[ teym ]
/ teɪm /

adjective, tam·er, tam·est.

verb (used with object), tamed, tam·ing.

verb (used without object), tamed, tam·ing.

to become tame.



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Origin of tame

before 900; (adj.) Middle English; Old English tam; cognate with Dutch tam, German zahm, Old Norse tamr; (v.) Middle English tamen, derivative of the adj.; replacing Middle English temen to tame, Old English temian, derivative of tam; cognate with Old Norse temja, Gothic gatamjan; akin to Latin domāre to tame


Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020


What does tame mean?

When an animal is tame, it has been domesticated, a sense metaphorically extended to someone or something considered “subdued,” “boring,” or “mild.”

Tame is also a verb for putting something wild under control. 

Where does tame come from?

Tame, as an adjective, is dated to Old English, when it was used of domesticated animals—to break them of their wild, human-fearing nature—and people or things showing such subdued characteristics. The verb form is recorded by the 1300s.

By metaphorical extension, a person, performance, or work of art that is tame is dismissed as predictable or boring. We’re still calling, say, TV shows tame, though this use of the word (“dull, uninspired”) has been recorded since the 1600s.

Tame notably appears in the title of William Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of the Shrew, which is about making the titular shrew (or “ill-tempered woman”), Kate, a more agreeable person, shall we say.

How is tame used in real life?

Critics of movies, TV shows, music, and other art forms who are unimpressed by what they’ve seen may describe the work as tame, especially when the work has been billed to be exciting or risqué.

People may also use the verb tame, when not breaking lions for the circus, as a way about bringing “wild” behavior under control. This could be anything from taming unruly hair to taming a spending habit to taming a bad attitude.

More examples of tame:

“Tame Your Money Shame. It’s taboo to talk about financial struggles because our emotions about money run so deep—but naming our feelings around money will help us deepen our relationship with it.”
—Bari Tessler, Mindful, September 2018


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

Example sentences from the Web for tame

British Dictionary definitions for tame

/ (teɪm) /


verb (tr)

Derived forms of tame

Word Origin for tame

Old English tam; related to Old Norse tamr, Old High German zam
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