Main meanings of tail in English

: tail1tail2


Pronunciation /teɪl/

See synonyms for tail

Translate tail into Spanish


  • 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’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘I measured body length from snout to base of the tail for all animals captured since 1988.’
    • ‘When not resting or feeding, they can move quickly, hopping on their hind legs with their tail held out stiffly behind.’
    • ‘Typical examples of sexually selected traits are the exaggerated long male tails of many birds.’
    • ‘Hoey demonstrated, using a gliding model of a raven, that the tail of such a bird may be used to function in this manner.’
    • ‘North American river otters are semi-aquatic mammals, with long, streamlined bodies, thick tapered tails, and short legs.’
    • ‘The fossil turned out to be a composite of the body of a bird with the tail of a dinosaur.’
    • ‘I followed, trying repeatedly to get a good look, but they never allowed me more than a glimpse of their tails as they disappeared beyond the next bend.’
    • ‘He looked to the brown dog, who immediately began wagging her tail.’
    • ‘He then uses this to explain why there are no post-anal fins in fish: the tail is itself an appendage.’
    • ‘During his courtship display, the male puffs up his body and fans his tail.’
    • ‘Its tail and flight feathers are black, and its back and head are dark brown.’
    • ‘Each is named by some consistent feature of the tail, or the body, or sometimes both.’
    • ‘As part of the preening process, the birds rub a natural oil, which is secreted from a gland at the bottom of their tails, over their feathers.’
    • ‘Their back and wing coverts are heavily barred with black, as are their rust-brown tails which terminate with a narrow white band.’
    • ‘It's also possible that an Apatosaurus tail had a highly flexible extension, equivalent to a bullwhip's popper.’
    • ‘These tiny little birds, with short tails and sharply pointed bills, include only three species.’
    • ‘Most breeders use the technique known as ‘banding’, in which a ligature is placed over the end of a puppy's tail within four days of birth.’
    hindmost part, back end, appendage
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1A slender backward prolongation of each hindwing in some butterflies.
      • ‘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’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘It's a big circle with a little tail… it looks like the product of a drunken sculptor.’
    • ‘It retains the split tail to allow independent movement of the two halves of the wide saddle platform as the legs swing up and down.’
    1. 2.1The rear part of an aeroplane, with the tailplane and rudder.
      ‘the fuselage tapers sharply towards the tail’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘However, the ships had H-beams, which allowed the tails of aircraft to be suspended over the side with the main gear remaining on the deck.’
      • ‘Born with a straight tail and fastback fuselage, the first 172s were little more than 170s with a nosewheel.’
      • ‘The canopy disintegrated and the wire shaved the top off AIRCDRE Pietsch's helmet before snapping on the tail of the aircraft.’
      • ‘When turning, watch the track of the tail of the aircraft, as well.’
      • ‘The rudder includes a separate yaw damper and the low tail is designed for post-stall stability.’
      • ‘The biplane looked much like a Wright Flyer except it had only one propeller and a cross-shaped tail.’
      • ‘Engines, tails, landing gear, bomb-bay doors, wing flaps, and dozens of skin panels are removed.’
      • ‘The seam of the canopy and the weapon bay doors are sawtoothed and the vertical tails are canted at an angle.’
      • ‘Another example where this non-contact testing comes in handy is in testing elevator structures in aircraft tails.’
      • ‘A glassed-in tail gunner compartment is to the rear of the tail.’
      • ‘Unprotected at the tail of the aircraft they led precarious lives.’
      • ‘I twisted around in my seat and looked at the tail of the aircraft - it was engulfed in flames.’
      • ‘The force caused the blades to flap low enough to chop off the tail of the aircraft.’
      • ‘Here are some tips, facts and rules-of-thumb for making safe arrivals and departures with the wind at your tail.’
      • ‘The four-winged fruit fly is severely handicapped - like a small plane with extra wings dangling from its tail.’
      • ‘The outcry was such that the airline relented, the familiar red, white and blue made its way back onto the plane tails and planeloads of passengers breathed a sigh of relief.’
      • ‘At Fort Bliss, friends and family gathered under the tail of the plane with open arms as the soldiers disembarked.’
    2. 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’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Just lick 'em and wipe with the tail of your shirt - you can taste when the glass is clean and when it's gritty.’
      • ‘I cleaned it with the tail of my shirt, not exactly spotless, but passable.’
      • ‘Surely the best place for such tags would be on the tail of the shirt or some other low contact area.’
      • ‘I could not grab hold of the tail of his shirt, tugging him toward me as I would have if he were still a small boy running heedless of danger into a busy street.’
      • ‘Construction details are rounded out with single needle tailoring, hemmed sleeves and a vented tail.’
      • ‘Reaching for the tail of his shirt, Dori pulled it up slightly to inspect his side.’
      • ‘Even wild and childish Kyle was poised behind his keyboard, black buttoned shirt, tails hanging unmannered over his casual blue jeans.’
      • ‘He clearly could think of nothing else to say, so he took off his glasses and began polishing them on the tail of his shirt, as was his habit whenever he was thinking.’
      • ‘I sighed, and a cold breeze swept past me, lifting the tail of my coat.’
      • ‘Desmond scoffed, and then flipping up the tail of his coat, turned to sit down on the chair beside Isabella's.’
      • ‘I'm crouching, and I'm sure the tail of my coat is getting soaked.’
      • ‘A sudden wind swept up the tail of my coat, and flocks of bugs hung low in the air, predicting rain.’
      • ‘Button-ups with tails get tucked with a belt, anything else just rides in the wind.’
      • ‘A soft wind rustled the tails of his coat.’
      • ‘Beginning at the tail, stitch the body long edge, leaving the upper edge open.’
      • ‘One of the classics is petticoat tails, which are shaped in a segmented round.’
      • ‘Further into my day a man in a suit drove past on a bike, suit tails and tie blowing in the wind.’
    3. 2.3tails informal A tailcoat, or a man's formal evening suit with a tailcoat.
      • ‘the men looked debonair in white tie and tails’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘The couple have turned their hobby into a business, and the driving proves a welcome change for Mr Bower - a barrister in Manchester, who swops his legal attire for coat and tails at the weekend.’
      • ‘Michael, 35, has opted for top hat and tails coupled with a salmon pink shirt and ties to match.’
      • ‘He was in top hat, white tie and tails - attire with which a cane is optional.’
      • ‘He rejects the convention of wearing white tie and tails, preferring to conduct in a loose, floppy shirt that better suits his loose, floppy style.’
      • ‘Fred was top hat, white tie and tails, Gene was a baseball cap, T-shirt and jeans.’
      • ‘The men would adorn themselves in top hat and tails, while the women MPs would deck themselves in fancy dresses and hats.’
      • ‘A drunk is a drunk whether in cloth cap with whippet or in top hat and tails.’
      • ‘But showing at least a residue of rebellion, Jagger shunned the traditional top hat and tails, opting for a long black leather coat, purple scarf and sports shoes.’
      • ‘Racegoers decked out in top hat and tails get ready for next month's Royal Ascot meeting at York Races yesterday.’
      • ‘Dettori accompanied Sheikh Mohammed to the races at Royal Ascot wearing a top hat, tails, and a cast on his broken right ankle.’
      • ‘He didn't go in his top hat and tails as it was relaxed dress and he was in a suit.’
      • ‘Dressed in top hat and tails, they toasted him with champagne and chanted ‘No Justice?’’
