The spindle checkpoint ensures the fidelity of chromosome segregation by preventing cell-cycle progression until all the chromosomes make proper bipolar attachments to the mitotic spindle and come under tension. Despite significant advances in our understanding of spindle checkpoint function, the primary signal that activates the spindle checkpoint remains unclear. Whereas some experiments indicate that the checkpoint recognizes the lack of microtubule attachment to the kinetochore, others indicate that the checkpoint senses the absence of tension generated on the kinetochore by microtubules. The interdependence between tension and microtubule attachment make it difficult to determine whether these signals are separable. In this article (which is part of the Chromosome Segregation and Aneuploidy series), we consider recent evidence that supports and opposes the hypothesis that defects in tension act as the primary checkpoint signal.