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tell

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verb American English pronunciation: tell /tel/ 
Word Forms
Close
present tense
I/you/we/theytell
he/she/ittells
present participletelling
past tensetold
past participletold
 
  1. 1
    [transitive] to give information to someone

    If you see anything suspicious, tell the police.

    "I'd like to help too," he told me.

    tell someone (that):

    Didn't he tell you that I wanted to see you?

    The passengers were told their flight was about to depart.

    tell someone who/what/why/how etc.:

    Just tell me what she said.

    Were you told when she would be arriving?

    tell someone something:

    He finally told me the reason why he was so upset.

    tell someone (something) about something:

    "Tell me about your day," she said.

    I haven't been told anything about it.

    tell the truth/a lie:

    I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

    He tells some absolute whoppers (=big lies) sometimes.

    1. a.
      if something such as a fact, event, or piece of equipment tells you something, it gives or shows you some information

      The facts themselves don't tell us much.

      Her look of surprise told him that he had guessed right.

      The flashing light tells you when the battery needs recharging.

      What does this room tell you about the person who lived here?

      tell its own story/tale (=give all the information that you need):

      His troubled face told its own story.

    2. b.
      if you tell a story or a joke, you give someone a spoken account of it

      Grandpa tells wonderful stories about the old days.

      tell someone something:

      Shall I tell you a joke?

  2. 2
    [transitive] to order or strongly advise someone to do something

    I'm not asking you – I'm telling you!

    tell someone to do something:

    I told you to be here on time this morning.

    tell someone what/how/when etc.:

    I told him what to do, but he wouldn't listen.

    You will be told where to sit.

    do as/what you're told:

    Do as you're told this minute!

  3. 3
    [intransitive/transitive] [never progressive] to recognize something as a result of knowledge, experience, or evidence

    He's lying. I can always tell.

    tell (that):

    Peter could tell that she was bored.

    tell who/what/whether etc.:

    It's never easy to tell whether he's being serious or not.

    1. a.
      to recognize the difference between one person or thing and another

      Which is which? I can't tell.

      tell something/someone from something/someone:

      Can you tell butter from margarine?

      They're so alike I can hardly tell one from the other.

      tell the difference (between):

      These days it's hard to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys.

  4. 4
    [intransitive] to have an effect that can be clearly seen, especially a bad effect
    tell on:

    These endless business trips are telling on his marriage.

    begin/start to tell:

    The strain of the last few days was beginning to tell.

  5. 5
    [intransitive] informal to not keep a secret

    You promised you wouldn't tell.

    1. a.
      [intransitive/transitive] to inform someone about something bad or wrong that someone else has done

      You're not going to tell, are you?

      I'm going to tell the teacher if you don't leave me alone.

      tell on someone:

      I won't tell on you if you don't tell on me.

  6. 6
    [intransitive] to inform someone about something bad that someone else has done
    tell on:

    She threatened to tell on me.

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