English

Definition of tell verb from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

      

    tell

     verb
    verb
    BrE BrE//tel//
     
    ; NAmE NAmE//tel//
     
    Verb Forms present simple I / you / we / they tell
    BrE BrE//tel//
     
    ; NAmE NAmE//tel//
     
    he / she / it tells
    BrE BrE//telz//
     
    ; NAmE NAmE//telz//
     
    past simple told
    BrE BrE//təʊld//
     
    ; NAmE NAmE//toʊld//
     
    past participle told
    BrE BrE//təʊld//
     
    ; NAmE NAmE//toʊld//
     
    -ing form telling
    BrE BrE//ˈtelɪŋ//
     
    ; NAmE NAmE//ˈtelɪŋ//
     
     
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    give information
  1. 1  [transitive] (of a person) to give information to somebody by speaking or writing tell something to somebody He told the news to everybody he saw. tell somebody something He told everybody he saw the news. Did she tell you her name? What did I tell you? (= you should have listened to my advice) tell somebody (about something) Why wasn't I told about the accident? tell somebody/yourself (that)… They’ve told us (that) they’re not coming. I kept telling myself (that) everything was OK. Are you telling me you didn't have any help with this? (= I don't believe what you have said) tell somebody where, what, etc… Tell me where you live. tell somebody + speech ‘I'm ready to go now,’ he told her. Which Word?say / tell Say never has a person as the object. You say something or say something to somebody. Say is often used when you are giving somebody’s exact words:‘Sit down’, she said. Anne said, ‘I’m tired.’ Anne said (that) she was tired. What did he say to you? You cannot use ‘say about’, but say something about is correct:I want to say something/​a few words/​a little about my family. Say can also be used with a clause when the person you are talking to is not mentioned:She didn’t say what she intended to do. Tell usually has a person as the object and often has two objects:Have you told him the news yet? It is often used with ‘that’ clauses:Anne told me (that) she was tired. Tell is usually used when somebody is giving facts or information, often with what, where, etc:Can you tell me when the movie starts? (BUT:Can you give me some information about the school?) Tell is also used when you are giving somebody instructions:The doctor told me to stay in bed. The doctor told me (that) I had to stay in bed. ORThe doctor said (that) I had to stay in bed. NOTThe doctor said me to stay in bed. Express YourselfAsking for informationWhen you want to find something out, it sounds more polite if you can phrase your questions in an indirect way: Could you tell me the best way to get to Paddington station, please? Do you happen to know whether Amy Brown works here? I wonder whether/​if you can help me. I'm trying to find out which number to call for reservations.
  2. 2  [transitive] (of some writing, an instrument, a sign, etc.) to give information about something tell somebody something The advertisement told us very little about the product. tell somebody how, where, etc… This gauge tells you how much fuel you have left. tell somebody (that)… The sound of his breathing told her (that) he was asleep.
  3. express in words
  4. 3  [transitive] to express something in words tell something to tell stories/jokes/lies Are you sure you're telling the truth? tell somebody how, what, etc… I can't tell you how happy I am.
  5. secret
  6. 4[intransitive] (informal) to let somebody know a secret Promise you won't tell. ‘Who are you going out with tonight?’ ‘That would be telling!’ (= it's a secret)
  7. order
  8. 5  [transitive] to order or advise somebody to do something tell somebody/yourself to do something He was told to sit down and wait. There was a sign telling motorists to slow down. I kept telling myself to keep calm. tell somebody something Do what I tell you. tell somebody Children must do as they're told. tell somebody what, when, etc… Don't tell me what to do! tell somebody (that)… The doctor told me (that) I should eat less fat. Express YourselfTelling somebody to do something Could you wait here for a moment, please? Would you come through now?/You can come through now. Can you send it up to my room, please? Just sign here for me, please. I need you to finish the report by Friday. Everyone has to use the side entrance this week. You have to sign these reports before submitting them. Synonymsordertell instruct direct commandThese words all mean to use your position of authority to say to somebody that they must do something.order to use your position of authority to tell somebody to do something:The company was ordered to pay compensation to its former employee. ‘Come here at once!’ she ordered.tell to say to somebody that they must or should do something:He was told to sit down and wait. Don’t tell me what to do!instruct (rather formal) to tell somebody to do something, especially in a formal or official way:The letter instructed him to report to headquarters immediately.direct (formal) to give an official order:The judge directed the jury to return a verdict of not guilty.command to use your position of authority to tell somebody to do something:He commanded his men to retreat.order or command? Order is a more general word than command and can be used about anyone in a position of authority, such as a parent, teacher or government telling somebody to do something. Command is slightly stronger than order and is the normal word to use about an army officer giving orders, or in any context where it is normal to give orders without any discussion about them. It is less likely to be used about a parent or teacher.Patterns to order/​tell/​instruct/​direct/​command somebody to do something to order/​instruct/​direct/​command that… to do something as ordered/​told/​instructed/​directed/​commanded Which Word?say / tell Say never has a person as the object. You say something or say something to somebody. Say is often used when you are giving somebody’s exact words:‘Sit down’, she said. Anne said, ‘I’m tired.’ Anne said (that) she was tired. What did he say to you? You cannot use ‘say about’, but say something about is correct:I want to say something/​a few words/​a little about my family. Say can also be used with a clause when the person you are talking to is not mentioned:She didn’t say what she intended to do. Tell usually has a person as the object and often has two objects:Have you told him the news yet? It is often used with ‘that’ clauses:Anne told me (that) she was tired. Tell is usually used when somebody is giving facts or information, often with what, where, etc:Can you tell me when the movie starts? (BUT:Can you give me some information about the school?) Tell is also used when you are giving somebody instructions:The doctor told me to stay in bed. The doctor told me (that) I had to stay in bed. ORThe doctor said (that) I had to stay in bed. NOTThe doctor said me to stay in bed.
  9. know/judge
  10. 6  [intransitive, transitive] (not used in the progressive tenses) to know, see or judge something correctly I think he's happy. It's hard to tell. As far as I can tell, she's enjoying the course. tell (that)… I could tell (that) he was angry from his expression. tell how, if, etc… ‘That's not an original.’ ‘How can you tell?’ The only way to tell if you like something is by trying it.
  11. distinguish
  12. 7  [transitive] (not used in the progressive tenses or in the passive) to distinguish one thing or person from another tell something It was hard to tell the difference between the two versions. tell A from B Can you tell Tom from his twin brother? tell A and B apart It's difficult to tell them apart. tell which, what, etc… The kittens look exactly alike—how can you tell which is which?
  13. have effect
  14. 8[intransitive] tell (on somebody) to have an effect on somebody/something, especially a bad one The strain was beginning to tell on the rescue team. More Like This Verbs with two objects bet, bring, build, buy, cost, get, give, leave, lend, make, offer, owe, pass, pay, play, post, promise, read, refuse, sell, send, show, sing, take, teach, tell, throw, wish, writeSee worksheet.
  15. Word Origin Old English tellan ‘relate, count, estimate’, of Germanic origin; related to German zählen ‘reckon, count’, erzählen ‘recount, relate’, also to tale.Extra examples Can you tell this copy from the original? He told the story to all his friends. I could tell by his face that he was very angry. I couldn’t tell the two brothers apart. I couldn’t tell who was meant to be the chairman. I hate to tell you this but I’ve broken your phone. I hate to tell you, but the car’s a write-off. I never told him about the money. I tried to tell them but they wouldn’t let me. I was going to tell you—I just didn’t get around to it. No one had told her of the dangers. She told me bluntly it was my own fault. The strain of looking after two elderly relatives is beginning to tell on him. ‘I’m ready to go now,’ he told her. ‘Who are you going out with tonight?’ ‘That would be telling!’ Are you telling the truth? Did anyone tell you what happened? Do as you’re told! Don’t tell me what to do! Don’t tell on me, will you? I can’t tell one twin from the other. I can’t tell you how happy I am. I specifically told you to be here on time. It’s difficult to tell them apart. Promise you won’t tell. She is always telling lies. The doctor told me (that) I should lose some weight. The kittens looked exactly alike—how could you tell which was which? They told stories and jokes while sitting around the camp fire. They’ve told us (that) they’re not coming. Why wasn’t I told about the accident?Idioms with all people, etc. counted and included There are 52 people coming, all told. (informal) used to say that you know or can guess what somebody is going to say, especially because it is typical of them Don't tell me you were late again!
    hear tell (of something)
     
