Commonly Confused Words: Tail vs. Tale

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What does each word mean?

A tail is a flexible part of an animal that extends past the rest of its body. Tail can also be used figuratively to refer to any part that extends past the main body of whatever it is attached to.

As a verb, the word describes the act of following someone.

Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word.

Here is tail used in some example sentences:

  • The dog wagged her tail in delight.
  • He wore a tailcoat to the gala.
  • The police officer tailed the suspect.

Click here to create a Spellzone vocabulary listincluding the word tail.

Tale is another word for story.

Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word.

Here is tale used in some example sentences:

  • At its core, Cinderella is a tale about kindness triumphing over greed.
  • After breaking up with his famous girlfriend, the man was sued for telling tales to the tabloids.

Click here to find the Spellzone vocabulary lists related to the word tale.

Where does each word come from?

Tail comes from the Old English ‘tægel’, from the Proto-Germanic ‘tagla’.

Tale comes from the Old English ‘talu’meaning ‘story, tale, statement, deposition, narrative, fable, accusation, action of telling’, which in turn comes from the Proto-Germanic ‘talo’.

Are there any tricks to help remember the difference between these words?

  • Tale has the word ale in it. Think of the sentence: ‘They gathered at the pub to drink ale and tell tales.’
  • A tale is often finished with the words ‘The End’. Tale ends with the letter e.
  • A tail, which is the last part of an animal, ends with the letter l.
  • Picture the word Tail as an animal. The top of the T is the animal’s head and the I is the animal’s tail.

What words do you constantly mix up? Let us know and we’ll cover them in our Commonly Confused Words series.

Have a great week!

Sources: The Online Etymology Dictionary and Oxford Dictionaries.


08 Sep 2016
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"This is a fantastic opportunity for our students!  I'm sure Spellzone will be invaluable in helping them to improve their spellings and therefore improve the quality of their writing in all subject areas!"

Teacher, High School, UK