      • ‘The theatrical element of the show though never let up with various song and dance set pieces featuring trapeze artists, skateboarders, a tap dancer in top hat and tails, and even a dancing bagpiper.’
      • ‘I once attended a ‘top hat and tails’ wedding to which an elderly uncle had been invited.’
      • ‘The members of the Royal Ascot Racing Club do not consider themselves a syndicate so much as a group of friends, and judging by the top hats and tails, the club has more than its fair share of the well-heeled.’
      • ‘The one definite test for a new gentleman in Australia was that he had to be wealthy and a wealthy man could look like a gentleman once he had a large house and a carriage and dressed like a gentleman with top hat and tails.’
      • ‘But Caron, like Ginger Rogers and Cyd Charisse before her, was dancing her way into the hearts of millions years before these young pretenders ever put on top hat and tails.’
    4. 2.4The luminous trail of particles following a comet.
      ‘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.’
      • ‘When Earth runs into an old comet tail we see a meteor shower.’
      • ‘The word ‘comet’ actually comes from a Greek word meaning ‘hairy star’ because of the tails that comets possess.’
      • ‘The first indication that the Sun might be emitting a ‘wind’ came in the seventeenth century from observations of comet tails.’
      • ‘Thanks to pick-up ion measurements, Ulysses can make observations of comet tails at large distances from the Sun.’
      • ‘It was Apian who first drew the tails of comets pointing away from the sun and not streaming out behind them.’
      • ‘In our own solar system, the solar wind is responsible for shaping comets' tails and producing the Aurorae Borealis on Earth.’
      • ‘Solar wind is responsible for the direction of a comet's tail, which always points away from the Sun.’
      • ‘Originally classified as an asteroid, Chiron now appears to be icy - with a tail like a comet.’
      • ‘The comet's tail is in fact made of dust grains and frozen gases from the comet's surface that vaporise because of the Sun's heat.’
      • ‘The gases, expelled as jets, drive out debris that had been embedded in the ice, endowing comets with their flamboyant tails.’
      • ‘I leaned on the gate and saw the great wisps of clouds in the sky like comets' tails.’
      • ‘In 1985, it was sent to L2, and then through the tail of the Giacobini-Zinner comet.’
      • ‘They will watch the material expelled from the comet get blown into the comet's tail.’
      • ‘The stunning apparition of a comet's tail was long regarded as a portent of doom and disaster, and in a way this is not too far from the mark.’
      • ‘The tail is pushed outwards from the Sun by the solar wind and radiation pressure, and so the popular conception that a comet's tail streams away behind it is wrong.’
      • ‘This stream of lost material is what gives rise to the characteristic comet tail.’
      • ‘Kitt Peak observations also identified a bright tail extending from the galaxy.’
    5. 2.5The lower end of a pool or stream.
      ‘shallow riffles and the tails of pools are prime feeding areas’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘The large namesake rock was lodged in midstream, forming the tail of the pool.’
      • ‘I tied on the sinker with its attendant fly and tossed the whole lot downstream into the rapids at the pool tail.’
      • ‘The light tackle had no chance of holding such a monster as it ran out of the tail of the pool, taking all of the line and backing with it, which snapped at the drum.’
      • ‘We're at the tail of a big, deep pool, just where the water is beginning to speed up before cascading down into rapids.’
    6. 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’
      • ‘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.’
    7. 2.7Mathematics An extremity of a curve approaching the horizontal axis of a graph, especially that of a frequency distribution.
      ‘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.’
      • ‘A tail in each distribution extends toward values of higher modulation depth.’
      • ‘The distribution has a single peak and a short tail extending toward larger numbers.’
  • 3The end of a long train or line of people or vehicles.

