ABSTRACT Tendons and ligaments are fibrous connective tissues vital to the transmission of force and stabilization of the musculoskeletal system. Arising in precise regions of the embryo, tendons and ligaments share many properties and little is known about the molecular differences that differentiate them. Recent studies have revealed heterogeneity and plasticity within tendon and ligament cells, raising questions regarding the developmental mechanisms regulating tendon and ligament identity. Here, we discuss recent findings that contribute to our understanding of the mechanisms that establish and maintain tendon progenitors and their differentiated progeny in the head, trunk and limb. We also review the extent to which these findings are specific to certain anatomical regions and model organisms, and indicate which findings similarly apply to ligaments. Finally, we address current research regarding the cellular lineages that contribute to tendon and ligament repair, and to what extent their regulation is conserved within tendon and ligament development.