tell - definition and synonyms


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present tense
present participletelling
past tensetold
past participletold
  1. 1
    [transitive] to give information to someone

    If you see anything suspicious, tell the police.

    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 you tell a story or a joke, you give someone a spoken account of it
      tell someone something:

      Shall I tell you a joke?

    2. b.
      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.

      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. 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 never tell one from the other.

      tell the difference (between):

      These days it’s hard to tell the difference between political parties.

  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.

     Synonyms and related words
  5. 5
    [intransitive] informal to not keep a secret

    You promised you wouldn’t tell.

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

    She threatened to tell on me.