There are 2 main definitions of tan in English:

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tan 1

Line breaks: tan


1 [mass noun] A yellowish-brown colour: [as modifier]: she dressed in tan cords
More example sentences
  • The puppies are both crossbred males, one is black and white and smooth-coated and the other is nearly all black with some tan colouring.
  • They are usually brown, but can vary in colour from light tan to black.
  • She was dressed in tan fishing overalls with a fishing hat, bulky black boots, and a pink T-shirt underneath.
yellowish-brown, brownish-yellow, light brown, pale brown, tawny
2A golden-brown shade of skin developed by pale-skinned people after exposure to the sun: Jenna managed to get an even golden tan
More example sentences
  • If you want the golden glow of a tan without exposure to damaging UV light, consider using sunless tanning products or bronzers.
  • Develop golden tans and honour requests for autographs.
  • Flawless skin and a radiant tan are key to complementing the clothing trends for spring and summer 2002.
become suntanned, take a suntan/tan, brown, go/become brown, bronze
3 (also tanbark) [mass noun] Bark of oak or other trees, bruised and used as a source of tannin for converting hides into leather.
Example sentences
  • Back in America, Quercus prinus was better known as mountain or rock oak, after its preferred habitat; tanbark oak after its preferred use; and nowadays, chestnut oak after the shape of its leaves.
  • It sniffed at me calmly, gave a canine-style shrug, and disappeared behind tanbark oaks.
  • Should tan bark be laid where leaves fall?
3.1 (also spent tan) Tan from which the tannin has been extracted, used for covering the ground for walking, riding, children’s play, etc., and in gardening.
Example sentences
  • He held his breath as he positioned himself meticulously in the tanbark, shoelaces of his sneakers quivering.
  • She had stayed away from the sandpit, and the tanbark, and all the play equipment.
  • I grinned broadly and stepped off the footpath, slowly making my way across the grass, stepping into the large wooden-plank-outlined square of tanbark, and heading straight for the swings.

verb (tans, tanning, tanned)

[with object] Back to top  
1 (usually as adjective tanned) (Of the sun) cause (a pale-skinned person) to become brown or browner: he looked tanned and fit
More example sentences
  • It was a Japanese-American tanned girl with brown eyes, a red spaghetti strap dress with a yellow star and a wand.
  • A few minutes later the door opened and a small, pretty tanned girl with straight brown hair walked in.
  • The chiseled features had always been tanned deeply by the sun.
1.1 [no object] (Of a pale-skinned person) become brown or browner after exposure to the sun: you’ll tan very quickly in the pure air
More example sentences
  • He had pale skin, but it was March, and even then I understood that people tanned in summer and lost color in winter.
  • In case you are thinking why there is a line above the gstring tanline, I was tanning with a rather high-waist normal bikini bottom at first.
  • Whether you're tanning on the beach or staying cool at the mall, these glosses will be perfect for subtle shine or a high powered sheen.
2Convert (animal skin) into leather by soaking in a liquid containing tannic acid, or by the use of other chemicals: they skin dead animals and tan hides
More example sentences
  • They also came from the odiferous chemicals used to tan animal hides into leather.
  • On the second night, after a long day spent scraping and stretching and tanning a deer skin, he asked me what I was hiding from.
  • The next day he taught us how to tan the skin, and make weapons and tools from the bones.
3 informal, dated Beat (someone) repeatedly as a punishment: ‘If my boy Mickey touches a fishing net, I’ll tan his hide!’
More example sentences
  • Everyone in the village did, or taught them, or tanned their hides for stealing apples.
  • you really think that your strength and your ability to tan the hide of a child is going to teach them respect?
  • My father would have tanned my hide if I pulled a stunt like that.
thrash, beat, wallop, belt, strap, spank, whip, lash, leather, cane, flog, flail, flagellate, horsewhip, birch, switch, flay
informal give someone a hiding, lam, larrup


North American Back to top  
(Of a pale-skinned person) having golden-brown skin after exposure to the sun: she looks tall, tan, and healthy
More example sentences
  • They were walking home from school, the tan girl on the left and the darker one on the right.
  • She turned and exhaled gratefully as the tan boy with the piercing eyes and spiky hair, stood with his arms crossed in a sarcastic manner behind her.
  • She was a tan girl with sleek dark hair and almond shaped eyes.


Example sentences
  • She is applying some sort of tannish cream to her calf.
  • Her skin is a sort of tannish color like toasted almonds, sort of.
  • Now, with a tiny brush, he smoothed a tannish, powdery substance across his cheekbones.


Late Old English tannian 'convert into leather', probably from medieval Latin tannare, perhaps of Celtic origin; reinforced in Middle English by Old French tanner. Early use of the noun (late Middle English) was in sense 3 of the noun.

  • The original sense of tan is to convert skins into leather. The sense of the colour that the skin acquires after exposure to the sun dates only to the middle of the 18th century. Tan probably comes directly from Latin tannare, but may ultimately go back to a Celtic word for an oak tree. This reflects the process of tanning, whereby the crushed bark of an oak was steeped in water in which skins and hides were then immersed. Oak bark was used because it is rich in tannins (early 19th century), compounds which will tan. The related word tawny (Middle English) comes from Old French tauné, ‘tanned’.

Words that rhyme with tan

Aberfan, Adrianne, an, Anne, artisan, astrakhan, ban, began, Belmopan, bipartisan, bran, can, Cannes, Cézanne, Cheyenne, clan, courtesan, cran, dan, Dayan, Diane, divan, élan, Elan, fan, flan, foreran, Fran, Friedan, Gell-Mann, gran, Han, Hunan, Ivan, Jan, Japan, Jinan, Joanne, Kazan, Klan, Kordofan, Lacan, Lausanne, Leanne, Limousin, Louvain, man, Mann, Marianne, Milan, Moran, nan, Oran, outran, outspan, Pan, panne, parmesan, partisan, pavane, pecan, Pétain, plan, Pusan, ran, rataplan, rattan, Rosanne, Sagan, Saipan, saran, scan, scran, sedan, span, spick-and-span, Spokane, Suzanne, Tainan, than, tisane, trepan, van, vin, Wuhan, Xian, Yerevan, Yunnan, Zhongshan
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There are 2 main definitions of tan in English:

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tan 2 Line breaks: tan


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