[ tel ]
See synonyms for tell on
verb (used with object),told, tell·ing.
  1. to give an account or narrative of; narrate; relate (a story, tale, etc.): to tell the story of Lincoln's childhood.

  2. to make known by speech or writing (a fact, news, information, etc.); communicate.

  1. to announce or proclaim.

  2. to utter (the truth, a lie, etc.).

  3. to express in words (thoughts, feelings, etc.).

  4. to reveal or divulge (something secret or private).

  5. to say plainly or positively: I cannot tell just what was done.

  6. to discern or recognize (a distant person or thing) so as to be able to identify or describe: Can you tell who that is over there?

  7. to distinguish; discriminate; ascertain: You could hardly tell the difference between them.

  8. to inform (a person) of something: He told me his name.

  9. to assure emphatically: I won't, I tell you!

  10. to bid, order, or command: Tell him to stop.

  11. to mention one after another, as in enumerating; count or set one by one or in exact amount: to tell the cattle in a herd;All told there were 17 if we are correct.

verb (used without object),told, tell·ing.
  1. to give an account or report: Tell me about your trip.

  2. to give evidence or be an indication: The ruined temples told of an ancient culture, long since passed from existence.

  1. to disclose something secret or private; inform; tattle: She knows who did it, but she won't tell.

  2. to say positively; determine; predict: Who can tell?

  3. to have force or effect; operate effectively: a contest in which every stroke tells.

  4. to produce a marked or severe effect: The strain was telling on his health.

  5. British Dialect. to talk or chat.

Verb Phrases
  1. tell off,

    • to separate from the whole and assign to a particular duty.

    • Informal. to rebuke severely; scold: It was about time that someone told him off.

  2. tell on, to tattle on (someone).

Idioms about tell

  1. tell it like it is, Informal. to tell the complete, unadulterated truth; be forthright: He may be crude but he tells it like it is.

Origin of tell

First recorded before 900; Middle English tellen, tel(le) “to speak, talk, say, mention,” Old English tellan “to tell, relate, count”; cognate with Dutch tellen “to reckon, count,” Old Norse telja “to count, number, say,” Old High German zellēn, German zählen “to count, number”; akin to tale

Other words for tell

Words Nearby tell

Other definitions for tell (2 of 3)

[ tel ]

  1. an artificial mound consisting of the accumulated remains of one or more ancient settlements (often used in Egypt and the Middle East as part of a placename).

Origin of tell

First recorded in 1860–65; from Arabic tall “hillock”

Other definitions for Tell (3 of 3)

[ tel ]

  1. Wil·helm [vil-helm]. /ˈvɪl hɛlm/. William Tell. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use tell in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for tell (1 of 3)


/ (tɛl) /

verbtells, telling or told
  1. (when tr, may take a clause as object) to let know or notify: he told me that he would go

  2. (tr) to order or instruct (someone to do something): I told her to send the letter airmail

  1. (when intr, usually foll by of) to give an account or narration (of something): she told me her troubles

  2. (tr) to communicate by words; utter: to tell the truth

  3. (tr) to make known; disclose: to tell fortunes

  4. (intr often foll by of) to serve as an indication: her blush told of her embarrassment

  5. (tr; used with can, etc; may take a clause as object) to comprehend, discover, or discern: I can tell what is wrong

  6. (tr; used with can, etc) to distinguish or discriminate: he couldn't tell chalk from cheese

  7. (intr) to have or produce an impact, effect, or strain: every step told on his bruised feet

  8. (intr sometimes foll by on) informal to reveal secrets or gossip (about): don't tell!; she told on him

  9. (tr) to assure: I tell you, I've had enough!

  10. (tr) to count (votes)

  11. (intr) dialect to talk or chatter

  12. informal, mainly US to tell the truth no matter how unpleasant it is

  13. tell the time to read the time from a clock

  14. you're telling me slang I know that very well

Origin of tell

Old English tellan; related to Old Saxon tellian, Old High German zellen to tell, count, Old Norse telja

Derived forms of tell

  • tellable, adjective

British Dictionary definitions for tell (2 of 3)


/ (tɛl) /

  1. a large mound resulting from the accumulation of rubbish on a long-settled site, esp one with mudbrick buildings, particularly in the Middle East

Origin of tell

C19: from Arabic tall

British Dictionary definitions for Tell (3 of 3)


/ (tɛl) /

  1. William, German name Wilhelm Tell. a legendary Swiss patriot, who, traditionally, lived in the early 14th century and was compelled by an Austrian governor to shoot an apple from his son's head with one shot of his crossbow. He did so without mishap

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Other Idioms and Phrases with tell


In addition to the idioms beginning with tell

  • tell apart
  • tell a thing or two
  • tell it like it is
  • tell it to the Marines
  • tell me
  • tell off
  • tell on
  • tell someone where to get off
  • tell tales
  • tell time

also see:

  • do tell
  • kiss and tell
  • show and tell
  • something tells me
  • there's no telling
  • thing or two, tell a
  • time will tell
  • which is which, tell
  • you never can tell
  • you're telling me

Also see undertold.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.