Language: Old English
Origin: tellan


tell S1 W1 past tense and past participle told

communicate something

[transitive] if someone tells you something, they communicate information, a story, their feelings etc to you
tell somebody (that)
I wish someone had told me the meeting was canceled.
The Chief of Police told reporters that two people were killed in the blast.
tell somebody what/how/where/who etc
Jack had to go, but he didn't tell me why.
I think you'd better tell me exactly what's been going on around here.
tell somebody about something
No one had told them about the drug's side effects.
I'll tell you all about it when I get back.
tell somebody something
Tell me your phone number again.
tell (somebody) a story/joke/secret/lie
She told us some funny stories about her sister.
Sheppard was telling the truth.
tell somebody straight (=tell someone the truth, even though it might upset them)
Tell me straight, Adam. Just answer yes or no.
see usage note say1

show something

[transitive] to give information in ways other than talking
tell somebody how/what/where/who etc
The light tells you when the machine is ready.
The bear's sense of smell tells it where prey is hiding.
tell somebody about something
What do these fossils tell us about climate change?

what somebody should do

[transitive] to say that someone must do something
tell somebody (not) to do something
The teacher told the children to sit down quietly.
I thought I told you not to touch anything!
tell somebody (that)
Bernice was told she had to work late this evening.
tell somebody what/how etc
Stop trying to tell me what to do all the time.
Do as you are told (=obey me) and don't ask questions.


[intransitive,transitive not in progressive] to know something or be able to recognize something because of certain signs that show this
can/can't tell
She might have been lying. Benjy couldn't tell.
tell (that)
The moment Kramer walked in, I could tell that things were not going well.
tell (something) a mile off (=know easily)
You could tell a mile off that he was lying.
tell when/how/whether/if etc
It's hard to tell how long the job will take.
tell something by something/from something
I could tell from his tone of voice that Ken was disappointed.

recognize difference

[transitive not in progressive] to be able to see how one person or thing is different from another
tell something from something
How can you tell a fake Vuitton handbag from the real thing?
Can you tell the difference between sparkling wine and champagne?
tell apart

tell yourself something

to persuade yourself that something is true:
I keep telling myself there is nothing I could have done to save him.


[transitive usually in past tense] to warn someone that something bad might happen
tell somebody (that)
I told you it was a waste of time talking to him.
tell somebody (not) to do something
My mother told me not to trust Robert.

tell somebody about bad behaviour

[intransitive] informal to tell someone in authority about something wrong that someone you know has done - used especially by children [= tell on somebody]:
If you hit me, I'll tell.

tell tales

British English to say something that is not true about someone else, in order to cause trouble for them - used especially about children:
an unpopular boy, who was always telling tales on the other children

all told

altogether, when everyone or everything has been counted:
There must have been eight cars in the accident, all told.


[intransitive not in progressive] to have an effect on someone, especially a harmful one
tell on somebody
These late nights are really beginning to tell on him.

tell the time

British English tell time American English to be able to know what time it is by looking at a clock
13 spoken

I/I'll tell you what

also tell you what
a) used when you are suggesting or offering something:
I tell you what - let's have a picnic in the park.
b) American English used in order to emphasize what you are really saying:
I tell you what, I'm not looking forward to standing up in court tomorrow.
14 spoken

to tell (you) the truth

used to emphasize that you are being very honest:
I don't really want to go out, to tell the truth.
15 spoken

I can tell you/I'm telling you

used to emphasize that what you are saying is true even though it may be difficult to believe:
I'm telling you, Sheila, I've never seen anything like it in my life.
16 spoken

tell me

used before asking a question:
Tell me, do you think this dress goes with these shoes?
So tell me, how was it in Argentina?
17 spoken

I told you so

used when you have warned someone about a possible danger that has now happened and they have ignored your warning:
I suppose you've come to say 'I told you so.'
18 spoken

I'll tell you something/one thing/another thing

also let me tell you something/one thing/another thing used to emphasize what you are saying:
I'll tell you one thing - you'll never get me to vote for him.
Let me tell you something - if I catch you kids smoking again, you'll be grounded for a month at least.
19 spoken

you can tell him from me

used to ask someone to tell another person something, when you are annoyed or determined:
Well, you can tell him from me that I'm going to make a complaint.
20 spoken

