[ ten-ter-hook ]


  1. one of the hooks or bent nails that hold cloth stretched on a tenter.


/ ˈtɛntəˌhʊk /


  1. one of a series of hooks or bent nails used to hold cloth stretched on a tenter
  2. on tenterhooks
    in a state of tension or suspense

Discover More

Word History and Origins

Origin of tenterhook1

First recorded in 1470–80; tenter + hook 1

Discover More

Idioms and Phrases

  1. on tenterhooks, in a state of uneasy suspense or painful anxiety:

    The movie keeps one on tenterhooks until the very last moment.

Discover More

Example Sentences

The residents have been on tenterhooks since then, at the mercy of the market, unsure if each winter will be their last.

What I prefer is a hellish hovering, an endless torturing Tenterhook between the two.


Discover More

More About Tenterhook

What does tenterhook mean?

A tenterhook is a hook used to attach cloth to a tenter—a frame on which cloth is stretched during the manufacturing process so that it can keep its shape while drying.

Tenterhooks are no longer widely used in cloth manufacturing, and the word tenterhook is now almost exclusively used in the metaphorical phrase on tenterhooks, meaning in a state of painfully anxious suspense or tension. Being on tenterhooks typically involves being extremely nervous while awaiting the outcome of a tense situation, such as a close election, an exciting sports game, or a horror movie.

Example: I’ve been on tenterhooks all morning waiting for the doctor’s office to call back with my test results.

Where does the word tenterhook come from?

The first records of the word tenterhook come from the late 1400s. Tenter comes from the Middle English tente, which means “to stretch” and derives from the Latin tēnsus, meaning “tense.” The word tenter was formerly used as a synonym for tenterhook, and the expression on tenters was used before on tenterhooks to mean the same thing.

Most of the people who use the phrase on tenterhooks have probably never seen an actual tenterhook, and most may not even know what it is. But it’s a good metaphor—when someone is described as being on tenterhooks, they feel tense and stretched thin, just like the fabric on a tenter. The phrase on tenterhooks is often applied to negative situations, but it can be used to describe someone who’s nervously excited.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to tenterhook?

What are some synonyms for tenterhook?

What are some words that share a root or word element with tenterhook


What are some words that often get used in discussing tenterhook?

How is tenterhook used in real life?

Tenterhook is almost exclusively used in the phrase on tenterhooks.



Try using tenterhook!

Which of the following terms is a synonym of the phrase on tenterhooks?

A. on edge
B. tense
C. anxious
D. all of the above

Definitions and idiom definitions from Unabridged, based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

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