tell on

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.
  3. to announce or proclaim.
  4. to utter (the truth, a lie, etc.).
  5. to express in words (thoughts, feelings, etc.).
  6. to reveal or divulge (something secret or private).
  7. to say plainly or positively: I cannot tell just what was done.
  8. 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?
  9. to distinguish; discriminate; ascertain: You could hardly tell the difference between them.
  10. to inform (a person) of something: He told me his name.
  11. to assure emphatically: I won’t, I tell you!
  12. to bid, order, or command: Tell him to stop.
  13. 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.
  3. to disclose something secret or private; inform; tattle: She knows who did it, but she won’t tell.
  4. to say positively; determine; predict: Who can tell?
  5. to have force or effect; operate effectively: a contest in which every stroke tells.
  6. to produce a marked or severe effect: The strain was telling on his health.
  7. British Dialect. to talk or chat.

Verb Phrases

  1. 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.
  2. tell on, to tattle on (someone).


  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.


  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

verb tells, telling or told

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


  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

n.“mound, hill,” 1864, from Arabic tall, related to Hebrew tel “mount, hill, heap.” v.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. 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.” 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.

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