and they were also missing two key players.
3Remove the stalks or ends of (fruit or vegetables) in preparation for cooking.
Example sentences
  • Top and tail the green beans and cook them in salted boiling water for 3-4 minutes till tender, then drain them and rinse under cold, running water.
  • Top and tail the green beans, peel the baby onions or cut the spring onion into 2.5cm pieces.
  • Top and tail the green beans, then cook in boiling salted water until very tender.
4Pull on the end of (a rope) after it has been wrapped round the drum of a winch a few times, in order to prevent slipping when the winch rotates.
Example sentences
  • While someone pulled the rope down the mast, which came through some jammers, another crew tailed the rope around the winch.
5 archaic Join (one thing) to another.
Example sentences
  • Each new row of houses tailed on its drains to those of its neighbours, without any inquiry being made as to whether they were on the same level or not.



chase one's (own) tail

informal Rush around ineffectually: from continually chasing my tail and being late for everything, punctuality became second nature
More example sentences
  • I feel I'm achieving something, not chasing my tail all the time.
  • I want to meet a nice girl and settle down - sometimes I feel like I'm just chasing my tail.
  • Friday was one of those days when a candidate chases his tail.

on someone's tail

Following someone closely: a police car stayed on his tail for half a mile
More example sentences
  • The police stayed on his tail for four miles, until he pulled over once more.
  • He ran after the group, staying on their tail as they headed into High Woods Country Park.
  • That would explain all ten of the police cars on our tail, plus a couple of vans.
close behind someone, following someone closely, (hard) on someone's heels, tailing someone

the tail of one's eye

dated The outer corner of one’s eye: he glanced at her through the tail of his eye
More example sentences
  • I looked at him from the tail of my eye, and thought to speak once more.
  • He watched Jimmy scowl and at the same time with the tail of his eye, he saw Marie's face lighting up.
  • He is slightly deaf but the movement from my horse and the crowd behind me catches the tail of his eye.

the tail wags the dog

The less important or subsidiary factor, person, or thing dominates a situation; the usual roles are reversed: the financing system is becoming the tail that wags the dog
More example sentences
  • He must have gained a profound understanding of that old saw ‘when the tail wags the dog’ in his role as program manager for the project.
  • The goal of developing the economy has yielded to the states looking to simply alleviate their budget concerns; the tail wags the dog.
  • But he says that the conclusion as to whether the tail wags the dog or the reverse may be less straightforward.

with one's tail between one's legs

informal In a state of dejection or humiliation: we took Lily in when she came back from London with her tail between her legs
More example sentences
  • You walked away from Korea with your tail between your legs.
  • Proponents of this philosophy tend to ignore the fact that for every successful convert in the fields of play or coaching, there have been nine who scuttled back to rugby league with their tail between their legs.
  • At worst they would be stripped of their titles and prize money, banned from future competitions, and sent home with their tail between their legs.

with one's tail up

informal In a confident or cheerful mood: the West Indies team with their tails up can be awesome
More example sentences
  • In such a situation, the fielding side has its tail up and there is added pressure on the batting team.
  • Every ball was potentially lethal and the West Indian team had their tails well and truly up.
  • The bowlers' tails were up, but another downpour washed out their hopes.

Phrasal verbs


tail back

British (Of traffic) become congested and form a tailback: traffic tailed back fourteen miles after a chemical spillage
More example sentences
  • The accident closed one lane of the westbound carriageway, which led to inevitable delays with traffic tailing back to junction two of the M27.
  • The smash caused traffic chaos on a busy Saturday afternoon, with shoppers travelling to the nearby Lakeside shopping centre facing long delays with traffic tailing back along the M25 to the A127 junction.
  • Cameras showed that during the day traffic was tailing back to the A35 Redbridge flyover and several hundred metres along the M271.
become congested, form a tailback, jam

tail something in (or into)

Insert the end of a beam, stone, or brick into (a wall).
Example sentences
  • When the platform consists of two or more stones, the first of them is laid on the last step that is set, and one end tailed in and wedged into the wall.

