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Muscles of the tongue

Learning objectives

After working through this study unit, you will be able to:

  1. Identify the extrinsic and intrinsic muscles of the tongue.
  2. Define the attachments and neurovascular supply of these muscles.
  3. Describe the function of each of these muscles.

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The tongue is a muscular organ composed of two major muscle groups: extrinsic and intrinsic. The extrinsic muscles originate outside of the tongue and mainly function to move the tongue as a whole (i.e. gross movement). The intrinsic muscles are contained within the tongue itself and alter its size and shape to produce fine movements for talking and swallowing.

The extrinsic muscles consist of the:

  • Genioglossus muscle (“genio” - genial (a.k.a. mental) spine; “glossus” - tongue): A triangular muscle which protrudes and depresses the tongue.
  • Hyoglossus muscle (“hyo” - hyoid bone): A thin muscle, which depresses the tongue.
  • Styloglossus muscle (“stylo” - styloid process): Draws the tongue upwards and backwards and divide the tongue into two parts (longitudinal and oblique).
  • Palatoglossus muscle (“palato” - soft palate): Elevates the root of tongue and closes off the oropharynx.

The intrinsic muscles consist of the

  • Superior longitudinal muscle: makes the tongue concave and together with the inferior longitudinal muscle, shortens the tongue.
  • Inferior longitudinal muscle: makes the tongue convex.
  • Vertical muscle of the tongue: flattens and widens the tongue.
  • Transverse muscle of the tongue: narrows and elongates the tongue.

All of the lingual muscles innervated by the hypoglossal nerve (CN XII), except for the palatoglossus muscle, which receives its innervation from the vagus nerve via the pharyngeal plexus.

In this video you will learn about the 8 pairs of muscles of the tongue. It shows their insertion and origin, as well as their vascular supply, function and innervation.

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Key facts of the extrinsic muscles of the tongue
Genioglossus muscle Origin: Superior mental spine of mandible
Entire length of dorsum of tongue, lingual aponeurosis, body of hyoid bone
Depresses and protrudes tongue (bilateral contraction); deviates tongue contralaterally (unilateral contraction)
Neurovascular supply:
Lingual and facial arteries, hypoglossal nerve (CN XII)
Hyoglossus muscle Origin: Body and greater horn of hyoid bone
Inferior/ventral parts of lateral tongue
Depresses and retracts tongue
Neurovascular supply:
Lingual and facial arteries, hypoglossal nerve (CN XII)
Styloglossus muscle Origin: Anterolateral aspect of styloid process (of temporal bone), stylomandibular ligament
Blends with inferior longitudinal muscle (longitudinal part); blends with hyoglossus muscle (oblique part)
Retracts and elevates lateral aspects of tongue
Neurovascular supply:
Lingual artery, hypoglossal nerve (CN XII)
Palatoglossus muscle Origin: Palatine aponeurosis of soft palate
Lateral margins of tongue, blends with intrinsic muscles of tongue
Elevates root of tongue, constricts isthmus of throat
Neurovascular supply:
Ascending pharyngeal arteries and facial arteries, vagus nerve (CN X) (via branches of pharyngeal plexus)
Key facts of the intrinsic muscles of the tongue
Superior longitudinal muscle Origin: Submucosa of posterior tongue, lingual septum
Insertion: Apex/anterolateral margins of tongue
Action: Retracts and broadens tongue, elevates apex of tongue
Inferior longitudinal muscle Origin: Root of tongue, body of hyoid bone
Apex of tongue
Retracts and broadens tongue, lowers apex of tongue
Vertical muscle Origin: Root of tongue, genioglossus muscle
Insertion: Lingual aponeurosis
Action: Broadens and elongates tongue
Transverse muscle Origin: Lingual septum
Insertion: Lateral margin of tongue
Action: Narrows and elongates tongue
Neurovascular supply All supplied by lingual artery, hypoglossal nerve (CN XII)

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