See also: Tell

English

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Pronunciation

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Etymology 1

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From Middle English tellen (to count, tell), from Old English tellan (to count, tell), from Proto-West Germanic *talljan, from Proto-Germanic *taljaną, *talzijaną (to count, enumerate), from Proto-Germanic *talą, *talǭ (number, counting), from Proto-Indo-European *dol- (calculation, fraud).

Cognate with Saterland Frisian tälle (to say; tell), West Frisian telle (to count), West Frisian fertelle (to tell, narrate), Dutch tellen (to count) and Dutch vertellen (to tell), Low German tellen (to count), German zählen, Faroese telja. More at tale.

Verb

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tell (third-person singular simple present tells, present participle telling, simple past and past participle told or (dialectal or nonstandard) telled)

  1. (transitive, archaic outside of idioms) To count, reckon, or enumerate.
    All told, there were over a dozen.  Can you tell time on a clock?  He had untold wealth.
    • 1590, Edmund Spenser, “Book II, Canto VII”, in The Faerie Queene. [], London: [] [John Wolfe] for William Ponsonbie, →OCLC:
      And in his lap a masse of coyne he told,
      And turned vpsidowne, to feede his eye
      A couetous desire with his huge threasury.
    • c. 1589–1590 (date written), Christopher Marlo[we], edited by Tho[mas] Heywood, The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Iew of Malta. [], London: [] I[ohn] B[eale] for Nicholas Vavasour, [], published 1633, →OCLC, Act I:
      Well fare the Arabians, who so richly pay
      The things they traffic for with wedge of gold,
      Whereof a man may easily in a day
      Tell that which may maintain him all his life.
    • 1875, Hugh MacMillan, The Sunday Magazine:
      Only He who made them can tell the number of the stars, and mark the place of each in the order of the one great dominant spiral.
  2. (transitive, ditransitive) To narrate, to recount.
    I want to tell a story;  I want to tell you a story.
    • 1918, W[illiam] B[abington] Maxwell, chapter VII, in The Mirror and the Lamp, Indianapolis, Ind.: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, →OCLC:
      [] Churchill, my dear fellow, we have such greedy sharks, and wolves in lamb's clothing. Oh, dear, there's so much to tell you, so many warnings to give you, but all that must be postponed for the moment.”
  3. (transitive, ditransitive) To convey by speech; to say.
    Finally, someone told him the truth.  He seems to like to tell lies.
    • 1913, Joseph C[rosby] Lincoln, chapter IV, in Mr. Pratt’s Patients, New York, N.Y., London: D[aniel] Appleton and Company, →OCLC:
      I told him about everything I could think of; and what I couldn't think of he did. He asked about six questions during my yarn, but every question had a point to it. At the end he bowed and thanked me once more. As a thanker he was main-truck high; I never see anybody so polite.
    • 2016, VOA Learning English (public domain)
      Tell her you’re here.
      Audio (US):(file)
  4. (transitive) To instruct or inform.
    Please tell me how to do it.
  5. (transitive) To order; to direct, to say to someone.
    Tell him to go away.
    • 1909, H. G. Wells, Ann Veronica:
      She said she hoped she had not distressed him by the course she had felt obliged to take, and he told her not to be a fool.
    • 2012 October 25, John Noble Wilford, “Neil Armstrong, First Man on the Moon, Dies at 82”, in New York Times[1]:
      Stability was restored, but once the re-entry propulsion was activated, the crew was told to prepare to come home before the end of their only day in orbit.
    • 2022 January 12, Benedict le Vay, “The heroes of Soham...”, in RAIL, number 948:
      The driver remained at his post, while telling fireman Jim Nightall to get down on the track and run back to uncouple the burning wagon from the rest.
  6. (transitive or intransitive) To discern, notice, identify or distinguish.
    Can you tell whether those flowers are real or silk, from this distance?  No, there's no way to tell.
    I can tell you're upset.
    An expert can tell an original from a forgery.
    • 1910, Emerson Hough, chapter I, in The Purchase Price: Or The Cause of Compromise, Indianapolis, Ind.: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, →OCLC:
      Captain Edward Carlisle, soldier as he was, martinet as he was, felt a curious sensation of helplessness seize upon him as he met her steady gaze, her alluring smile; he could not tell what this prisoner might do.
  7. (transitive) To reveal.
    Time will tell what became of him.
  8. (intransitive) To be revealed.
    • 1990, Stephen Coonts, Under Siege, 1991 Pocket Books edition, →ISBN, p.409:
      Cherry looks old, Mergenthaler told himself. His age is telling. Querulous — that's the word. He's become a whining, querulous old man absorbed with trivialities.
  9. (intransitive) To have an effect, especially a noticeable one; to be apparent, to be demonstrated.
    Sir Gerald was moving slower; his wounds were beginning to tell.
    • 1859, John Stuart Mill, On Liberty:
      Opinion ought [… to give] merited honour to every one, whatever opinion he may hold [] keeping nothing back which tells, or can be supposed to tell, in their favour.
    • 1960 April, Cecil J. Allen, “Locomotive Running Past and Present”, in Trains Illustrated, page 212:
      [...] the 4 miles at 1 in 180 up to Sanquhar were mounted with no greater fall in speed than from 65 to 59 m.p.h., after which, possibly as a result of easing the engine or because the strain on steam supply was beginning to tell, the final 3½ miles up at 1 in 200 up to milepost 59½ were surmounted at a minimum of 49½ m.p.h.
    • 2011 September 18, Ben Dirs, “Rugby World Cup 2011: England 41-10 Georgia”, in BBC Sport:
      But England's superior fitness told in the second half, with Delon Armitage, Manu Tuilagi and Chris Ashton (two) going over for tries to secure a bonus-point win.
  10. (transitive) To use (beads or similar objects) as an aid to prayer.
  11. (intransitive, childish) To inform someone in authority about a wrongdoing.
    I saw you steal those sweets! I'm telling!
    Synonym: tell on
  12. (authorship, intransitive) To reveal information in prose through outright expository statement -- contrasted with show
    Maria rewrote the section of her novel that talked about Meg and Sage's friendship to have less telling and more showing.
Usage notes
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  • In dialects, other past tense forms (besides told) may be found, including tald/tauld (Scotland), tawld (Devonshire), teld (Yorkshire, Devonshire), telled (Northern England, Scotland, and in nonstandard speech generally), telt (Scotland, Geordie), tole (AAVE, Southern US, and some dialects of England), toll (AAVE), tolt (AAVE).
Conjugation
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Synonyms
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Antonyms
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  • (antonym(s) of to instruct or inform): ask
Derived terms
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Translations
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The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.

