Main definitions of tell in English

: tell1tell2



  • 1[reporting verb] Communicate information to someone in spoken or written words.

    [with object and clause] ‘I told her you were coming’
    [with object and direct speech] ‘‘We have nothing in common,’ she told him’
    [with object] ‘he's telling the truth’
    [with two objects] ‘we must be told the facts’
    • ‘Neighbours have spoken of their shock at the incident and told of a quiet woman who kept herself to herself.’
    • ‘The couple told of the whispering campaign in their community accusing them of being in some way responsible.’
    • ‘That's because he speaks his mind and tells the truth.’
    • ‘A North Yorkshire farmer today told of his family's despair as foot and mouth claimed his flock of sheep.’
    • ‘Sources told us earlier today that the campaign would widen and apparently it has.’
    • ‘Dad was still telling me how proud he was of me.’
    • ‘Eyewitnesses told of the horror of being crushed, of falling and then having other people falling on top of them.’
    • ‘Hearing her friends tell her how lucky she was to have someone so devoted only made it worse.’
    • ‘Last night, her shocked brother told of how he made a desperate bid to save her.’
    • ‘They also told of how their son had been deeply affected by the abduction.’
    • ‘She had no doubt been told of the historic reasons why the lords feel they must rule us.’
    • ‘Her mother tells her how wonderful everything is in the city.’
    • ‘One doctor told the conference he sees 50 patients a day.’
    • ‘In other words, telling the plain truth probably would have been sufficient.’
    • ‘The owner of the chemist's shop where the armed robbery took place told of his shock and horror at the incident.’
    • ‘Employees told of massive delays and journeys of up to eight hours to London from York as the railways were in crisis.’
    • ‘Another doctor told the inquest the symptoms could have been caused by anxiety and depression.’
    • ‘Her mother had told her earlier that the guests would be arriving around 4.’
    • ‘The inquest was told yesterday that he complained of feeling " queasy " minutes before the tragic incident.’
    • ‘He lost both his job and later his life for his troubles, for speaking out and telling the truth.’
    inform, let know, notify, apprise, make aware, mention something to, acquaint with, advise, put in the picture, brief, fill in, break the news to
    speak, utter, say, voice, state, declare
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1[with object and infinitive]Order or advise someone to do something.
      ‘tell him to go away’
      • ‘With a standing order, you tell your bank to pay a fixed sum at a regular interval to an organisation or individual.’
      • ‘Cancer cells get these nutrients by sending out a complex set of chemical instructions telling the body to produce new blood vessels to feed it.’
      • ‘The same lawyers told him to bring charges to a civil court and the sports court of arbitrage.’
      • ‘They told them to dismount and then tied them up and ordered them into the American vehicle.’
      • ‘The jury normally receives an order from the court telling it to accept the laws as they are.’
      • ‘People are too intelligent for us to direct their minds and tell them go this way or that way.’
      • ‘But the pair were unable to attend after being told to stay in hospital.’
      • ‘She knew she had been told to stay quiet, but she couldn't.’
      instruct, order, give orders, command, direct, charge, enjoin, call on, require
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    2. 1.2[with object]Relate (a story)
      ‘he tried to make the children laugh by telling jokes’
      [with two objects] ‘tell me the story again’
      • ‘Anthony seemed to be telling a joke or story of some sort, but it was obvious that Nick's attention was elsewhere.’
      • ‘Most important is to find the voice with which to tell the story.’
      • ‘Johns' blue eyes brighten as he tells this story, and he laughs.’
      • ‘He tries to tell the story in a way that relates to the modern audience.’
      • ‘The old girls sit for hours under a mango tree, threading and weaving, gossiping and telling stories.’
      • ‘For me, it was just telling a story and relating the adventures and hardships while on Everest.’
      • ‘And every week he has three of us who will be on the broadcast telling a story.’
