verb (used with object)
  1. to pull or haul (a car, barge, trailer, etc.) by a rope, chain, or other device: The car was towed to the service station.
  1. an act or instance of towing.
  2. something being towed.
  3. something, as a boat or truck, that tows.
  4. a rope, chain, metal bar, or other device for towing: The trailer is secured to the car by a metal tow.
  5. ski tow.
  1. in tow,
    1. in the state of being towed.
    2. under one's guidance; in one's charge.
    3. as a follower, admirer, or companion: a professor who always had a graduate student in tow.
  2. under tow, in the condition of being towed; in tow.

Origin of tow

before 1000; Middle English towen (v.), Old English togian to pull by force, drag; cognate with Middle High German zogen to draw, tug, drag. See tug
Related formstow·a·ble, adjectivetow·a·bil·i·ty, noun
Can be confusedtoe tow

Synonyms for tow

1. trail, draw, tug. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

British Dictionary definitions for in tow


  1. (tr) to pull or drag (a vehicle, boat, etc), esp by means of a rope or cable
  1. the act or an instance of towing
  2. the state of being towed (esp in the phrases in tow, under tow, on tow)
  3. something towed
  4. something used for towing
  5. in tow in one's charge or under one's influence
  6. informal (in motor racing, etc) the act of taking advantage of the slipstream of another car (esp in the phrase get a tow)
  7. short for ski tow
Derived Formstowable, adjective

Word Origin for tow

Old English togian; related to Old Frisian togia, Old Norse toga, Old High German zogōn


  1. the fibres of hemp, flax, jute, etc, in the scutched state
  2. synthetic fibres preparatory to spinning
  3. the coarser fibres discarded after combing
Derived Formstowy, adjective

Word Origin for tow

Old English tōw; related to Old Saxon tou, Old Norse tuft of wool, Dutch touwen to spin
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for in tow



"pull with a rope," Old English togian "to drag, pull," from Proto-Germanic *tugojanan (cf. Old English teon "to draw," Old Frisian togia "to pull about," Old Norse toga, Old High German zogon, German ziehen "to draw, pull, drag"), from PIE root *deuk- "to pull, draw" (cf. Latin ducere "to lead;" see duke (n.)). Related: Towed; towing. The noun meaning "act or fact of being towed" is recorded from 1620s. Towaway, in reference to parking zones, is recorded from 1956.



"coarse, broken fibers of flax, hemp, etc.," late 14c., probably from Old English tow- "spinning" (in towlic "fit for spinning"), perhaps cognate with Gothic taujan "to do, make," Middle Dutch touwen "to knit, weave."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with in tow

in tow

In one's charge or close guidance; along with one. For example, The older girl took the new student in tow, or Peter always had his family in tow. This expression alludes to the literal meaning of being pulled along. [Early 1700s]


see in tow.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.