Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Scrabble
  • Spanish Central
  • Learner's Dictionary


verb, \ˈtel\

Simple Definition of tell

  • : to say or write (something) to (someone)

  • : to say (a word or words) to (someone)

  • : to give information to (someone) by speaking or writing

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of tell

told play \ˈtōld\ telling

  1. transitive verb
  2. 1 :  count, enumerate <tell the stars, if thou be able to number them — Genesis 15:5(Authorized Version)>

  3. 2a :  to relate in detail :  narrate <told the whole story to us>b :  to give utterance to :  say <could never tell a lie>

  4. 3a :  to make known :  divulge, reveal <don't tell your password>b :  to express in words <she never told her love — Shakespeare>

  5. 4a :  to give information to :  inform <tell us about your job>b :  to assure emphatically <they did not do it, I tell you>

  6. 5 :  order, direct <told me to wait>

  7. 6 :  to find out by observing :  recognize <you can tell it's a masterpiece>

  8. intransitive verb
  9. 1 :  to give an account <an article telling of her experience>

  10. 2 :  to act as an informer —often used with on <I'll get even with you if you ever tell on me — Inside Detective>

  11. 3 :  to have a marked effect <the pressure was beginning to tell on him>

  12. 4 :  to serve as evidence or indication

Examples of tell in a sentence

  1. He told us the story.

  2. Has she told you the good news, yet?

  3. Please tell us your name and occupation.

  4. She looked at the palm of my hand and told me my fortune.

  5. If you see her, tell her hello for me.

  6. I feel sick, he told his mom.

  7. What is his name? I don't know. He didn't tell me.

  8. Who is the letter from? I'm not telling.

  9. I promise not to tell anyone.

  10. I can't tell you because it's a secret.

Origin of tell

Middle English, from Old English tellan; akin to Old High German zellen to count, tell, Old English talu tale

First Known Use: before 12th century

Synonym Discussion of tell

reveal, disclose, divulge, tell, betray mean to make known what has been or should be concealed. reveal may apply to supernatural or inspired revelation of truths beyond the range of ordinary human vision or reason <divine will as revealed in sacred writings>. disclose may imply a discovering but more often an imparting of information previously kept secret <candidates must disclose their financial assets>. divulge implies a disclosure involving some impropriety or breach of confidence <refused to divulge an anonymous source>. tell implies an imparting of necessary or useful information <told them what he had overheard>. betray implies a divulging that represents a breach of faith or an involuntary or unconscious disclosure <a blush that betrayed her embarrassment>.

Rhymes with tell




Definition of tell

  1. :  hill, mound; specifically :  an ancient mound in the Middle East composed of remains of successive settlements

Origin of tell

Arabic tall

First Known Use: 1864

TELL Defined for Kids


verb \ˈtel\

Definition of tell for Students

told \ˈtōld\telling

  1. 1 :  to let a person know something :  to give information to <I'll tell them when they get here.>

  2. 2 :  1order 2 <The policeman told us to wait.>

  3. 3 :  to find out by observing <My little brother has learned to tell time.>

  4. 4 :  1say 1 <Don't tell a lie.>

  5. 5 :  to describe in detail <Can you tell me a story?>

  6. 6 :  to make known <tell a secret>

  7. 7 :  to bring the bad behavior of to the attention of an authority <Don't tell on me.>

  8. 8 :  1count 1 <All told there were 27 of us.>

  9. 9 :  to have a noticeable result <The pressure began to tell on them.>

  10. 10 :  to act as evidence <They had smiles telling of success.>

  11. 11 :  to see or understand the differences between two people or things <Can you tell right from wrong?>

  12. 12 :  to see or know (something) with certainty <It's hard to tell if he's serious.>

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up tell? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to manage or play awkwardly

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!


Which of these is a synonym of nonplus?

disapprove perplex soothe reduce
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.