    ‘a catering truck at the tail of the convoy’
    • ‘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.’
    1. 3.1The final, more distant, or weaker part of something.
      ‘the tail of a hurricane’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘They accumulate around the equator of Earth in the radiation belts and the tail of the magnetosphere in a dense region known as the plasma sheet.’
      • ‘Tom found himself in familiar company at the back of the grid as Turkington and Thompson had also failed to finish the second race and the three of them lined up at the tail of the field.’
      • ‘When stretched, the filament becomes aligned with the flow of the soap film and very little disturbance, called streets, was observed at the tail of the thread.’
      rear, end, back, extremity, conclusion
      close, end, conclusion, termination, tail end
      View synonyms
    2. 3.2Cricket The end of the batting order, with the weakest batters.
      ‘McDermott worked his way through the tail, finishing with ten wickets’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘In a further twist, Gilchrist is out stumped second ball for four, exposing the tail, and, with five overs left, Australia are momentarily in danger of losing the Test.’
      • ‘Australia's tail was now exposed although Gilchrist was still looming large at the crease.’
  • 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’
    • ‘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
    View synonyms
  • 5mainly North American informal A person's buttocks.

    • ‘the coach kicked Ryan in his tail’
    • ‘An honest man would have packed his bags, hopped in his truck, and hauled tail out of that place a long time ago.’
    buttocks, backside, behind, bottom, seat, rump, rear, rear end
    View synonyms
    1. 5.1 vulgar slang A woman's genitals.
    2. 5.2 informal mass noun Women collectively regarded in sexual terms.
      • ‘I was getting worried that both of us would be chasing tail and getting into trouble for the rest of our lives’
  • 6tailsThe 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’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘It had to decide: if this coin had to come down heads or tails, on what side should it fall?’
    • ‘I've flipped a coin and it's tails, so I'm inviting Louise along tomorrow.’
    • ‘But that's what he has claimed, and that's what he's done, but every time the coin comes up tails - no war.’
    • ‘The coin landed tails, the outback was their destination and the pair set off in a T model Ford, nicknamed Henrietta.’
    • ‘The outcome, however, had no bearing on the probability of the coin landing tails before it was flipped.’
    • ‘This is ‘heads we win - tails you lose’ politics from the EU.’
    • ‘It has remained the past practice with Indian leaders to solve their own problems first and then leaving the problems of others unsolved which in other words means that heads we win and tails you lose.’
    • ‘Heads, David Ortiz lifts one over the Monster in the ninth inning; tails it's Albert Pujols.’


[with object]
  • 1Follow and observe (someone) closely, especially in secret.

    ‘a flock of paparazzi had tailed them all over London’
    • ‘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!’
    • ‘The Mando-pop king is pretty much a nobody in the eyes of the European media, but the big-headed hot shot vented his frustration on members of the Taiwanese paparazzi who had been tailing him.’
    • ‘In fact, he called his brother and said I don't think I can make it to golf, you go ahead because I have these people tailing me.’
    • ‘He was tailed from a distance and followed on to a bus.’
    • ‘The secret police, the AVO, began to tail Douglas wherever he went.’
    • ‘These tested the agents' ability in making contact with a ‘cut out’ (intermediate); tailing someone in a city; losing someone who was following him or her.’
    • ‘The little car next to the bus was being driven by KGB agents who were tailing him at the time.’
    • ‘Mysterious men tailed him, and rebel groups and tribal fighters at first tried to pressure him into using the radio to recruit among the young men and women listening to his broadcasts.’
    • ‘We were tailed up the stairs by more than one guide-cum-secret agent, who first hovered and then circled repeatedly.’
    • ‘He says he even lectured the FBI agents assigned to tail him, telling them to go back to school and study computers or something with a real future because their job was no good.’
    • ‘When Casey played his first Nike tournament after the 1998 ruling there were some 150 media tailing him.’
    • ‘She was, for example, obsessed with death squads tailing her around New York, though for what purpose was never clear.’
    • ‘Police went to intervene but Kitchen drove off in his car and refused to stop, despite police tailing him.’
    • ‘They are also useful to have around if you are tailing someone and want to remain unnoticed.’
    • ‘In 1999, she was tailed by a television crew making Edinburgh or Bust.’
    • ‘Turkish and British police are thought to be investigating the possibility that he was tailed into the complex by the bomber.’
    • ‘In addition, ransom payments should not be filmed and media vehicles should not surreptitiously tail police cars to avoid blowing their cover, he added.’
    • ‘Every night, Chettier and other observers walk the streets, tail police officers, and document their activities.’
    1. 1.1no object, with adverbial of direction Follow.
      ‘they went to their favourite cafe—Owen and Sally tailed along’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Yuki pranced up the path to the new Meshan's domain with Philonius tailing along behind her.’
      • ‘Max raced forward, Franny tailing close behind him, and Nanny followed the two of them.’
      • ‘The problem was that he failed to clearly oppose the U.S. led invasion - tailing behind anything that the president said on the issue.’
      • ‘Please tell me how he is better, given that he's lost two elections, and probably would have tailed after the president during the invasion.’
      • ‘Gorden led the charge with 82 yards on five carries, while Griffen tailed with 63 yards on ten carries.’
      • ‘Another good reason to oppose this line of explanation is that it tails with the miserable excuses being offered up by Lynndie England.’
      • ‘To tail them, the private detective agency must have at least two different vehicles, so that they won't be discovered when tailing after one target.’
      • ‘The CPP received 1.08 percent of the total votes in the National Assembly elections, tailing behind the alliance led by political science professor Chang Ya-chung.’
      • ‘Instantly, an image materialized, displaying three massive war ships tailing after the explorers in the wake of their engine disturbances.’
      • ‘Not enough was done, and at times it felt our material was tailing after Royal Mail's rather than defining our own agenda.’
      • ‘A web cam with its inactive little red light bulb sat next to the Notebook, its cord tailing out from its back.’
      • ‘The remaining day's competition was fierce, with the Gecko's taking top spot, squeaking by the second place slithering Cobras, as the Tigers tailed behind in third place.’
      • ‘Announcements were being made in German, French and English for people to please move to the back of the square because the whole town was being jammed up with protesters tailing back from the square.’
      • ‘Queues tail back across arid fields, waiting their turn for this sophisticated drug which could transform the region - yet not even the water with which to take it can be provided, and everyone must bring a sip of their own.’
      follow, shadow, stalk, trail, track, hunt, hound, dog, trace, pursue, chase, give chase to, run after, keep under surveillance
      View synonyms
  • 2Provide with a tail.

    ‘her calligraphy was topped by banners of black ink and tailed like the haunches of fabulous beasts’
    • ‘the eight main chapters are topped and tailed with an introduction and an epilogue’
  • 3North American no object, with adverbial of direction (of an object in flight) drift or curve in a particular direction.

    ‘the next pitch tailed in on me at the last second’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Humphreys' conversion tailed to the left, with Ulster 8-6 in front at the break.’
    • ‘Carlow had one last chance of a leveller when Richard Sinnott had a shot at goal from 40 metres but the ball tailed to the left.’
    • ‘The ball started for the left-hand upper corner before tailing back across the goal.’
  • 4Remove the stalks or ends of (fruit or vegetables) in preparation for cooking.

    ‘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.’
    • ‘I came up through a very strict regime of activities that I had to do to earn my pocket money, such as mowing lawns, picking fruit, feeding the hens, podding peas, top and tailing gooseberries, and collecting pine cones.’
  • 5Pull 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.

    • ‘While someone pulled the rope down the mast, which came through some jammers, another crew tailed the rope around the winch.’
  • 6 archaic Join (one thing) to another.

    • ‘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 tail
    • Rush around ineffectually.

      • ‘from continually chasing my tail and being late for everything, punctuality became second nature’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘But as you chase your own tail down a maze of electronic alleyways, you sometimes wonder where it's all going to end.’
      • ‘How many times have you said, or heard people say ‘I just don't seem to have the time ’, or ‘I chase my tail from morning till night’.’
      • ‘A. I do not think that you will be chasing your tail forever.’
      • ‘I don't have time to keep chasing my tail out here.’
      • ‘I was kind of like chasing my tail and trying to do the right thing, and was a little bit stupid.’
      • ‘Boy meets girl, fate intervenes, boy makes a pig's ear of it, and spends the rest of the film chasing his tail in a vain effort to recapture the fair maiden's heart.’
      • ‘Life seems a little hectic of late, though I'm not sure why, and I feel as though I have been chasing my own tail the last few days.’
    on someone's tail
    • Following someone closely.

