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Definition of tell verb from the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary



/tɛl/ tell pronunciation American
told, told
/toʊld/ told pronunciation American

give information

1 [transitive] (of a person) to give information to someone by speaking or writing tell something to someoneHe told the news to everyone he saw. tell someone somethingHe 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 someone (about something)Why wasn't I told about the accident? tell someone/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 someone where, what, etc.…Tell me where you live. tell someone + speech“I'm ready to go now,” he told her. note at say2 [transitive] (of some writing, an instrument, a sign, etc.) to give information about something tell someone somethingThe advertisement told us very little about the product. tell someone how, where, etc.…This gauge tells you how much fuel you have left. tell someone (that)…The sound of his breathing told her (that) he was asleep.

express in words

3 [transitive] to express something in words tell somethingto tell stories/jokes/liesAre you sure you're telling the truth? tell someone how, what, etc.…I can't tell you how happy I am.


4 [intransitive] to let someone know a secretPromise you won't tell.“Who are you going out with tonight?” “ That would be telling!” (= it's a secret)


5 [transitive] to order or advise someone to do something tell someone/yourself to do somethingHe was told to sit down and wait.There was a sign telling motorists to slow down.I kept telling myself to keep calm. tell someone somethingDo what I tell you. tell someoneChildren must do as they're told. tell someone what, when, etc.…Don't tell me what to do! tell someone (that)…The doctor told me (that) I should eat less fat.


6 [intransitive, transitive] (not used in the progressive tenses) to know, see, or judge something correctlyI 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.


7 [transitive] (not used in the progressive tenses or in the passive) to distinguish one thing or person from another tell somethingIt was hard to tell the difference between the two versions. tell A from BCan you tell Tom from his twin brother? tell A and B apartIt's difficult to tell them apart. tell which, what, etc.…The kittens look exactly alike—how can you tell which is which?

have effect

8 [intransitive] tell (on someone) to have an effect on someone or something, especially a bad oneThe strain was beginning to tell on the rescue team.

all told

with all people, etc. counted and included
There are 52 people coming, all told.all told

don't tell me

(informal) used to say that you know or can guess what someone is going to say, especially because it is typical of themDon't tell me you were late again!don't tell me

hear tell (of something)

(old-fashioned) to hear people talking about somethingI've often heard tell of such things.hear tellhear tell of

I tell you


I can tell you


I'm telling you

(informal) used to emphasize what you are saying, especially when it is surprising or difficult to believeIt isn't cheap, I can tell you!I'm telling you, that's exactly what she said.I tell you

I/I'll tell you what

(informal) used to introduce a suggestionI'll tell you what—let's stay in instead.I tell you whatI'll tell you what

I told you (so)

(informal) used when something bad has happened, to remind someone that you warned them about it and they did not listen to youI told youI told you so

kiss and tell

a way of referring to someone talking publicly, usually for money, about a past sexual relationship with someone famous
kiss and tell

know/tell someone a thing or two (about someone/something)

(informal) to know/tell someone some useful, interesting, or surprising information about someone or somethingShe's been married five times, so she knows a thing or two about men!know a thing or twoknow a thing or two abouttell a thing or twotell a thing or two about

a little bird/birdie told me

(informal) used to say that someone told you something but you do not want to say who it wasa little bird told mea little birdie told me

live, etc. to tell the tale

to survive a difficult or dangerous experience so that you can tell others what really happened
live, etc. to tell the tale

tell a different story/tale

to give some information that is different from what you expect or have been told
tell a different storytell a different tale

tell me

(informal) used to introduce a questionTell me, have you had lunch yet?tell me

tell me about it

(informal) 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 about it

tell me another!

(informal) used to tell someone that you do not believe what they have saidtell me another!

tell its own tale/story

to explain itself, without needing any further explanation or comment
Her face told its own story.tell its own taletell its own story

tell tales (about something/on someone)

to tell someone about something that another person has done wrong
tell talestell tales abouttell talestell tales about on

tell time

to read the time from a clock, etc.
She's only five—she hasn't learned to tell time yet.tell time

tell someone where to put/stick something


tell someone what they can do with something

(informal) to make it clear to someone that you are angry and are rejecting what they are offering youtell where to puttell where to stick

there's no telling

used to say that it is impossible to know what happened or will happen
There's no telling how they'll react.there's no telling

to tell (you) the truth

(informal) used when admitting somethingTo tell the truth, I fell asleep in the middle of her tell the truthto tell you the truth

to tell (you) the truth

(informal) used when admitting somethingTo tell you the truth, I'll be glad to get home.I got a bit bigheaded, to tell the tell the truthto tell you the truth

you can never tell


you never can tell

(saying) you can never be sure, for example because things are not always what they appear to beyou can never tell

you're telling me!

(informal) I completely agree with youyou're telling me!

tell of something

(formal or literary) to make something known; to give an account of somethingnotices telling of the proposed job cutstell of

tell someoneoff (for something/for doing something)

(informal) to speak angrily to someone for doing something wrong synonym scoldI told the boys off for making so much noise.Did you get told off?tell offtell off for doingtell offtell off for for doing

tell on someone

(informal) to tell a person in authority about something bad that someone has donePromise not to tell on me!tell on
Usage notesThesaurus: ordertell 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 (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.patternsto order/tell/instruct/direct/command someone to do somethingto order/instruct/direct/command that…to do something as ordered/told/instructed/directed/commanded