      • ‘She tells stories, laughs easily and explains processes and ideas clearly.’
      • ‘These guys are so funny and laid back on stage, making jokes, telling stories, having a good time.’
      • ‘Daddy does all kinds of voices when he tells stories and he always makes me laugh.’
      • ‘We raced the rooftops to the very edge of it where we saw a group of soldiers merrily laughing and telling stories around the fire.’
      • ‘We laughed too, even though she had not finished telling her story.’
      • ‘Ordinary sailors and marines will also be telling their own stories, speaking to the audience from the naval vessels.’
      • ‘The way he tells his stories and jokes is true to life everywhere.’
      • ‘Global stars they may be, but they created a warm, homely atmosphere, joking and telling stories about their family.’
      • ‘It would be a great shame if teenage boys, in whose voice the story is told, were deterred by the girl's name in the title.’
      • ‘He was telling stories and jokes and had the attention of us all as he was pretty good at it.’
      • ‘To illustrate, she tells the story of the night watchman given to practical jokes.’
      • ‘They sat at the table drinking the wine, telling stories and making jokes about General Hackman.’
      • ‘Another way of using language to cheer someone up is by telling stories and jokes.’
    3. 1.3[with object]Reveal (information) to someone in a non-verbal way.
      ‘the figures tell a different story’
      [with two objects] ‘the smile on her face told him everything’
      • ‘Within families a lot happens on the periphery and the most telling details are often seen out of the corner of one's eye.’
      • ‘Each movement of his body tells the story described by song.’
      • ‘The most telling fact is that I had a terrible job getting the book back from my colleagues to review.’
      • ‘With all the discussion about the fisheries issue, he said one telling detail is being left out.’
      • ‘However, the most telling evidence of its enduring value is that it is still in print three decades later.’
      • ‘But the body of his report tells a different story.’
      • ‘Lauren relates her story in a simple time sequence and gives telling details which make the narration gripping.’
      • ‘Sadly, the reality tells a different, a gloomier kind of story.’
      • ‘However, a more telling statistic would be loss and damage rate per 1,000 weapons passes.’
      • ‘Each painting tells a story and relates back to Stadium Australia and the workers.’
      • ‘Although intricate in their themes, each picture tells a thousand different stories while remaining beautifully simple.’
      • ‘While headlines screamed of a terrifying rise in youth crime, Wood said the figures told a different story.’
      • ‘The evidence of the accused tells an entirely different story, in that he says he did not arrange the marriage.’
      • ‘But closer examination of the figures tells a different story.’
      • ‘Figures tell part of the story but are not the sole reason for Manly's collapse.’
      reveal, show, be evidence of, give evidence of, disclose, indicate, convey, signify
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    4. 1.4[no object]Divulge confidential or private information.
      ‘promise you won't tell’
      • ‘Please don't tell, because I don't want to lose readers.’
      • ‘And if Alan has whispered any secrets, she's not telling!’
      give the game away, talk, tell tales, open one's mouth, tattle
      View synonyms
    5. 1.5informal [no object]Inform someone of the misdemeanours of.
      ‘friends don't tell on each other’
      • ‘And then you can send off vindictive messages to the spammers, telling them you told on them.’
      • ‘They had people who told on their neighbours, and this is going to happen here too, you just wait and see.’
      • ‘‘There are many cases where students have been told they'll be kicked out if they don't tell on their friends,’ says Manfred.’
      • ‘The minute someone blabs, it's the fault of whoever broke the silence and told on Matt.’
      • ‘Luckily for both of us, Tanya was not in the room at the time so she would never know about any of what happened because I knew that none of my friends were going to tell on me.’
      inform against, inform on, tell tales on, give away, denounce, sell out, stab someone in the back
      View synonyms
  • 2[with clause] Decide or determine correctly or with certainty.

