Definition of tell verb from the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary

      

    tell

     verb
    verb
    NAmE//tɛl//
     
    Verb Forms present simple I / you / we / they tell
     
    he / she / it tells
     
    past simple told
     
    -ing form telling
     
     
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    give information
  1. 1 [transitive] (of a person) to give information to someone by speaking or writing tell something to somebody He told the news to everyone he saw. tell somebody something He told everyone 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. Ikept 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 someone. 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 both a direct and an indirect object: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 someone 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 someone 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.
  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] to let someone 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 someone 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. Thesaurusordertell instruct direct commandThese words all mean to use your position of authority to say to someone that they must do something.order to use your position of authority to tell someone to do something:The company was ordered to clean up the pollution in the river. “Come here at once!” she ordered.tell to say to someone that they must or should do something:He was told to sit down and wait. Don't tell me what to do!instruct (somewhat formal) to tell someone 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 police officer directed me to pull over and stop the car.command to use your position of authority to tell someone 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 someone 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 someone. 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 both a direct and an indirect object: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 someone 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 someone 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 someone or something, especially a bad one The strain was beginning to tell on the rescue team.
  15. Idioms with all people, etc. counted and included There are 52 people coming, all told.
    don't tell me(informal)
     
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    used to say that you know or can guess what someone is going to say, especially because it is typical of them Don't tell me you were late again!
    I tell you,I can tell you,I'm telling you(informal)
     
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    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.
    I/I'll tell you what(informal)
     
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    used to introduce a suggestion I'll tell you what—let's stay in instead.
    I told you (so)(informal)
     
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    used when something bad has happened, to remind someone that you warned them about it and they did not listen to you
    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
    tell me(informal)
     
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    used to introduce a question Tell me, have you had lunch yet?
    tell me about it(informal)
     
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    used to say that you understand what someone is talking about and have had the same experience “I get so annoyed with Steve!” “Tell me about it. He drives me crazy.”
    tell me another!(informal)
     
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    used to tell someone 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 someone about something that another person has done wrong
    to read the time from a clock, etc. She's only five—she hasn't learned to tell time yet.
    tell somebody where to put/stick something,tell somebody what they can do with something(informal)
     
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    to make it clear to someone that you are angry and are rejecting what they are offering you
    there's no telling
     
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    used to say that it is impossible to know what happened or will happen There's no telling how they'll react.
    to tell (you) the truth(informal)
     
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    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(saying)
     
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    you can never be sure, for example because things are not always what they appear to be
    you're telling me!(informal)
     
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    I completely agree with you
    Phrasal Verbsˈtell of somethingˌtell somebodyˈoff (for something/for doing something)ˈtell on somebody
See the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary entry: tell