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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
  • We made sun-dials on a clear spot of ground and could tell time perfectly from them.

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

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

    Time Telling through the Ages Harry Chase Brearley
  • "Look out, Jerry, or you'll make yourself cross-eyed trying to tell time by both those watches at once," giggled Susan Atwell.

    Marjorie Dean Pauline Lester
  • Nobody can tell time by a Turkish clock, but there was some comfort in watching it.

    The Ship Dwellers Albert Bigelow Paine
  • They could not write; it was even rumored that they had never learned to tell time.

    Meadow Grass Alice Brown
  • It makes no fuss at all, but you can tell time by the hour hand.

    The Children's Six Minutes Bruce S. Wright
  • As Winthrope was unable to tell time by the stars, Blake took the first watch.

    Into the Primitive Robert Ames Bennet
  • Of course, an animal cannot tell time nor count; for telling time and counting require words.

    Natural Wonders Edwin Tenney Brewster

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