    ‘you can tell they're in love’
    ‘I couldn't tell if he believed me’
    • ‘I can tell that she's been wanting to say this for a while, but that doesn't make me want to hear it any more.’
    • ‘Although he's a cool, controlled character, one can tell that Scott is a little hurt by this.’
    • ‘You look at one of my documents on a screen, and hopefully you can tell that it's been crafted to make you want to read it.’
    • ‘From first impressions you can tell that this is a bike that has been designed with a true passion for the sport it was intended.’
    • ‘You can tell that they're starting to like you, that they want to trust you.’
    • ‘It is perfect in every way, and I can tell that both my grandmother and my aunt agree.’
    • ‘I can tell that she knows something is not quite right about the scenario she walked in on.’
    • ‘She can tell that for once Jason is surprised and she decides that that is a good thing.’
    • ‘I can tell that he loves what he does, that all his dreams are busy coming true.’
    • ‘I can tell that they imagine that ideal job in banking is lying just around the next corner.’
    • ‘I can tell that this is going to be one of those long-winded, rambling posts about nothing at all.’
    • ‘My friends have tried to be nice but I can tell that they all think we are going to break up eventually.’
    • ‘I look at her eyes in her own rear-view mirror and I can tell that she is laughing at me.’
    • ‘Talking to people in the area about it, one can tell that they are all very proud of their Medical Centre.’
    • ‘There is an awkward silence and I can tell that they are wondering if I heard something that I shouldn't.’
    • ‘The atmosphere is what makes it such a special place and you can tell that patients and staff alike love being here.’
    • ‘Nobody can tell, but they will certainly have their work cut out for them.’
    • ‘The muscle in his jaw clenches, and you can tell he's trying hard not to start crying.’
    • ‘From the way he's smiling, I can tell that he hasn't smiled in a long time.’
    • ‘As the music swells to a triumphant brass climax, I can tell that victory is within my grasp.’
    ascertain, decide, determine, work out, make out, deduce, discern, perceive, see, identify, recognize, understand, comprehend
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    1. 2.1[with object and adverbial]Perceive (the difference between one person or thing and another)
      ‘I can't tell the difference between margarine and butter’
      • ‘I'll wager she can't tell the difference between a Klieg light and sunlight.’
      • ‘He can't tell the difference between the truth and what his lawyer is telling him.’
      • ‘Personally, I can't tell the difference between diamonds and bits of clear broken glass!’
      • ‘Some say they can't tell the difference between two teams when they are on the other wing!’
      • ‘It just can't tell the difference between its narrowband and broadband users.’
      • ‘He's the only person at the bar who can't tell the difference between beer and water.’
      • ‘The company is in big trouble if their commissioning editors can't tell the difference between the two.’
      • ‘The bomb may be smart, but it can't tell the difference between a bunker and a school.’
      distinguish, differentiate, tell apart, discriminate
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  • 3[no object] (of an experience or period of time) have a noticeable, typically harmful, effect on someone.

