Intermediate+ Word of the Day: tame

tame (verb, adjective) /teɪm/ LISTEN

To tame means ‘to domesticate,’ as done with wild animals, and, figuratively, it can be used to talk about people. It also means ‘to control’ and ‘to make less interesting or boring.’ As an adjective, it refers to something that is domesticated and to something or someone that gives in easily. Tame is also a synonym of boring or dull.

Example sentences

  • Lisa has managed to tame the fox that visits her garden.
  • Harry used to be a real wild child, always going to parties and getting drunk, but his new wife has tamed him; he hardly goes out at all anymore.
  • Rachel was furious, but she managed to tame her anger and be civil to her mother-in-law.
  • The editors tamed some of the book's more shocking scenes.
  • Jack has a tame parrot that sits on his shoulder.
  • The politician's ego was boosted by his tame supporters.
  • I'm not a big fan of that movie; I thought it was a bit tame.

In pop culture

In the 1960s and 70s in the UK, it was very fashionable and legal to keep big cats, like lions and tigers, as pets. However, many people found that it was difficult to keep the cute cub they had bought when it started getting bigger. There is a documentary about one such cat, a lion called Christian, who was bought from the Harrod’s department store in London, but eventually returned to the wild in Kenya. Here you can see a clip from the end of the documentary, when Christian is reunited with his previous owners:

Did you know?

Lion taming is a popular circus act where the lion tamer gets lions to perform for the audience. However, in recent years animal rights groups have raised concern about the welfare of wild animals being kept and used in circuses, which has led to many countries banning the practice.

Other forms

tamer (noun), tameable (adjective), tamely (adverb)


Tame, as an adjective, dates back to before the year 900, as the Old (and Middle) English tam. It meant ‘domesticated’ in reference to animals, as well as ‘physically subdued, meek or compliant’ in reference to people. It can be traced back to the Proto-Germanic word tamaz, and is related to the Dutch tam, the German zahm, and the Old Norse tamr. It is thought to come from the Proto-Indo-European root deme-, which is also the origin for the Latin domare, and many Romance language words with meanings similar to tame. The verb, meaning ‘to make tame,’ comes from the adjective, and dates back to around the same time. The Old English temian evolved into the Middle English tamen, which left us with tame.

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