      ‘a police car stayed on his tail for half a mile’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘He ducked and dodged around the buildings, trying to lose his pursuers but they managed to stay on his tail.’
      • ‘Letting her bike swerve, she halted a few inches from the track railing and stayed on his tail.’
      • ‘She swerved between buildings, statues, and anything that might make them lose her, but they stayed on her tail.’
      • ‘Let's say you're about to get fired or you've just killed a man and the police are on your tail.’
      • ‘Drug dealers who plague Swindon's streets are today warned that police are on their tail.’
      • ‘Two burglars were today behind bars after a passing motorist tracked them through the streets of York and put police on their tail, the city's crown court heard.’
      • ‘On his tail is FBI agent Carl Hanratty and his team of oafs.’
    the tail of one's eye
    • The outer corner of one's eye.

      ‘he glanced at her through the tail of his eye’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘And when something - a movement in the tail of my eye, a feeling - made me spin, I saw a semicircle of Rris watching me through the mist.’
      • ‘I caught the movement in the tail of my 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’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘What are some of the most common ways in which the tail wags the dog in financial aid?’
      • ‘Borges talks about not being able to tell whether the tail wags the dog or the dog wags the tail in his own writing of poetry and stories.’
      • ‘When ‘the truth’ becomes irrelevant, and perception is all that matters, then the tail wags the dog, and (as you know) that ain't quite right.’
      • ‘How frightening it is when the tail wags the dog.’
      • ‘This tail wags the dog, dominates university life for students and staff.’
      • ‘Even asking whether The Superstar Effect or TLT will win in a fight is like asking whether the dog wags the tail or the tail wags the dog.’
      • ‘But, they persist, peddling garbage, contradicting themselves in public (as in the example I posted), asserting the illogical (e.g. that the tail wags the dog) without evidentiary support from real sources, etc.’
    with one's tail between one's legs
    • In a state of dejection or humiliation.

      • ‘we took Lily in when she came back from London with her tail between her legs’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘When I left, I left publicly and not with my tail between my legs.’
      • ‘The last meeting I had with Sony I was sent off with my tail between my legs as if I was doing a very stupid thing with the material on this album.’
      • ‘I can walk away from here with my head held high - I am certainly not going away with my tail between my legs.’
      • ‘I got my bill and left a hefty tip, leaving with my tail between my legs.’
      • ‘I will not retreat to Canada with my tail between my legs.’
      • ‘Depressed beyond belief I left with my tail between my legs.’
      • ‘I made a bunch of money and lost it, and then came back to New York City with my tail between my legs, essentially.’
    with one's tail up
    • In a confident or cheerful mood.

      • ‘the West Indies team with their tails up can be awesome’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘But an hour later and it was the South Africans whose tails were up as they picked up three wickets for just two runs in 19 balls.’
      • ‘The English bowlers looked to have their tails up, as though they'd had a moment of revelation.’
      • ‘England now had their tails up, and back into the attack came Flintoff, whose tight line from around the wicket had accounted for Adam Gilchrist in the first innings.’
      • ‘The home side's tails were really up now and superb inter-linking play saw Standeven score twice on the bounce.’

Phrasal Verbs

    tail back
    • (of traffic) become congested and form a long line of stationary or slow-moving vehicles.