    ‘the strain of supporting the family was beginning to tell on him’
    • ‘The pressure told on both sets of players as the game got bogged down in a midfield melee with precious little invention from the teams.’
    • ‘The strain is beginning to tell on her.’
    • ‘We just did six gigs in seven days so it's told on him a bit.’
    • ‘Confinement and want of fresh air was beginning to tell on her health and spirits.’
    take its toll on, leave its mark on, have an adverse effect on, affect
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    1. 3.1(of a particular factor) play a part in the success or otherwise of someone or something.
      ‘lack of fitness told against him on his first run of the season’
      • ‘I believe one of them spoke of how her size had told against her when auditioning, even though her voice had been quite acceptable.’
      • ‘Five pit stops against the winner's two was what told against the other two pilots.’
      • ‘His personal failings also seem to have increased the strain and told against him.’
  • 4archaic Count (the members of a group)

    ‘the shepherd had told all his sheep’
    • ‘He told the number of girls and officers standing in a line.’
    • ‘He told the number of school that they had established, and how they obtained their scholars.’
    keep a tally of, keep a count of, keep a record of
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  • (especially in poker) an unconscious action that is thought to betray an attempted deception.

    • ‘This book teaches you how to interpret tells, such as subtle shrugs, sighs, shaky hands, eye contact and much, much more.’
    • ‘Also, experienced pros will give out false tells to fool players.’
    • ‘The secret interpretation of tells is not unique to this century.’
    • ‘Authentic tells are unbeknownst to the player and are unconscious.’
    • ‘But I think you could waste a poker lifetime looking for tells like those.’


  • as far as one can tell

    • Judging from the available information.

      ‘the work will take about six weeks, as far as I can tell’
      • ‘Film festival programmers, as far as one can tell, assiduously do their work.’
      • ‘So as far as you could tell, do you think the rumours of police infiltrating the protests to provoke violence were largely true?’
      • ‘How is this military campaign, as far as you can tell, moving along?’
      • ‘The inside of the house, as far as you could tell, was dark; empty.’
      • ‘Well, does he understand, as far as you could tell, what kind of trouble he potentially is in unless he changes some of his positions?’
      • ‘What is this lawsuit, as far as you can tell, really about?’
      • ‘Even fossilized bacteria, as far as one can tell, are the same as bacteria today.’
      • ‘And so, what's the basic solution, as far as you can tell?’
      • ‘She was scarcely half his age, but the marriage was, as far as one can tell, a happy one.’
      • ‘Are any other staffers of the United States Senate or Congress involved, as far as you can tell?’
  • i tell you (or i can tell you)

    • Used to emphasize a statement.

      ‘that took me by surprise, I can tell you!’
      • ‘Can I tell you, though, what else we saw were people who were on the verge of dying.’
      • ‘I danced with this young girl and, I tell you, she had more attitude than Naomi.’
      • ‘I wouldn't drink that the whole night, I tell you - it's going to give you a headache!’
      • ‘You rarely, if ever, get to know the name of the grandmother on either side - male chauvinism, I tell you.’
      • ‘Maybe it's just the first signs of drought, but it's all very unnatural, I tell you.’
      • ‘So we went out, and I tell you, this boy looked at his watch the whole time.’
      • ‘Now I deliberately do the opposite and I tell you, it can be a very uncomfortable thing to do.’
      • ‘Although I tell you, I am so very much not at my swiftest after I've been asleep for a couple of hours.’
      • ‘Now, I tell you, does this not sound like a movie that is well worth seeing?’
      • ‘I spend a lot of time chasing people for information, and it hurts, I tell you.’
      assure, promise, give someone one's word, swear, guarantee
      View synonyms
  • i (or i'll) tell you what

    • Used to introduce a suggestion.

      ‘I tell you what, why don't we meet for lunch tomorrow?’
      • ‘Listen, if you don't like it, I'll tell you what: sublet me your place.’
      • ‘And I'll tell you what, we will try to bring her back - do you think we will be able to do that?’
      • ‘You can be optimistic, but I'll tell you what, don't let your guard down.’
      • ‘But I'll tell you what, I'll gladly donate my tax cut to a worthy charity if you will.’
      • ‘I'll tell you what, instead why don't you write a column about an outing with a girl?’
  • i told you (so)

    • Used to point out that one's warnings, although ignored, have been proved to be well founded.

      • ‘‘It wouldn't give me any pleasure in the event of an accident to say I told you so to the county council,’ he said.’
      • ‘No, I've got nothing to say, except I told you so.’
      • ‘I hate to be the one to come back later on and say I told you so.’
      • ‘Even when I made mistakes, many of which he predicted, he never once said, I told you so.’
      • ‘If you are against the war, you look at those images and say, ‘See, I told you so.’’
      • ‘I hate to say ‘I told you so yet again,’ but, I told you so.’
      • ‘No matter how constructive or well meant, this week's people aren't interested in criticism, so don't say I told you so - even if you did.’
      • ‘In a few years' time, we will be saying I told you so.’
      • ‘I was somewhat reluctant to say I told you so, but there you have it.’
      • ‘I feel bad for the guy and his family and really shouldn't say I told you so, but these guys need to get better advice!’
  • tell one's beads

    • Use the beads of a rosary in counting prayers.