I couldn't tell you

used to tell someone that you do not know the answer to their question:
'How much would a rail ticket cost?' ' I couldn't tell you; I always drive.'
21 spoken

I can't tell you

a) used to say that you cannot tell someone something because it is a secret:
'Where are you taking me?' 'I can't tell you; it would spoil the surprise.'
b) used to say that you cannot express your feelings or describe something properly
I can't tell you how/why/what etc
I can't tell you how worried I've been.
22 spoken

don't tell me

used to interrupt someone because you know what they are going to say or because you want to guess - used especially when you are annoyed:
'I'm sorry I'm late but ...' 'Don't tell me - the car broke down again?'
23 spoken

somebody tells me (that)

used to say what someone has told you:
Mike tells me you've got a new job.
24 spoken

you're telling me

used to emphasize that you already know and agree with something that someone has just said:
'He's such a pain to live with.' 'You're telling me!'
25 spoken

tell me about it

used to say that you already know how bad something is, especially because you have experienced it yourself:
'I've been so tired lately.' 'Yeah, tell me about it!'
26 spoken

you never can tell/you can never tell

used to say that you cannot be certain about what will happen in the future:
The boy might turn out to be a genius. You never can tell.
27 spoken

there's no telling what/how etc

used to say that it is impossible to know what has happened or what will happen next:
There's no telling what she'll try next.
28 spoken

that would be telling

used to say that you cannot tell someone something because it is a secret
29 spoken

tell somebody where to go/where to get off

used to tell someone angrily that what they have said is insulting or unfair:
'Andy started criticizing the way I was dressed.' 'I hope you told him where to get off!'
30 spoken

tell it like it is

American English to say exactly what you think or what is true, without hiding anything that might upset or offend people:
Don always tells it like it is.
31 spoken

I'm not telling (you)

used to say that you refuse to tell someone something:
'Mum, what are you getting me for my birthday?' 'I'm not telling you - you'll have to wait and see.'
32 spoken

tell me another (one)

used when you do not believe what someone has told you

tell against somebody

phrasal verb
to make someone less likely to succeed in achieving or winning something:
I badly wanted the job, but knew that my age would probably tell against me.

tell somebody/something apart

phrasal verb
if you can tell two people or things apart, you can see the difference between them, so that you do not confuse them [= distinguish]:
It's almost impossible to tell the twins apart.

tell of somebody/something

phrasal verb
to describe an event or person:
The poem tells of the deeds of a famous warrior.

tell somebody ↔ off

phrasal verb
if someone in authority tells you off, they speak to you angrily about something wrong that you have done
be/get told off
Shelley was one of those kids who was always getting told off at school.
tell somebody off for doing something
My dad told me off for swearing.

tell on somebody

phrasal verb
to tell someone in authority about something wrong that someone you know has done - used especially by children:
Please don't tell on me - my parents will kill me if they find out!

say, tell, give, ask
You use say when you are mentioning someone's exact words 'Hello,' she said. Someone said, 'Let's go!'Say can be followed by 'that' He said that he was tired. In speech people often leave out 'that' They said there had been a mistake.Say can be followed by 'something', 'anything', 'nothing', or 'so' Did you say something? Nobody dared to say anything. You have to come - Dad said so.It can also be followed by 'goodbye' or 'hello' I'll just go and say hello to David.Apart from these uses, say is not normally followed by an object. For example, it cannot be followed by 'a story', 'a lie', 'some information', or 'an answer'. You tell a story, a joke, a lie, or the truth They told a funny story about their trip. You give information, an order, an instruction, or an answer He gave no reply.!! You do not say a question. You ask a question Can I ask a question?You can say something to someone Has he said something to you?When talking about giving information, it is more usual to say that you tell someone something Clare told us something interesting (NOT said us something...). Can anyone tell me what time it is? (NOT say to me what...) You can tell someone about something Did you tell Lucy about the party? (NOT say to Lucy about...)You can say to do something, but it is more usual to tell someone to do something The teacher told us to open our books (NOT said us/said to us to...).See also say

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