Main definitions of tell in English

: tell1tell2

tell1

verbtold

  • 1reporting verb Communicate information to someone in spoken or written words.

    with object and clause ‘I told her you were coming’
    with object and direct speech ‘‘We have nothing in common,’ she told him’
    with object ‘he's telling the truth’
    with two objects ‘we must be told the facts’
    • ‘In other words, telling the plain truth probably would have been sufficient.’
    • ‘Dad was still telling me how proud he was of me.’
    • ‘One doctor told the conference he sees 50 patients a day.’
    • ‘Her mother tells her how wonderful everything is in the city.’
    • ‘Employees told of massive delays and journeys of up to eight hours to London from York as the railways were in crisis.’
    • ‘He lost both his job and later his life for his troubles, for speaking out and telling the truth.’
    • ‘Last night, her shocked brother told of how he made a desperate bid to save her.’
    • ‘Eyewitnesses told of the horror of being crushed, of falling and then having other people falling on top of them.’
    • ‘That's because he speaks his mind and tells the truth.’
    • ‘The couple told of the whispering campaign in their community accusing them of being in some way responsible.’
    • ‘A North Yorkshire farmer today told of his family's despair as foot and mouth claimed his flock of sheep.’
    • ‘Hearing her friends tell her how lucky she was to have someone so devoted only made it worse.’
    • ‘The inquest was told yesterday that he complained of feeling " queasy " minutes before the tragic incident.’
    • ‘They also told of how their son had been deeply affected by the abduction.’
    • ‘The owner of the chemist's shop where the armed robbery took place told of his shock and horror at the incident.’
    • ‘She had no doubt been told of the historic reasons why the lords feel they must rule us.’
    • ‘Sources told us earlier today that the campaign would widen and apparently it has.’
    • ‘Her mother had told her earlier that the guests would be arriving around 4.’
    • ‘Neighbours have spoken of their shock at the incident and told of a quiet woman who kept herself to herself.’
    • ‘Another doctor told the inquest the symptoms could have been caused by anxiety and depression.’
    inform, let know, notify, apprise, make aware, mention something to, acquaint with, advise, put in the picture, brief, fill in, break the news to
    speak, utter, say, voice, state, declare
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1with object and infinitive Order or advise someone to do something.
      ‘tell him to go away’
      • ‘With a standing order, you tell your bank to pay a fixed sum at a regular interval to an organisation or individual.’
      • ‘The jury normally receives an order from the court telling it to accept the laws as they are.’
      • ‘The same lawyers told him to bring charges to a civil court and the sports court of arbitrage.’
      • ‘Cancer cells get these nutrients by sending out a complex set of chemical instructions telling the body to produce new blood vessels to feed it.’
      • ‘People are too intelligent for us to direct their minds and tell them go this way or that way.’
      • ‘They told them to dismount and then tied them up and ordered them into the American vehicle.’
      • ‘But the pair were unable to attend after being told to stay in hospital.’
      • ‘She knew she had been told to stay quiet, but she couldn't.’
      instruct, order, give orders, command, direct, charge, enjoin, call on, require
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2with object Relate (a story)
      ‘he tried to make the children laugh by telling jokes’
      with two objects ‘tell me the story again’
      • ‘Global stars they may be, but they created a warm, homely atmosphere, joking and telling stories about their family.’
      • ‘Another way of using language to cheer someone up is by telling stories and jokes.’
      • ‘He was telling stories and jokes and had the attention of us all as he was pretty good at it.’
      • ‘The way he tells his stories and jokes is true to life everywhere.’
      • ‘These guys are so funny and laid back on stage, making jokes, telling stories, having a good time.’
      • ‘The old girls sit for hours under a mango tree, threading and weaving, gossiping and telling stories.’
      • ‘Most important is to find the voice with which to tell the story.’
      • ‘For me, it was just telling a story and relating the adventures and hardships while on Everest.’
      • ‘They sat at the table drinking the wine, telling stories and making jokes about General Hackman.’
      • ‘Johns' blue eyes brighten as he tells this story, and he laughs.’
      • ‘Anthony seemed to be telling a joke or story of some sort, but it was obvious that Nick's attention was elsewhere.’
      • ‘She tells stories, laughs easily and explains processes and ideas clearly.’
      • ‘Daddy does all kinds of voices when he tells stories and he always makes me laugh.’
      • ‘We raced the rooftops to the very edge of it where we saw a group of soldiers merrily laughing and telling stories around the fire.’
      • ‘He tries to tell the story in a way that relates to the modern audience.’
      • ‘We laughed too, even though she had not finished telling her story.’
      • ‘And every week he has three of us who will be on the broadcast telling a story.’
      • ‘Ordinary sailors and marines will also be telling their own stories, speaking to the audience from the naval vessels.’
      • ‘To illustrate, she tells the story of the night watchman given to practical jokes.’
    3. 1.3with object Reveal (information) to someone in a non-verbal way.
      ‘the figures tell a different story’
      with two objects ‘the smile on her face told him everything’
      • ‘Within families a lot happens on the periphery and the most telling details are often seen out of the corner of one's eye.’
      • ‘Lauren relates her story in a simple time sequence and gives telling details which make the narration gripping.’
      • ‘However, a more telling statistic would be loss and damage rate per 1,000 weapons passes.’
      • ‘However, the most telling evidence of its enduring value is that it is still in print three decades later.’
      • ‘With all the discussion about the fisheries issue, he said one telling detail is being left out.’
      • ‘The most telling fact is that I had a terrible job getting the book back from my colleagues to review.’
      • ‘But closer examination of the figures tells a different story.’
      • ‘While headlines screamed of a terrifying rise in youth crime, Wood said the figures told a different story.’
      • ‘Figures tell part of the story but are not the sole reason for Manly's collapse.’
      • ‘The evidence of the accused tells an entirely different story, in that he says he did not arrange the marriage.’
      • ‘Although intricate in their themes, each picture tells a thousand different stories while remaining beautifully simple.’
      • ‘Sadly, the reality tells a different, a gloomier kind of story.’
      • ‘But the body of his report tells a different story.’
      • ‘Each movement of his body tells the story described by song.’
      • ‘Each painting tells a story and relates back to Stadium Australia and the workers.’
      reveal, show, be evidence of, give evidence of, disclose, indicate, convey, signify
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    4. 1.4no object Divulge confidential or private information.
      ‘promise you won't tell’
      • ‘And if Alan has whispered any secrets, she's not telling!’
      • ‘Please don't tell, because I don't want to lose readers.’
      give the game away, talk, tell tales, open one's mouth, tattle
      View synonyms
    5. 1.5tell oninformal no object Inform someone of the misdemeanours of.
      ‘friends don't tell on each other’
      • ‘‘There are many cases where students have been told they'll be kicked out if they don't tell on their friends,’ says Manfred.’
      • ‘Luckily for both of us, Tanya was not in the room at the time so she would never know about any of what happened because I knew that none of my friends were going to tell on me.’
      • ‘And then you can send off vindictive messages to the spammers, telling them you told on them.’
      • ‘They had people who told on their neighbours, and this is going to happen here too, you just wait and see.’
      • ‘The minute someone blabs, it's the fault of whoever broke the silence and told on Matt.’
      inform against, inform on, tell tales on, give away, denounce, sell out, stab someone in the back
      View synonyms
  • 2with clause Decide or determine correctly or with certainty.