      • ‘When he was sleepless he lay on his back and told his beads, and there was a small rosary in the pocket of his pyjama coat.’
      • ‘She resolved however not to be drawn into any action which might attract the hatred of the prince; for she knew him indeed to be a man out of her sphere, a man who went to mass, and told his beads as the church directed him.’
      • ‘Beside the well and the ruins of a place of worship in which James IV. told his beads in 1504 there are traces of a burial-ground where several families of distinction were interred.’
      • ‘In medieval times the amethyst was a favourite amulet as a preserver of the wearer in battle, and many a pious crusader who nightly told his beads, relied also upon the purple stone that hung as a protective charm beside his rosary.’
      • ‘Meanwhile Madame de Noailles read her breviary and told her beads and took little naps, wholly ignorant of the drama that was beginning its perilous unfolding before her.’
      • ‘But his heart smote him when he told his beads, and remembered what he had said to Carloman.’
      • ‘She had remained steadfast in her faith and had continued to tell her beads on her fingers.’
      • ‘And I am going to stand under the oaks and tell my beads.’
      • ‘The Sikh and the cultivator's wife chewed pan; the lama took snuff and told his beads, while Kim, cross-legged, smiled over the comfort of a full stomach.’
      • ‘Franz Werfel said of an old woman that she told her beads as though she were knitting garments for the poor.’
      • ‘Whilst she told her beads with her left hand, she held in her right hand a lighted candle which was frequently blown out by the strong draught which was blowing along the Gave; but each time, she gave it to the person nearest her to have it re-re-lit.’
      • ‘To his great relief the Nurse enters - an Irish nun in long white robes, telling her rosary beads.’
      • ‘Josephine kept a long list of intentions and told her beads with the same dispatch with which she cleaned house.’
      • ‘And when she knelt down to tell her beads that night, a very strange and terrible prayer lingered on her lips the last and most earnestly of all.’
  • tell someone's fortune

    • Make predictions about a person's future by palmistry, using a crystal ball, or similar methods.

      ‘during uncertain times people flocked to have their fortunes told’
      • ‘I was in the middle of telling someone's fortune when I heard a commotion.’
      • ‘The last time someone told my fortune they didn't say a word about living in another country so I discounted most of the things that they said.’
      • ‘She took her daughter out to see them and they admired the little girl as they told her fortune.’
      • ‘You may want to save these though, since many believe that you can use them to tell your fortune.’
      • ‘My friend Jennifer decided one day that she would tell my fortune using an ordinary pack of playing cards.’
      • ‘After a session with the local witchdoctor who told our fortune, we sampled the wonderful hot springs nearby.’
      • ‘And after that was attended to, she drew up a chair to the rickety table, and told her fortune with an old deck of cards.’
      • ‘Then an older man, wearing a lab coat but still strongly reminiscent of both the tarot reader and the zodiac expert, ran his fingertips over the slides, as though they were Braille, and told her fortune.’
      • ‘I know fortune cookies rarely tell your fortune, but when did they start telling you off?’
      • ‘In Asia, there are people who can tell your fortune by just looking at your palm or face.’
  • tell it like it is

    • informal Describe the true facts of a situation no matter how unpleasant they may be.

      • ‘And what if people were straightforward and told it like it is?’
      • ‘But for all his faults, I like Gordon because he's one of the few celebrities that tells it like it is.’
      • ‘He's real and tells it like it is and he's consistent.’
      • ‘In case you are wondering what else it takes to be a research curator at one of the world's top historical attractions, Sarah kindly tells it like it is.’
      • ‘They're saying we've told it like it is, and rather like the programmes.’
      • ‘Her willingness to tell it like it is without apology keeps her work, no matter how widespread her critical acclaim, out of the mainstream.’
      • ‘He just tells it like it is, and I think that's a great quality.’
      • ‘It's a strong, realistic portrayal of life with young people who don't usually get a voice telling it like it is.’
      • ‘This man tells it like it is whether you like it or not, and he gained my respect after two seconds of listening to him.’
      • ‘He tells it like it is, and he won't apologize for that.’
  • tell its own tale (or story)

    • Be significant or revealing, without any further explanation being necessary.