tail off (or away)

Gradually diminish in amount, strength, or intensity: the economic boom was beginning to tail off
More example sentences
  • The discussion gradually tails off as the wiki entry now represents the shared knowledge of the community represented by the discussion participants.
  • For normal papers, the rate of citation peaks in the second to fourth years after publication and gradually tails off thereafter.
  • But if the upper speed limit tails off more gradually, then other factors are more likely responsible.
fade, wane, ebb, dwindle, decrease, lessen, get less, diminish, decline, subside, abate, drop off, drop away, fall away, peter out, taper off;
let up, ease off, die away, die out, die down, go into decline, waste away, recede, relent, desist, weaken, come to an end



Pronunciation: /ˈteɪlləs/
Example sentences
  • The comet, tailless and misshapen, appeared as expected in 1839 and 1846, before vanishing, confounding astronomers who waited patiently in 1852, 1859 and 1866.
  • Chimpanzees are large, hairy and tailless; females weigh between 30-40 kg, while males can reach 180 kg.
  • Towhees were abundant, and I saw a newly fledged, almost tailless cardinal crashing around in a bush.


Old English tæg(e)l, from a Germanic base meaning 'hair, hairy tail'; related to Middle Low German tagel 'twisted whip, rope's end'. The early sense of the verb (early 16th century) was 'fasten to the back of something'.

  • The base of the Old English word tail meant ‘hair’ or ‘hairy tail’. The opposite side of a coin to heads has been tails since the 1680s or thereabouts—it is so called because it is the ‘reverse’ or ‘rear’ of the main or front side. A dog's tail is a good indicator of its mood, and this has given us various expressions. Someone who appears ashamed or dejected has been described since the Middle Ages as having their tail between their legs. Alternatively, someone with their tail up is in a confident or cheerful mood. Sometimes the usual roles in an organization are reversed, and a less important part dictates what is going to happen. When that occurs, someone may comment that the tail is wagging the dog. As a verb (early 16th century) the original sense was ‘fasten to the back of something’, with the meaning ‘follow closely’ developing from this at the beginning of the 20th century.

Words that rhyme with tail

ail, ale, assail, avail, bail, bale, bewail, brail, Braille, chain mail, countervail, curtail, dale, downscale, drail, dwale, entail, exhale, fail, faille, flail, frail, Gael, Gail, gale, Grail, grisaille, hail, hale, impale, jail, kale, mail, male, webmail, nonpareil, outsail, pail, pale, quail, rail, sail, sale, sangrail, scale, shale, snail, stale, swale, tale, they'll, trail, upscale, vail, vale, veil, surveil, wail, wale, whale, Yale
Share this entry

There are 2 main definitions of tail in English:

Share this entry

tail 2

Pronunciation: /teɪl/


[mass noun] Law , chiefly historical
Limitation of ownership, especially of an estate or title limited to a person and their direct descendants: the land was held in tail general See also fee tail.
More example sentences
  • The Legislature, when giving to lands held in tail general the descendible quality of estates in fee, treats them as lands capable of being devised..


Middle English (denoting a tallage): from Old French taille 'notch, tax', from taillier 'to cut', based on Latin talea 'twig, cutting'.

  • The base of the Old English word tail meant ‘hair’ or ‘hairy tail’. The opposite side of a coin to heads has been tails since the 1680s or thereabouts—it is so called because it is the ‘reverse’ or ‘rear’ of the main or front side. A dog's tail is a good indicator of its mood, and this has given us various expressions. Someone who appears ashamed or dejected has been described since the Middle Ages as having their tail between their legs. Alternatively, someone with their tail up is in a confident or cheerful mood. Sometimes the usual roles in an organization are reversed, and a less important part dictates what is going to happen. When that occurs, someone may comment that the tail is wagging the dog. As a verb (early 16th century) the original sense was ‘fasten to the back of something’, with the meaning ‘follow closely’ developing from this at the beginning of the 20th century.

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.