    ‘you can tell they're in love’
    ‘I couldn't tell if he believed me’
    • ‘She can tell that for once Jason is surprised and she decides that that is a good thing.’
    • ‘You can tell that they're starting to like you, that they want to trust you.’
    • ‘I can tell that this is going to be one of those long-winded, rambling posts about nothing at all.’
    • ‘Although he's a cool, controlled character, one can tell that Scott is a little hurt by this.’
    • ‘My friends have tried to be nice but I can tell that they all think we are going to break up eventually.’
    • ‘The atmosphere is what makes it such a special place and you can tell that patients and staff alike love being here.’
    • ‘I can tell that they imagine that ideal job in banking is lying just around the next corner.’
    • ‘Talking to people in the area about it, one can tell that they are all very proud of their Medical Centre.’
    • ‘You look at one of my documents on a screen, and hopefully you can tell that it's been crafted to make you want to read it.’
    • ‘It is perfect in every way, and I can tell that both my grandmother and my aunt agree.’
    • ‘I can tell that she knows something is not quite right about the scenario she walked in on.’
    • ‘There is an awkward silence and I can tell that they are wondering if I heard something that I shouldn't.’
    • ‘From the way he's smiling, I can tell that he hasn't smiled in a long time.’
    • ‘From first impressions you can tell that this is a bike that has been designed with a true passion for the sport it was intended.’
    • ‘I can tell that she's been wanting to say this for a while, but that doesn't make me want to hear it any more.’
    • ‘I can tell that he loves what he does, that all his dreams are busy coming true.’
    • ‘As the music swells to a triumphant brass climax, I can tell that victory is within my grasp.’
    • ‘I look at her eyes in her own rear-view mirror and I can tell that she is laughing at me.’
    • ‘The muscle in his jaw clenches, and you can tell he's trying hard not to start crying.’
    • ‘Nobody can tell, but they will certainly have their work cut out for them.’
    ascertain, decide, determine, work out, make out, deduce, discern, perceive, see, identify, recognize, understand, comprehend
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    1. 2.1with object and adverbial Perceive (the difference between one person or thing and another)
      ‘I can't tell the difference between margarine and butter’
      • ‘He can't tell the difference between the truth and what his lawyer is telling him.’
      • ‘Personally, I can't tell the difference between diamonds and bits of clear broken glass!’
      • ‘He's the only person at the bar who can't tell the difference between beer and water.’
      • ‘The company is in big trouble if their commissioning editors can't tell the difference between the two.’
      • ‘I'll wager she can't tell the difference between a Klieg light and sunlight.’
      • ‘The bomb may be smart, but it can't tell the difference between a bunker and a school.’
      • ‘It just can't tell the difference between its narrowband and broadband users.’
      • ‘Some say they can't tell the difference between two teams when they are on the other wing!’
      distinguish, differentiate, tell apart, discriminate
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  • 3no object (of an experience or period of time) have a noticeable, typically harmful, effect on someone.