      ‘traffic tailed back fourteen miles after a chemical spillage’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Police attending a separate incident nearby arrived on the scene within minutes, and busy rush-hour traffic was soon tailing back as far back as Monks Cross.’
      • ‘I waited for several minutes in Woodlands Grove to see if there was any sign of traffic tailing back from the Stockton Lane or Malton Road junction.’
      • ‘Motorists faced delays of over an hour with traffic tailing back as far as junction 34 at Lancaster.’
      • ‘Queues rapidly built up in Station Road and Leeman Road, and traffic tailed back across Lendal Bridge after the crash, which took place at about 3.30 pm yesterday.’
      • ‘One lane of the eastbound carriageway was closed while firefighters tackled the blaze, and traffic tailed back on to the nearby A19 Fulford Road.’
      • ‘By 9am problems hit Hadleigh and traffic tailed back along the A127 to Southend as motorists tried to get off the A13.’
      • ‘Morning and evening traffic has tailed back from the roundabout since the lights were switched in a three week experiment to try to improve traffic flow.’
      • ‘When I returned for my car, it was difficult to get onto the A19 again because traffic tailed back from the ring road roundabout.’
      • ‘Traffic tailed back along a main route into York after a huge crane got stuck at a busy junction today.’
      • ‘Traffic can tail back as far as the Shrimp roundabout in Morecambe while in Lancaster it can even reach the Pointer roundabout.’
      • ‘Traffic was tailed back to Portlaoise on Friday evening, at the height of the rush hour, after a two-car pile up at the junction.’
      • ‘Over 10,000 visitors from Chonburi and neighboring provinces flocked to the zoo, causing a headache for traffic police as the traffic tailed back.’
      • ‘In the last march we stopped the traffic for a minute and it tailed back for a mile to Trowbridge Road.’
      • ‘However, the traffic problems which hit the first day, when vehicles tailed back seven miles along the A64 to Tadcaster, were not repeated yesterday.’
      • ‘The three-month trial is due to end later this month and has been blamed for the dramatic rise in traffic along Roehampton Lane, which can see cars tail back along the route for several miles during rush hour.’
      • ‘Within half an hour traffic tailed back 10 miles as far back as the West Yorkshire border.’
      • ‘Motorists faced delays of over an hour with traffic tailing back as far as junction 34 at Lancaster.’
    tail off
    • Gradually diminish in amount, strength, or intensity.

      ‘the economic boom was beginning to tail off’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘I used Avant for a few weeks, but my usage gradually tailed off.’
      • ‘His voice tails off, his attention clearly drawn to the television blaring out the lunchtime news in the background.’
      • ‘I think my blog has developed into a bit of both - and this has made me realise that the passionate views I expressed at the beginning have begun to tail off.’
      • ‘‘Don't bother,’ I said with my voice tailing off.’
      • ‘What was very interesting was that action had been tailing off until Peter tried a dead trout as bait.’
      • ‘Initially people joined, and then, over the months of 1993, the numbers of people signing up tailed off and dropped.’
      • ‘Gold is dropping and redemptions from retirement accounts have tailed off.’
      • ‘It could be worth putting your property on the market sooner rather than later, in case demand does tail off in the short term and the market weakens over the coming months.’
      • ‘However, with sales beginning to tail off and that once-fresh styling beginning to age, it was time to bring it into corporate line.’
      • ‘Then the wind shifted to the west, the rain tailed off and the layers of cloud above diminished.’
      • ‘A worrying question for the city's fathers and economic development experts is - what happens if one of the city's biggest sources of employment growth tails off?’
      • ‘I'm willing to concede that a few of the dozen tunes might be rewrites of songs I have heard before, and the songcraft audibly tails off in the final few tracks.’
      • ‘Typical of diaries - you start all keen then it tails off!’
      • ‘After the back injury in 1989, Nava's attendance started to tail off.’
      • ‘He taught himself through books, but his reading tailed off a bit because of his gardening.’
      • ‘We tail off weakly at the end, not knowing what to do next.’
      • ‘Police today confirmed that the number of calls has tailed off considerably over the weekend.’


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’.

Main meanings of tail in English

: tail1tail2


Pronunciation /teɪl/

See synonyms for tail

Translate tail into Spanish


mass nounmainly historical Law
  • Limitation of ownership, especially of an estate or title limited to a person and their direct descendants.

    See also fee tail

    ‘the land was held in tail general’
    • ‘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’.