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    (old-fashioned or formal) to hear people talking about something I've often heard tell of such things.
    if (the) truth be known/told
     
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    used to tell somebody the true facts about a situation, especially when these are not known by other people
    I tell you, I can tell you, I’m telling you
     
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    (informal) used to emphasize what you are saying, especially when it is surprising or difficult to believe It isn't cheap, I can tell you! I'm telling you, that's exactly what she said.
    (informal) used to introduce a suggestion I'll tell you what—let's stay in instead. (informal) used when something bad has happened, to remind somebody that you warned them about it and they did not listen to you a way of referring to somebody talking publicly, usually for money, about a past sexual relationship with somebody famous
    know/tell somebody a thing or two (about somebody/something)
     
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    (informal) to know/tell somebody some useful, interesting or surprising information about somebody/something She's been married five times, so she knows a thing or two about men!
    (informal) used to say that somebody told you something but you do not want to say who it was
    live, etc. to tell the tale
     
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    to survive a difficult or dangerous experience so that you can tell others what really happened
    tell a different story/tale
     
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    to give some information that is different from what you expect or have been told
    (informal) used to introduce a question Tell me, have you had lunch yet? (informal) used to say that you understand what somebody is talking about and have had the same experience ‘I get so annoyed with Steve!’ ‘Tell me about it. He drives me crazy.’ (informal) used to tell somebody that you do not believe what they have said
    tell its own tale/story
     
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    to explain itself, without needing any further explanation or comment Her face told its own story.
    tell tales (about something/on somebody)
     
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    to tell somebody about something that another person has done wrong related noun telltale
    tell the time (British English) (North American English tell time)
     
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    to read the time from a clock, etc. She's only five—she hasn't learnt to tell the time yet.
    tell somebody where to get off/where they can get off
     
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    (British English, informal) to make it clear to somebody that you will no longer accept their bad behaviour
    tell somebody where to put/stick something, tell somebody what they can do with something
     
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    (informal) to make it clear to somebody that you are angry and are rejecting what they are offering you
    used to say that it is impossible to know what happened or will happen There's no telling how they'll react.
    time (alone) will tell, only time will tell
     
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    (saying) used to say that you will have to wait for some time to find out the result of a situation Only time will tell if the treatment has been successful.
    to tell (you) the truth
     
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    (informal) used when admitting something To tell the truth, I fell asleep in the middle of her talk.
    you can never tell, you never can tell
     
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    (saying) you can never be sure, for example because things are not always what they appear to be
    (informal) I completely agree with you
    Phrasal Verbstell against somebodytell of somethingtell off somebodytell on somebody
See the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary entry: tell