    ‘the strain of supporting the family was beginning to tell on him’
    • ‘We just did six gigs in seven days so it's told on him a bit.’
    • ‘The pressure told on both sets of players as the game got bogged down in a midfield melee with precious little invention from the teams.’
    • ‘Confinement and want of fresh air was beginning to tell on her health and spirits.’
    • ‘The strain is beginning to tell on her.’
    take its toll on, leave its mark on, have an adverse effect on, affect
    View synonyms
    1. 3.1(of a particular factor) play a part in the success or otherwise of someone or something.
      ‘lack of fitness told against him on his first run of the season’
      • ‘Five pit stops against the winner's two was what told against the other two pilots.’
      • ‘His personal failings also seem to have increased the strain and told against him.’
      • ‘I believe one of them spoke of how her size had told against her when auditioning, even though her voice had been quite acceptable.’
  • 4archaic Count (the members of a group)

    ‘the shepherd had told all his sheep’
    • ‘He told the number of girls and officers standing in a line.’
    • ‘He told the number of school that they had established, and how they obtained their scholars.’
    calculation, enumeration, computation, reckoning, counting, telling, tally, tallying, totting up
    keep a tally of, keep a count of, keep a record of
    View synonyms

noun

  • (especially in poker) an unconscious action that is thought to betray an attempted deception.

    • ‘But I think you could waste a poker lifetime looking for tells like those.’
    • ‘Authentic tells are unbeknownst to the player and are unconscious.’
    • ‘This book teaches you how to interpret tells, such as subtle shrugs, sighs, shaky hands, eye contact and much, much more.’
    • ‘Also, experienced pros will give out false tells to fool players.’
    • ‘The secret interpretation of tells is not unique to this century.’

Phrases

    I tell you (or I can tell you)
    • Used to emphasize a statement.

