\ˈtel \
told\ ˈtōld \; telling

Definition of tell 

(Entry 1 of 3)

transitive verb

1a : to relate in detail : narrate told the whole story to us

b : to give utterance to : say could never tell a lie

2a : to make known : divulge, reveal don't tell your password

b : to express in words she never told her love— William Shakespeare

3a : to give information to : inform tell us about your job

b : to assure emphatically they did not do it, I tell you

4 : order, direct told me to wait

5 : to find out by observing : recognize you can tell it's a masterpiece

6 : count, enumerate tell the stars, if thou be able to number them — Genesis 15:5 (King James Version)

intransitive verb

1 : to give an account an article telling of her experience

2 : to tell someone (such as a parent or other person of authority) about what someone else has done often used with on I'll get even with you if you ever tell on meInside Detective

3 : to serve as evidence or indication

4 : to have a marked effect the pressure was beginning to tell on him


noun (1)
\ˈtel \
plural tells

Definition of tell (Entry 2 of 3)

: an inadvertent behavior or mannerism that betrays a poker player's true thoughts, intentions, or emotions The World Series of Poker: earth's greatest liars gathered together with millions of dollars on the line … . It's a blur of action, but the educated spectator ignores these distractions and focuses on the players' mannerisms—it's all part of the science of tells, reflexes a player can't control that, read right, give away his thoughts. — Seth Stevenson also : a revealing gesture, expression, etc., that is likened to a poker player's tell But his eyes darted fractionally to one side as he said it …; the classic liar's tell. — Stephen King


noun (2)

Definition of tell (Entry 3 of 3)

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

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Choose the Right Synonym for 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

Examples of tell in a Sentence


He told us the story. Has she told you the good news, yet? Please tell us your name and occupation. She looked at the palm of my hand and told me my fortune. If you see her, tell her hello for me. “I feel sick,” he told his mom. “What is his name?” “I don't know. He didn't tell me.” “Who is the letter from?” “I'm not telling.” I promise not to tell anyone. I can't tell you because it's a secret.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Laura Ingraham said Democrats are better than Republicans in telling the story of America. David Bauder, The Seattle Times, "Midterm coverage was a roller-coaster ride of dips and dives," 7 Nov. 2018 Blizzard had already told people not to expect Diablo IV, and sure enough no Diablo IV. Hayden Dingman, PCWorld, "BlizzCon 2018: Warcraft III remastered, and Overwatch gets a new cowboy," 2 Nov. 2018 As Hadid told Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show, there are even more things to experience in the new location. Chloe Foussianes, Town & Country, "Supermodel Gigi Hadid Designed the New FAO Schwarz Soldier Uniforms," 25 Oct. 2018 Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as telling state news agency Tass. Ryan Gaydos, Fox News, "US decision to withdraw from Cold War-era nuke treaty draws rebuke from Russia," 23 Oct. 2018 Most every space is filled to help create a room that's saturated in color and pattern, feels cozy and inviting, and contains plenty of items that have some sort of value to you and tell a story. Sienna Fantozzi, House Beautiful, "Everything You Need To Know About Bohemian Design," 19 Oct. 2018 Watkins said an adviser had told him that Dragoo was a transportation lobbyist. Bryan Lowry, kansascity, "‘His social views were liberal.’ Candidate met with Dems before launching GOP run," 13 July 2018 Metcalfe then pulled out a pocket knife and pointed it at the victim’s stomach, police said the man told them. Jesse Leavenworth,, "Manchester Police: Man Tried Stabbing Another Man Who Rejected Sexual Advance," 13 July 2018 Mish Phillips, the Australian athlete who met the players after the incident, said the players told her that they were left stranded on the side of the highway and had to be rescued by police who transported them to their hotel. Randy Tucker,, "Colombian ultimate Frisbee players headed to Cincinnati were kicked off Greyhound for speaking Spanish. Greyhound says otherwise.," 13 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tell.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of tell


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 6

Noun (1)

1974, in the meaning defined above

Noun (2)

1840, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for tell


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

Noun (2)

Arabic tall

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Learn More about tell

Statistics for tell

Last Updated

14 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for tell

The first known use of tell was before the 12th century

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More Definitions for tell



English Language Learners 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


\ˈtel \
told\ ˈtōld \; telling

Kids Definition of tell

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

2 : order entry 1 sense 2 The policeman told us to wait.

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

4 : say entry 1 sense 1 Don't tell a lie.

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

6 : to make known tell a secret

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

8 : count entry 1 sense 1 All told there were 27 of us.

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

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

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

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

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Comments on tell

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


to clear from alleged fault or guilt

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