      ‘the worried expression on Helen's face told its own tale’
      • ‘The imagery tells its own story, though, as well.’
      • ‘The frayed and severed string told its own tale.’
      • ‘Nevertheless, the Dublin episode told its own story.’
      • ‘The drooped heads and lost facial expressions on Sunday evening last told its own story.’
      • ‘The families and the children have, for the most part, stayed in the community that supported them through the nightmare, which tells its own story in terms of how the islanders regarded the outcome of the affair.’
      • ‘The hearty round of applause told its own story.’
      • ‘Her worn and malnourished face told its own story.’
      • ‘The look on their faces told its own story as they tried to take in the dreadful news of the tragedy that had befallen this community.’
      • ‘And at the end of the day an embarrassing 146 run defeat just about told its own story.’
      • ‘The second half score of 2-8 to 0-5 tells its own tale.’
  • tell me about it

    • informal Used as an ironic acknowledgement of one's familiarity with an unpleasant situation or experience described by someone else.

  • tell me another

    • informal Used as an expression of incredulity.

      • ‘So we have to take his word that it lets out less fumes than a two-wheeler (oh, yes, tell me another) and that it won't clog up our roads.’
      • ‘"Oh yeah, tell me another," Larry snarls.’
  • tell something a mile off

  • tell that to the marines

    • A scornful expression of disbelief.

      ‘most intelligent people will ask him to tell that to the marines’
  • tell the time (or north americantell time)

    • Be able to ascertain the time from reading the face of a clock or watch.

      • ‘Clocks told the time, windmills ground corn, cranes lifted things and so on.’
      • ‘Unmistakably, these watches do more than telling the time.’
      • ‘I looked at my watch but it was too dark to tell the time.’
      • ‘The Swiss had cleverly realised that a watch isn't for telling the time at all, but is instead a fashion statement.’
      • ‘He reasoned that the movement of a ship was guided by skilled intelligence, and a sundial or water clock told the time by design rather than by chance.’
      • ‘A supermarket worker was able to tell the time on a digital watch but not on the analogue clock in the staff canteen.’
      • ‘Mechanical watches also require servicing every three years to keep the watch working in good condition and tell the time accurately.’
      • ‘Only the clock face is fairly simple and that is because people needed to be able to tell the time easily.’
      • ‘I have a digital/analogue watch that tells the time in 42 countries, solar powered, alarm, stopwatch, date, waterproof to 100 metres.’
      • ‘But if you want a work of art, a thing of beauty that also tells the time, buy a clock.’
  • tell someone where to get off (or where they get off)

    • informal Angrily dismiss or rebuke someone.

      • ‘But I told him where to get off and he hasn't spoken to me since.’
      • ‘Yeah I would have told him where to get off after he acted like a jerk about the evidence you mentioned.’
      • ‘So if they ask my company to pay a license fee, I'll be recommending that we tell them where to get off.’
      • ‘If he tried that with me now, I'd tell him where to get off.’
      • ‘He must be a real softie and too shy to tell her where to get off!’
      • ‘She was just about to tell him where to get off (once again) when something rather peculiar caught her eyes.’
      • ‘At 21, if I approached a 40-year-old hard-nut comedian to play my new little comedy club in York, they'd probably tell me where to get off!’
      • ‘He'd tell her where to get off, said a defiant voice.’
  • tell someone where to put (or what to do with) something

    • informal Angrily reject something.

      ‘I told him what he could do with his diamond’
      • ‘The county council visited the Church Area Council and the residents' views were that they did not want them and they told them where to put it.’
      • ‘But seriously, though, if I don't like where you have got it, I can tell you where to put it, sort to speak.’
      • ‘I may very well have told him where to put his donation!’
  • that would be telling

    • informal Used to convey that one is not prepared to divulge confidential information.

