verb (used with object), tugged, tug·ging.

verb (used without object), tugged, tug·ging.

to pull with force or effort: to tug at a stuck drawer.
to strive hard; labor; toil.


Origin of tug

1175–1225; Middle English toggen to play-wrestle, contend; akin to Old English togian to tow1
Related formstug·ger, nountug·less, adjectiveun·tugged, adjective

Synonyms for tug

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for tugging

draw, jerk, tow, traction, strain, drag, haul, wrench, lug, toil, heave, yank

Examples from the Web for tugging

Contemporary Examples of tugging

Historical Examples of tugging

  • "I've been a fool," said Eileen, tugging at the pearls viciously.

    Her Father's Daughter

    Gene Stratton-Porter

  • "It wasn't anything," said Grant shortly, tugging at a boot.

    Good Indian

    B. M. Bower

  • Tugging at rope and at reef, while men weep and women swoon.


    William D. Howells

  • "I wish I could go with you," he cried, tugging at his white moustache.

  • "Then come back now and tell her," said Diana, tugging at him as if to make him turn.

    Cleo The Magnificent

    Louis Zangwill

British Dictionary definitions for tugging


verb tugs, tugging or tugged

(when intr, sometimes foll by at) to pull or drag with sharp or powerful movementsthe boy tugged at the door handle
(tr) to tow (a vessel) by means of a tug
(intr) to work; toil


a strong pull or jerkhe gave the rope a tug
Also called: tugboat, towboat a boat with a powerful engine, used for towing barges, ships, etc
a hard struggle or fight
a less common word for trace 2 (def. 1)
Derived Formstugger, noun

Word Origin for tug

C13: related to Old English tēon to tow 1
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 tugging



early 13c., from weak grade of Old English teohan "to pull, drag," from Proto-Germanic *teukh- "pull," from PIE *deuk- "to pull, to lead" (see duke (n.)). Related to tow (v.). Related: Tugged; tugging.



c.1500, from tug (v.). Meaning "small steamer used to tow other vessels" is recorded from 1817. Phrase tug of war (1670s) was originally figurative, "the decisive contest, the real struggle."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper