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[tel] /tɛl/
verb (used with object), told, telling.
to give an account or narrative of; narrate; relate (a story, tale, etc.):
to tell the story of Lincoln's childhood.
to make known by speech or writing (a fact, news, information, etc.); communicate.
to announce or proclaim.
to utter (the truth, a lie, etc.).
to express in words (thoughts, feelings, etc.).
to reveal or divulge (something secret or private).
to say plainly or positively:
I cannot tell just what was done.
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?
to distinguish; discriminate; ascertain:
You could hardly tell the difference between them.
to inform (a person) of something:
He told me his name.
to assure emphatically:
I won't, I tell you!
to bid, order, or command:
Tell him to stop.
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, telling.
to give an account or report:
Tell me about your trip.
to give evidence or be an indication:
The ruined temples told of an ancient culture, long since passed from existence.
to disclose something secret or private; inform; tattle:
She knows who did it, but she won't tell.
to say positively; determine; predict:
Who can tell?
to have force or effect; operate effectively:
a contest in which every stroke tells.
to produce a marked or severe effect:
The strain was telling on his health.
British Dialect. to talk or chat.
Verb phrases
tell off,
  1. to separate from the whole and assign to a particular duty.
  2. Informal. to rebuke severely; scold:
    It was about time that someone told him off.
tell on, to tattle on (someone).
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 tell1
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
1. recount, describe, report. 2. impart. 4. speak. 6. disclose, betray; acknowledge, own, confess; declare. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2016.
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British Dictionary definitions for tell on


verb tells, telling, told
(when transitive, may take a clause as object) to let know or notify: he told me that he would go
(transitive) 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
(transitive) to communicate by words; utter: to tell the truth
(transitive) to make known; disclose: to tell fortunes
(intransitive) often foll by of. to serve as an indication: her blush told of her embarrassment
(transitive; used with can, etc; may take a clause as object) to comprehend, discover, or discern: I can tell what is wrong
(transitive; used with can, etc) to distinguish or discriminate: he couldn't tell chalk from cheese
(intransitive) to have or produce an impact, effect, or strain: every step told on his bruised feet
(informal) (intransitive) sometimes foll by on. to reveal secrets or gossip (about): don't tell!, she told on him
(transitive) to assure: I tell you, I've had enough!
(transitive) to count (votes)
(intransitive) (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
(slang) you're telling me, I know that very well
See also tell apart, tell off
Derived Forms
tellable, adjective
Word Origin
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
C19: from Arabic tall


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
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Word Origin and History for tell on



Old English tellan "to reckon, calculate, consider, account," from Proto-Germanic *taljanan "to mention in order" (cf. Old Saxon tellian, Old Norse telja, Old Frisian tella "to count, tell," Dutch tellen "to count, reckon," Old Saxon talon "to count, reckon," Danish tale "to speak," Old High German zalon, German zählen "to count, reckon"), from root *talo (see tale). Meaning "to narrate, relate" is from c.1000; that of "to make known by speech or writing, announce" is from early 12c. Sense of "to reveal or disclose" is from c.1400; that of "to act as an informer, to 'peach' " is recorded from 1901. Meaning "to order (someone to do something)" is from 1590s. Original sense in teller and phrase to tell time. For sense evolution, cf. French conter "to count," raconter "to recount;" Italian contare, Spanish contar "to count, recount, narrate;" German zählen "to count," erzählen "to recount, narrate."

I tolde hyme so, & euer he seyde nay. [Thomas Hoccleve, "The Regiment of Princes," c.1412]
Telling "having effect or force" is from 1852.


"mound, hill," 1864, from Arabic tall, related to Hebrew tel "mount, hill, heap."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for tell on

telephone tag

noun phrase

The repeated exchange of recorded telephone messages: I don't feel like playing telephone tag with her/ ''Having computers in our volunteers' homes has eliminated phone tag,'' says Power, referring to the pervasive round-robin of messages left and phone calls missed (1990s+)

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with tell on

tell on

Tattle on, inform on, as in Marjorie said she'd tell on him if he pulled her hair again. This seemingly modern term appeared in a 1539 translation of the Bible (I Samuel 27:11): “David saved neither man nor woman ... for fear (said he) lest they should tell on us.”
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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