      ‘that took me by surprise, I can tell you!’
      • ‘Can I tell you, though, what else we saw were people who were on the verge of dying.’
      • ‘Now, I tell you, does this not sound like a movie that is well worth seeing?’
      • ‘Although I tell you, I am so very much not at my swiftest after I've been asleep for a couple of hours.’
      • ‘You rarely, if ever, get to know the name of the grandmother on either side - male chauvinism, I tell you.’
      • ‘I wouldn't drink that the whole night, I tell you - it's going to give you a headache!’
      • ‘I danced with this young girl and, I tell you, she had more attitude than Naomi.’
      • ‘I spend a lot of time chasing people for information, and it hurts, I tell you.’
      • ‘So we went out, and I tell you, this boy looked at his watch the whole time.’
      • ‘Maybe it's just the first signs of drought, but it's all very unnatural, I tell you.’
      • ‘Now I deliberately do the opposite and I tell you, it can be a very uncomfortable thing to do.’
    I told you (so)
    • Used to point out that one's warnings, although ignored, have been proved to be well founded.

      • ‘If you are against the war, you look at those images and say, ‘See, I told you so.’’
      • ‘I hate to say ‘I told you so yet again,’ but, I told you so.’
      • ‘No matter how constructive or well meant, this week's people aren't interested in criticism, so don't say I told you so - even if you did.’
      • ‘No, I've got nothing to say, except I told you so.’
      • ‘I hate to be the one to come back later on and say I told you so.’
      • ‘I was somewhat reluctant to say I told you so, but there you have it.’
      • ‘‘It wouldn't give me any pleasure in the event of an accident to say I told you so to the county council,’ he said.’
      • ‘In a few years' time, we will be saying I told you so.’
      • ‘I feel bad for the guy and his family and really shouldn't say I told you so, but these guys need to get better advice!’
      • ‘Even when I made mistakes, many of which he predicted, he never once said, I told you so.’
    as far as one can tell
    • Judging from the available information.

      ‘the work will take about six weeks, as far as I can tell’
      • ‘Well, does he understand, as far as you could tell, what kind of trouble he potentially is in unless he changes some of his positions?’
      • ‘And so, what's the basic solution, as far as you can tell?’
      • ‘What is this lawsuit, as far as you can tell, really about?’
      • ‘Are any other staffers of the United States Senate or Congress involved, as far as you can tell?’
      • ‘How is this military campaign, as far as you can tell, moving along?’
      • ‘The inside of the house, as far as you could tell, was dark; empty.’
      • ‘So as far as you could tell, do you think the rumours of police infiltrating the protests to provoke violence were largely true?’
      • ‘Even fossilized bacteria, as far as one can tell, are the same as bacteria today.’
      • ‘Film festival programmers, as far as one can tell, assiduously do their work.’
      • ‘She was scarcely half his age, but the marriage was, as far as one can tell, a happy one.’
    tell it like it is
    informal
    • Describe the true facts of a situation no matter how unpleasant they may be.

      • ‘Her willingness to tell it like it is without apology keeps her work, no matter how widespread her critical acclaim, out of the mainstream.’
      • ‘They're saying we've told it like it is, and rather like the programmes.’
      • ‘And what if people were straightforward and told it like it is?’
      • ‘He's real and tells it like it is and he's consistent.’
      • ‘He tells it like it is, and he won't apologize for that.’
      • ‘In case you are wondering what else it takes to be a research curator at one of the world's top historical attractions, Sarah kindly tells it like it is.’
      • ‘He just tells it like it is, and I think that's a great quality.’
      • ‘But for all his faults, I like Gordon because he's one of the few celebrities that tells it like it is.’
      • ‘This man tells it like it is whether you like it or not, and he gained my respect after two seconds of listening to him.’
      • ‘It's a strong, realistic portrayal of life with young people who don't usually get a voice telling it like it is.’
    I (or I'll) tell you what
    • Used to introduce a suggestion.

      ‘I tell you what, why don't we meet for lunch tomorrow?’
      • ‘You can be optimistic, but I'll tell you what, don't let your guard down.’
      • ‘Listen, if you don't like it, I'll tell you what: sublet me your place.’
      • ‘But I'll tell you what, I'll gladly donate my tax cut to a worthy charity if you will.’
      • ‘And I'll tell you what, we will try to bring her back - do you think we will be able to do that?’
      • ‘I'll tell you what, instead why don't you write a column about an outing with a girl?’
    tell the time
    • Be able to ascertain the time from reading the face of a clock or watch.

