\ ˈtō How to pronounce tow (audio) \
towed; towing; tows

Definition of tow

 (Entry 1 of 4)

transitive verb

: to draw or pull along behind : haul tow a wagon

intransitive verb

: to move in tow trailers that tow behind the family auto— Bob Munger


noun (1)

Definition of tow (Entry 2 of 4)

1a : the act or an instance of towing
b : the fact or state of being towed
2a : something towed (such as a boat or car)
b : a group of barges lashed together and usually pushed
3a : something (such as a tugboat) that tows
b : ski tow
4 : a rope or chain for towing
in tow
1 : accompanying or following usually as an attending or dependent party not easy shopping with kids in tow
2 : under guidance or protection taken in tow by a friendly native


noun (2)

Definition of tow (Entry 3 of 4)

1 : short or broken fiber (as of flax, hemp, or synthetic material) that is used especially for yarn, twine, or stuffing
2a : yarn or cloth made of tow
b : a loose essentially untwisted strand of synthetic fibers


noun (3)

Definition of tow (Entry 4 of 4)

chiefly Scotland and dialects of England
: rope

Synonyms & Antonyms for tow

Synonyms: Verb

Antonyms: Verb

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Examples of tow in a Sentence

Verb The car was towed to the nearest garage after the accident. The police towed my car because it was parked illegally.

First Known Use of tow


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense

Noun (1)

1600, in the meaning defined at sense 4

Noun (2)

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun (3)

14th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for tow


Middle English towen "to pull, tug, haul," going back to Old English togian, going back to Germanic *togōjan- (whence also Old Frisian togia "to haul away," Old High German zogōn "to obtain," Old Icelandic toga "to draw, pull"), weak-verb derivative from zero-grade of *teuhan- "to draw, pull," a strong verb (whence Old English tēon, past tēah, tugon, past participle togen "to pull, draw, entice, bring up, educate," Old Frisian tiā "to draw, pull, educate," Old Saxon tiohan "to pull, haul, rear," Old High German ziohan "to pull, lead, rear, foster," Old Icelandic toginn "drawn [of a sword]," Gothic tiuhan "to lead, bring"), going back to an Indo-European verbal base *deu̯k-, whence also Welsh dygaf "(I) bring, lead" (verbal noun dwyn), Latin dūcō, dūcere "to lead, conduct, draw, pull (of draught animals)"

Note: The base *deu̯k- is best attested as a primary verb stem with the meanings "lead, bring" and "pull (a conveyance)" in the western Indo-European group Celtic, Germanic, and Italic. Other semantically and/or morphologically more distant connections (in Albanian, Greek, and Tocharian) are pointed out in H. Rix, et al., Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben, 2. Auflage, Wiesbaden, 2001.

Noun (1)

derivative of tow entry 1

Noun (2)

Middle English tow, towe "unworked flax, fiber of flax or another material prepared for spinning," of uncertain origin

Note: The Middle English word has been associated with Old English tow-, which appears as the initial element of a series of compounds: towcræft "spinning," towhūs "building or room for spinning," towlic "used for spinning," towtōl "spinning implement." Whatever the likelihood of this element as its source, Middle English tow(e) is matched exactly in form by Middle Dutch touwe, tou "coarse flax, rope," and Middle Low German tow, towe "rope." While the Oxford English Dictionary, first edition, is noncommital on its origin, the editors of the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology state unreservedly that tow(e) is borrowed from Middle Low German touw [sic]. Cognate with the Middle Low German and Middle Dutch words are Old Frisian tauwe, towe "rope," Old Saxon tou "flax fiber," and Old Icelandic "tuft of wool." These appear to go back to Germanic tauwa-, which would yield unattested Old English *tēaw-, not tow-. G. Kroonen (Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic, Brill, 2013) links the Germanic etymon with Indo-European *deh1- "tie, bind" (see diadem), but this would appear unlikely if "flax fiber" was the original meaning and "rope" secondary. Older hypotheses connect it with Germanic *taujan- "to do, make" (see taw entry 1).

Noun (3)

early Scots tow, towe, probably borrowed from Middle Dutch or Middle Low German tow, towe "rope" — more at tow entry 3

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Time Traveler for tow

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The first known use of tow was before the 12th century

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Cite this Entry

“Tow.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 Aug. 2022.

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More Definitions for tow


\ ˈtō How to pronounce tow (audio) \
towed; towing

Kids Definition of tow

 (Entry 1 of 3)

: to draw or pull along behind



Kids Definition of tow (Entry 2 of 3)

: an act or instance of drawing or pulling along behind : the fact or state of being drawn or pulled along behind



Kids Definition of tow (Entry 3 of 3)

: short broken fiber of flax, hemp, or jute used for yarn, twine, or stuffing

More from Merriam-Webster on tow

Nglish: Translation of tow for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of tow for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about tow


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