      • ‘Well, that would be telling now, wouldn't it?’
      • ‘‘Now that would be telling,’ she grinned as she took a seat beside Kaye.’
      • ‘Last year, my gifts were mostly made up of all the books that had inspired me in the previous year, coupled with small cartoon-like cards; and this year… well, that would be telling.’
      • ‘And that would be telling… Plus I'm not sure yet.’
      • ‘As for replying to your wonderment over whether or not Jesse's fallen for Will just a little bit… well, that would be telling.’
      • ‘‘One of them is quite famous but that would be telling,’ Tim teases.’
      • ‘The old man smiled and winked, ‘now that would be telling!’’
      • ‘There's even a sweet mystery to be had in the form of… but that would be telling.’
  • there is no telling

    • Used to convey the impossibility of knowing what has happened or will happen.

      ‘there's no telling how she will react’
      • ‘I think there is no telling what it might launch.’
      • ‘With bricks going through the windows, there is no telling what injuries could have been caused.’
      • ‘He is safe and unharmed physically, but when you see people jump from buildings and been part of such a terrible ordeal, there is no telling what he may have suffered psychologically.’
      • ‘And he couldn't draw up a plan for his sculptures for one simple reason: The river supplies his materials, and there is no telling what the river will bring.’
      • ‘Of course, there is no telling how far the current climate of cigar taxation and smoking-bans will go.’
      • ‘Still, there is no telling whether as president he would be so unequivocal.’
      • ‘Should the elections be held freely, there is no telling what the outcome will be.’
      • ‘Also, there is no telling whether or not you will be caught one day.’
      • ‘It is free to visit - though there is no telling for how long.’
      • ‘Because there is no telling whether these children would have survived had we gone down the path you are suggesting.’
  • to tell (you) the truth

    • see truth
      • ‘Management has been too hard on them lately, and to tell you the truth, the benefits haven't been that stellar either.’
      • ‘‘The only thing I fall in love with is my dog, to tell you the truth,’ he confesses.’
      • ‘Well, to tell you the truth, I was actually glad they were going to eat lunch with me.’
      • ‘I watch very little television, to tell you the truth, because of my children.’
      • ‘I don't think there's much hate in it at all: to tell you the truth, it's actually quite interesting.’
    • To be frank (used especially when making an admission)

      ‘I think, if truth be told, we were all a little afraid of him’
      ‘to tell you the truth, I've never met the guys’
      • ‘They all have varying degrees of proficiency - although if truth be told, most would probably be classed as being of fairly mediocre quality.’
      • ‘But I don't actually envy her, because truth to tell, I hate weddings.’
      • ‘However, if truth be told, I'm still experimenting.’
      • ‘It's Friday evening and there is a look of immense satisfaction on his face - although it is probably more relief, if truth be told.’
      • ‘Will said with a slight smile in his voice, ‘That realisation has been a long time coming, in fact you've been a bit slow on the uptake if truth be told.’’
      • ‘When the tests were finished I walked off feeling really happy with myself because, truth to tell, I do feel pretty good these days.’
      • ‘Well, truth to tell, there are things about it that aren't funny at all, but I'll stick to my more positive take for now.’
      • ‘They clapped, they beamed, they leapt to their feet to welcome a speech that, truth to tell, was more a statement of intent than a programme for government.’
      • ‘But, truth to tell, I'm too tired to think about it, or anything else.’
      • ‘This is a novel concept for Scotland, and, truth to tell, we are not very good at it.’
      in fact, in actual fact, in point of fact, as a matter of fact, in reality, really, actually, to tell the truth, if truth be told
      View synonyms
  • you're telling me

    • informal Used to emphasize that one is already well aware of or in complete agreement with something.

      ‘‘That was bad luck.’ ‘You're telling me!’’
      • ‘You're telling me. It's so hard.’