      • ‘A supermarket worker was able to tell the time on a digital watch but not on the analogue clock in the staff canteen.’
      • ‘He reasoned that the movement of a ship was guided by skilled intelligence, and a sundial or water clock told the time by design rather than by chance.’
      • ‘I have a digital/analogue watch that tells the time in 42 countries, solar powered, alarm, stopwatch, date, waterproof to 100 metres.’
      • ‘But if you want a work of art, a thing of beauty that also tells the time, buy a clock.’
      • ‘Unmistakably, these watches do more than telling the time.’
      • ‘The Swiss had cleverly realised that a watch isn't for telling the time at all, but is instead a fashion statement.’
      • ‘Only the clock face is fairly simple and that is because people needed to be able to tell the time easily.’
      • ‘Clocks told the time, windmills ground corn, cranes lifted things and so on.’
      • ‘Mechanical watches also require servicing every three years to keep the watch working in good condition and tell the time accurately.’
      • ‘I looked at my watch but it was too dark to tell the time.’
    tell me about it
    informal
    • Used as an ironic acknowledgement of one's familiarity with an unpleasant situation or experience described by someone else.

    tell its own tale (or story)
    • Be significant or revealing, without any further explanation being necessary.

      ‘the worried expression on Helen's face told its own tale’
      • ‘The frayed and severed string told its own tale.’
      • ‘The hearty round of applause told its own story.’
      • ‘Her worn and malnourished face told its own story.’
      • ‘Nevertheless, the Dublin episode told its own story.’
      • ‘The look on their faces told its own story as they tried to take in the dreadful news of the tragedy that had befallen this community.’
      • ‘The drooped heads and lost facial expressions on Sunday evening last told its own story.’
      • ‘And at the end of the day an embarrassing 146 run defeat just about told its own story.’
      • ‘The second half score of 2-8 to 0-5 tells its own tale.’
      • ‘The imagery tells its own story, though, as well.’
      • ‘The families and the children have, for the most part, stayed in the community that supported them through the nightmare, which tells its own story in terms of how the islanders regarded the outcome of the affair.’
    tell me another
    informal
    • Used as an expression of incredulity.

      ‘"Oh yeah, tell me another," Larry snarls.’
      ‘So we have to take his word that it lets out less fumes than a two-wheeler (oh, yes, tell me another) and that it won't clog up our roads.’
    tell someone where to get off (or where they get off)
    informal
    • Angrily dismiss or rebuke someone.

      • ‘At 21, if I approached a 40-year-old hard-nut comedian to play my new little comedy club in York, they'd probably tell me where to get off!’
      • ‘Yeah I would have told him where to get off after he acted like a jerk about the evidence you mentioned.’
      • ‘But I told him where to get off and he hasn't spoken to me since.’
      • ‘So if they ask my company to pay a license fee, I'll be recommending that we tell them where to get off.’
      • ‘He must be a real softie and too shy to tell her where to get off!’
      • ‘If he tried that with me now, I'd tell him where to get off.’
      • ‘She was just about to tell him where to get off (once again) when something rather peculiar caught her eyes.’
      • ‘He'd tell her where to get off, said a defiant voice.’
    there is no telling
    • Used to convey the impossibility of knowing what has happened or will happen.

      ‘there's no telling how she will react’
      • ‘He is safe and unharmed physically, but when you see people jump from buildings and been part of such a terrible ordeal, there is no telling what he may have suffered psychologically.’
      • ‘With bricks going through the windows, there is no telling what injuries could have been caused.’
      • ‘And he couldn't draw up a plan for his sculptures for one simple reason: The river supplies his materials, and there is no telling what the river will bring.’
      • ‘I think there is no telling what it might launch.’
      • ‘Because there is no telling whether these children would have survived had we gone down the path you are suggesting.’
      • ‘Of course, there is no telling how far the current climate of cigar taxation and smoking-bans will go.’
      • ‘Still, there is no telling whether as president he would be so unequivocal.’
      • ‘It is free to visit - though there is no telling for how long.’
      • ‘Also, there is no telling whether or not you will be caught one day.’
      • ‘Should the elections be held freely, there is no telling what the outcome will be.’
    tell someone where to put (or what to do with) something
    informal
    • Angrily reject something.

      ‘I told him what he could do with his diamond’
      • ‘The county council visited the Church Area Council and the residents' views were that they did not want them and they told them where to put it.’
      • ‘But seriously, though, if I don't like where you have got it, I can tell you where to put it, sort to speak.’
      • ‘I may very well have told him where to put his donation!’
    that would be telling
    informal
    • Used to convey that one is not prepared to divulge confidential information.

