verb (used with object), told, tell·ing.

verb (used without object), told, tell·ing.

Verb Phrases

tell off,
  1. to separate from the whole and assign to a particular duty.
  2. rebuke severely; scold: It was about time that someone told him off.
tell on, to tattle on (someone).

Nearby words

  1. telic,
  2. telidon,
  3. teliospore,
  4. telium,
  5. telkom,
  6. tell a thing or two,
  7. tell apart,
  8. tell el amarna,
  9. tell it like it is,
  10. tell it to the marines


    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

before 900; Middle English tellen, Old English tellan to relate, count; cognate with Dutch tellen to reckon, count, Old Norse telja to count, say, Old High German zellēn; akin to tale

SYNONYMS FOR tell Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for tell it like it is



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



verb tells, telling or told

(when tr, may take a clause as object) to let know or notifyhe told me that he would go
(tr) to order or instruct (someone to do something)I told her to send the letter airmail
(when intr, usually foll by of) to give an account or narration (of something)she told me her troubles
(tr) to communicate by words; utterto tell the truth
(tr) to make known; discloseto tell fortunes
(intr often foll by of) to serve as an indicationher blush told of her embarrassment
(tr; used with can, etc; may take a clause as object) to comprehend, discover, or discernI can tell what is wrong
(tr; used with can, etc) to distinguish or discriminatehe couldn't tell chalk from cheese
(intr) to have or produce an impact, effect, or strainevery step told on his bruised feet
(intr sometimes foll by on) informal to reveal secrets or gossip (about)don't tell!; she told on him
(tr) to assureI tell you, I've had enough!
(tr) to count (votes)
(intr) dialect to talk or chatter
informal, mainly US to tell the truth no matter how unpleasant it is
tell the time to read the time from a clock
you're telling me slang I know that very well

Derived Formstellable, adjective

Word Origin for tell

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




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

Word Origin for tell

C19: from Arabic tall

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

Word Origin and History for tell it like it is
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with tell it like it is

tell it like it is

Speak the truth, no matter how unpleasant. For example, We're obligated to tell it like it is to the stockholders. [Slang; second half of 1900s]


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.