Noun

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tell (plural tells)

  1. A reflexive, often habitual behavior, especially one occurring in a context that often features attempts at deception by persons under psychological stress (such as a poker game or police interrogation), that reveals information that the person exhibiting the behavior is attempting to withhold.
  2. (informal) A giveaway; something that unintentionally reveals or hints at a secret.
    • 2023 May 4, Amy X. Wang, Grant Cornett, “Inside the Delirious Rise of ‘Superfake’ Handbags”, in The New York Times[2], →ISSN:
      Those whose business it is to verify luxury bags insist, at least publicly, that there’s always a “tell” to a superfake.
    • 2024 January 3, John Patrick Leary, “Israel's "Right to Exist" Is a Rhetorical Trap”, in The New Republic[3]:
      Republican Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey said recently that “Israel is the only state in the world whose fundamental right to exist, within any borders at all, is openly denied by other states.” But Israel is the only nation with a “right to exist,” as the phrase is not commonly attached to any other country. And that’s the tell: This is not a legal concept, but a political one, available for broad interpretation and rhetorical weaponization.
  3. (archaic) That which is told; a tale or account.
    • April 4, 1743, Horace Walpole, letter to Sir Horace Mann
      I am at the end of my tell.
  4. (Internet) A private message to an individual in a chat room; a whisper.
See also
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Etymology 2

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From Arabic تَلّ (tall, hill, elevation) or Hebrew תֵּל (tél, hill), from Proto-Semitic *tall- (hill).

Noun

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tell (plural tells)

  1. (archaeology) A hill or mound, originally and especially in the Middle East, over or consisting of the ruins of ancient settlements.
    • 2001, David L. Lieber, Jules Harlow, Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary, page 205:
      Succoth is now associated with a large tell situated in the Jordan Valley, Deir Allah.
Translations
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Norwegian Bokmål

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Verb

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tell

  1. imperative of telle

Yola

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Preposition

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tell

  1. Alternative form of del
    • 1867, “A YOLA ZONG”, in SONGS, ETC. IN THE DIALECT OF FORTH AND BARGY, number 2, page 84:
      Ha deight ouse var gabble, tell ee zin go t'glade.
      You have put us in talk, 'till the sun goes to set.

References

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  • Jacob Poole (d. 1827) (before 1828) William Barnes, editor, A Glossary, With some Pieces of Verse, of the old Dialect of the English Colony in the Baronies of Forth and Bargy, County of Wexford, Ireland, London: J. Russell Smith, published 1867, page 84