      • ‘Last year, my gifts were mostly made up of all the books that had inspired me in the previous year, coupled with small cartoon-like cards; and this year… well, that would be telling.’
      • ‘‘One of them is quite famous but that would be telling,’ Tim teases.’
      • ‘Well, that would be telling now, wouldn't it?’
      • ‘And that would be telling… Plus I'm not sure yet.’
      • ‘The old man smiled and winked, ‘now that would be telling!’’
      • ‘‘Now that would be telling,’ she grinned as she took a seat beside Kaye.’
      • ‘There's even a sweet mystery to be had in the form of… but that would be telling.’
      • ‘As for replying to your wonderment over whether or not Jesse's fallen for Will just a little bit… well, that would be telling.’
    you're telling me
    informal
    • Used to emphasize that one is already well aware of or in complete agreement with something.

      ‘‘That was bad luck.’ ‘You're telling me!’’
      • ‘You're telling me. It's so hard.’

Phrasal Verbs

    tell someone off
    • 1informal Reprimand or scold someone.

      ‘my parents told me off for coming home late’
      • ‘Somehow he could never tell her off or scold her when she looked at him like that.’
      • ‘Richard tends to be much stricter with Lucie in general and is fed up of being the bad guy who tells Lucie off and reprimands her.’
      • ‘Teachers' leaders are now calling for a ban on mobile phones in the classroom because children are using them to text message or speak to their parents as soon as they have been told off.’
      • ‘My parents were forever telling me off but I never listened to them.’
      • ‘It would be another slight to his poor, terrified parents, who were clearly unable to ever tell him off for fear of the consequences.’
      • ‘If I told lies I was told off and if I had dared to show my parents up in a shop, I wouldn't have been shouted at - I would have been taken home with nothing.’
      • ‘When I told them off for calling us names and bullying, they became very abusive,’ she said.’
      • ‘Once a car stopped and the driver got out and told me off for keeping such a dangerous animal.’
      • ‘I never told him off for spending time tailoring instead of studying.’
      • ‘He has pulled my hair on the bus and, recently, he yelled at me so I told him off.’
      • ‘I really should have told her off when I had the chance.’
      • ‘Kids no longer quake in the street when a policeman tells them off.’
      • ‘My psychologist tells me off for thinking like that.’
      • ‘He reluctantly agrees, and Susan tells him off.’
      • ‘Adults also punish children by shouting, telling them off, sending them to their room, and withdrawing privileges.’
      • ‘I am now forced to look for more ingenious ways of telling someone off when they get me mad.’
      • ‘As a matter of fact, it had a very dramatic ending, with me telling him off and storming out of the house, with the kids cheering.’
      • ‘These are the terms this man used to so brilliantly tell us off.’
      • ‘She had to tell me off, otherwise she would be implicitly encouraging the students to bring drinks into the library.’
      • ‘I do not suffer fools gladly, but somehow I cannot get myself to tell her off!’
    • 2archaic Assign a member of a group to a particular task.

      ‘there used to be a chap told off every day to fetch us beer’
      • ‘I was told off to work in the trenches.’
      • ‘A subaltern and a sergeant were told off to supervise each platoon, any spare officers taking up positions in the rear of the battalion line.’
      • ‘We were then told off to various points on the outskirts of the village.’

Origin

Old English tellan ‘relate, count, estimate’, of Germanic origin; related to German zählen ‘reckon, count’, erzählen ‘recount, relate’, also to tale.

Pronunciation

tell

/tɛl/

Main definitions of tell in English

: tell1tell2

tell2

noun

Archaeology
  • (in the Middle East) an artificial mound formed by the accumulated remains of ancient settlements.

    • ‘He narrowly escaped being blown up by a mine when he was exploring a tell outside the city.’
    • ‘Ancient cities are now identified by the mounds raised above the surrounding terrain, called tells.’
    • ‘In the digital elevation model the small conical mound of a tell is represented by a characteristic point pattern, superposed onto the natural topography.’

Origin

Mid 19th century from Arabic tall ‘hillock’.

Pronunciation

tell

/tɛl/