Tenterhooks or Tenderhooks? Which is Correct?

Tenterhooks or Tenderhooks? Which is Correct?

There is a phrase that says one is on tenterhooks. This word commonly gets misspelled as tenderhooks. You might think that these are just two words that can be used in place of each other, but tenderhooks is not actually a real word.

Tenterhooks(Meaning and Use)

A tenterhook is literally a hook that attaches cloth to a tenter, which is a frame used to stretch cloth. The phrase on tenterhooks is used to compare how tense someone feels to the tenseness of the fabric on a tenter.

Tenterhooks is used in the phrase on tenterhooks to portray that someone is nervously waiting for something. This could be a medical diagnosis, a job application, or waiting to find out if you got that bonus.

“On tenterhooks” is commonly applied to negative situations, but it can also be used when someone is feeling nervous in a good way. For example, you might be on tenterhooks waiting for an acceptance to college, waiting to find out if you got approved for a house, or waiting to see if you won a contest.

I was on tenterhooks waiting to find out what happened next in the book.

We were waiting on tenterhooks to find out the results of the blood test.

They were on tenterhooks as they waited for the bank to call about their loan.

The crowd was kept on tenterhooks for hours while they waited to learn the winner.

What is a Tenterhook?

Tenterhooks, also called tenter hooks, are nails that hook into a device called a tenter. This tenter is a wooden frame that dates back as early as the 14th century. The tenter and tenterhooks were used in the process of making woolen cloth.

Tenterhooks are not used commonly anymore, and the word is exclusively used in the metaphorical phrase to be on tenterhooks. In any situation when someone is feeling nervous or tense, you would say they are on tenterhooks. They are feeling tension and nervous, whether the nerves are good or bad nerves.

Where Did This Phrase Come from?

The word tenter comes from the Latin word tendere that means stretch. Tenterhooks are used to stretch fabric using tension. The expression was first used in the 1700s to refer to someone that was feeling anxious.

When a fabric is on tenterhooks, it leaves the fabric in a very tight and tense position. This is usually how your muscles feel when you are stressed out or uneasy. This is why tenterhooks is a phrase used to describe waiting in suspense.

The noun tenter was once considered a synonym to tenterhook. You will often see the phrase on tenders used in literature and text from both the 17th and 18th centuries. This phrase is not often used today.

You can see the metaphor used in the 1633 play called Broken Hearts. It is also used in The General History of Europe published in 1690.


Tenderhooks is never going to be proper in this sense, and it is actually not a real word. People use tenderhooks mistakenly thinking that is how the word is spelled. Since it’s not spelled properly, it is not the correct form of the phrase.

Tenderhook is most commonly used by writers who don’t understand that it is incorrect. These writers are usually not familiar with where the phrase comes from, causing the misspelling.

This spelling is influenced by the familiar, but unrelated, word tender. In reference to the body, tender means sensitive to pain. It is understandable to assume that the phrase uses the word tenderhooks, but it is incorrect.