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tell time

Keep track of the hours; also, know how to read a clock or watch. For example, This old clock still tells time quite accurately, or He taught his niece to tell time by using a cuckoo clock. This expression uses tell in the sense of “reckon” or “calculate,” a usage dating from about a.d. 1000.
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Examples from the Web for tell time
Historical Examples
  • They could not write; it was even rumored that they had never learned to tell time.

    Meadow Grass Alice Brown
  • Now he made a business of squinting up at the sun as if to tell time.

    Ride Proud, Rebel! Andre Alice Norton
  • And it might be very necessary to tell time under any of these conditions.

    Time Telling through the Ages Harry Chase Brearley
  • Nobody can tell time by a Turkish clock, but there was some comfort in watching it.

    The Ship Dwellers

    Albert Bigelow Paine
  • It makes no fuss at all, but you can tell time by the hour hand.

    The Children's Six Minutes Bruce S. Wright
  • Of course, an animal cannot tell time nor count; for telling time and counting require words.

    Natural Wonders Edwin Tenney Brewster
  • As Winthrope was unable to tell time by the stars, Blake took the first watch.

    Into the Primitive Robert Ames Bennet
  • You can tell time by a small watch, easily, by starlight, with no other aid but the diffused glimmer of the snow fields.

    A Northern Countryside Rosalind Richards
  • A watch that does not tell time, a knife that does not cut, and a soul that does not love God are three utterly useless things.

    Explanation of Catholic Morals

    John H. Stapleton
  • I am not sure whether the East or the West knows the philosophical way to tell time.

    The Red Rugs of Tarsus

    Helen Davenport Gibbons

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