verb (used with object), tabbed, tab·bing.

to furnish or ornament with a tab or tabs.
to name or designate.

verb (used without object), tabbed, tab·bing.

to operate the tab function on a typewriter or computer.


    keep tabs/tab on, Informal. to keep an account of; check on; observe: The police kept tabs on the suspect's activities.

Origin of tab

1600–10; most senses of unknown origin;in def 7 short for tabulator; in def 10 short for tableau; in defs 4, 15 short for table Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for keep tabs on




a small flap of material, esp one on a garment for decoration or for fastening to a button
any similar flap, such as a piece of paper attached to a file for identification
a small auxiliary aerofoil on the trailing edge of a rudder, aileron, or elevator, etc, to assist in the control of the aircraft in flightSee also trim tab
British military the insignia on the collar of a staff officer
mainly US and Canadian a bill, esp one for a meal or drinks
Scot and Northern English dialect a cigarette
keep tabs on informal to keep a watchful eye on

verb tabs, tabbing or tabbed

(tr) to supply (files, clothing, etc) with a tab or tabs

Word Origin for tab

C17: of unknown origin




short for tabulator, tablet
slang a portion of a drug, esp LSD or ecstasy


abbreviation for

typhoid-paratyphoid A and B (vaccine)
Australian and NZ Totalizator Agency Board
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 keep tabs on



"small flap," c.1600, possibly a dialectal word, of uncertain origin. Often interchangeable with tag (n.1). Cf. also Middle English tab "strap or string" (mid-15c.), Norwegian dialectal tave "piece of cloth, rag."



"account, bill, check," 1888, American English colloquial, probably a shortened form of tabulation or of tablet in the sense of "a sheet for writing on." Figurative phrase keep a tab on is recorded from 1890.



1961, shortened form of tablet (especially one of sugar containing LSD). As an abbreviation of tabloid (newspaper) it is 1990s slang. As a short form of tabulator key of a typewriter (later computer) it is recorded from 1916.



"to designate, label," 1924, perhaps an alteration of tag (v.2). Related: Tabbed; tabbing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with keep tabs on

keep tabs on

Observe carefully, keep a record of. For example, I hate having my boss keep tabs on my every move, or We've got to keep tabs on outgoing mail so we can keep track of postage. This expression uses to tab in the sense of “an account.” [Late 1800s] Also see keep track.


see keep tabs on.

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