Phrasal Verbs

  • tell someone off

    • 1Reprimand or scold someone.

      ‘my parents told me off for coming home late’
      • ‘Adults also punish children by shouting, telling them off, sending them to their room, and withdrawing privileges.’
      • ‘Somehow he could never tell her off or scold her when she looked at him like that.’
      • ‘I do not suffer fools gladly, but somehow I cannot get myself to tell her off!’
      • ‘Richard tends to be much stricter with Lucie in general and is fed up of being the bad guy who tells Lucie off and reprimands her.’
      • ‘These are the terms this man used to so brilliantly tell us off.’
      • ‘Kids no longer quake in the street when a policeman tells them off.’
      • ‘I am now forced to look for more ingenious ways of telling someone off when they get me mad.’
      • ‘Once a car stopped and the driver got out and told me off for keeping such a dangerous animal.’
      • ‘I really should have told her off when I had the chance.’
      • ‘It would be another slight to his poor, terrified parents, who were clearly unable to ever tell him off for fear of the consequences.’
      • ‘He has pulled my hair on the bus and, recently, he yelled at me so I told him off.’
      • ‘My parents were forever telling me off but I never listened to them.’
      • ‘Teachers' leaders are now calling for a ban on mobile phones in the classroom because children are using them to text message or speak to their parents as soon as they have been told off.’
      • ‘If I told lies I was told off and if I had dared to show my parents up in a shop, I wouldn't have been shouted at - I would have been taken home with nothing.’
      • ‘As a matter of fact, it had a very dramatic ending, with me telling him off and storming out of the house, with the kids cheering.’
      • ‘She had to tell me off, otherwise she would be implicitly encouraging the students to bring drinks into the library.’
      • ‘When I told them off for calling us names and bullying, they became very abusive,’ she said.’
      • ‘He reluctantly agrees, and Susan tells him off.’
      • ‘My psychologist tells me off for thinking like that.’
      • ‘I never told him off for spending time tailoring instead of studying.’
      reprimand, rebuke, reproach, scold, admonish, reprove, remonstrate with, chastise, chide, upbraid, berate, take to task, pull up, castigate, lambaste, read someone the riot act, give someone a piece of one's mind, haul over the coals, criticize, censure
      give someone a talking-to, give someone a telling-off, dress down, give someone a dressing-down, give someone an earful, give someone a roasting, give someone a rocket, give someone a rollicking, rap, rap someone over the knuckles, slap someone's wrist, let someone have it, bawl out, give someone hell, come down on, blow up, pitch into, lay into, lace into, give someone a caning, blast, rag, keelhaul
      tick off, have a go at, carpet, monster, give someone a mouthful, tear someone off a strip, give someone what for, wig, give someone a wigging, give someone a row, row
      chew out, ream out
      bollock, give someone a bollocking
      chew someone's ass, ream someone's ass
      call down, rate, give someone a rating, trim
      reprehend, objurgate
      View synonyms
    • 2Assign a member of a group to a particular task.

      ‘there used to be a chap told off every day to fetch us beer’
      • ‘I was told off to work in the trenches.’
      • ‘We were then told off to various points on the outskirts of the village.’
      • ‘A subaltern and a sergeant were told off to supervise each platoon, any spare officers taking up positions in the rear of the battalion line.’


Old English tellan ‘relate, count, estimate’, of Germanic origin; related to German zählen reckon, count, erzählen recount, relate, also to tale.




Main definitions of tell in English

: tell1tell2



  • (in the Middle East) an artificial mound formed by the accumulated remains of ancient settlements.

    • ‘Ancient cities are now identified by the mounds raised above the surrounding terrain, called tells.’
    • ‘He narrowly escaped being blown up by a mine when he was exploring a tell outside the city.’
    • ‘In the digital elevation model the small conical mound of a tell is represented by a characteristic point pattern, superposed onto the natural topography.’


Mid 19th century: from Arabic tall hillock.