20 Ways to Use the Verb TELL

Hi dear English learners! Some people think that learning expressions such as collocations, phrasal verbs and idioms is not as important as learning grammar and vocabulary. They try to adopt new words and phrases from books, movies, series and videos on YouTube. It is not a bad idea, to be honest, but let me tell you that you have to know much more than that to avoid awkward situations in which you don’t understand native speakers because they use collocations, idioms and phrasal verbs in their speech. So, when you learn a language you definitely need to dive deeper into the meanings of words and phrases and learn which words they collocate with, the idioms and phrasal verbs they form. It is very important. In that regard, we are going to look at 20 ways to use the verb tell.

20 ways to use the verb tell

Meanings of the verb TELL

Let’s look at the different meanings of the verb tell

1. to give information.

  • When we met yesterday, Mary told me all about her holiday.
  • Even though it wasn’t easy, the witness tried to tell every detail of the crime.

2. to give an order or strong advice.

  • Haven’t I told you to do your homework?
  • I am telling you, that job is not for you.

3. to differentiate

  • I find it so difficult to tell the difference between Amanda and her twin sister sometimes
  • The problem is that he can’t tell right from wrong.

4. to fail to keep a secret.

  • Will you promise not to tell anyone?
  • I can’t believe that Mark told everyone what was supposed to be a secret.

5. to narrate.

  • The children listened attentively when grandpa told them the story.
  • When Daen told us a joke we all fell about laughing.

20 ways to use the verb tell

Collocations with TELL

I can tell you

Use the collocation to emphasise that what you’re saying is the truth.

  • I can tell you that being married to a rock star is not so easy as it seems.
  • Scotland may be a cold country in the wintertime, but I can tell you there is no better place in the world during the summer months.

To tell the truth

Use it to say how you really feel about something.

  • To tell you the truth, I haven’t expected such a welcoming gesture.
  • I’m not very fond of watching TV, to tell the truth.

Tell the time

If you tell the time, you say what time it is.

  • Can you believe that our four-year-old can tell the time already?
  • I’m sure that this clock tells the time accurately.

I told you so

Use it to say that what you had said or predicted was proved to be right.

  • If I tell my mum that I lost money on that app, I know she’ll say – I told you so!
  • They took that corrupted politician to court. I told you so!

20 ways to use the verb tell

You can never tell

 Use it to say that it is hardly possible to be sure about something.

  • You can never tell how the customers will react to the new product.
  • The rain doesn’t seem to stop soon. You can never tell, though. We might still go on that picnic tomorrow.

Something tells me

Use it to say that you have a feeling about something.

  • I could give it a try because something tells me I won’t regret it.
  • You know, something tells me that  Rob is not telling us the truth.

Tell yourself

Use it to make yourself think about something in order to persuade yourself that it is true.

  • Whenever I feel nervous about an exam, I tell myself that I’ll pass it.
  • When you start thinking about food late at night, just tell yourself to stop.
20 ways to use the verb tell
20 ways to use the verb tell

Phrasal verbs with TELL

Tell against

If something tells against you, then it is your disadvantage

  • Her broken English told against her at the job interview.
  • All the evidence told against the robbers.

Tell apart

To tell apart means to be able to differentiate between two similar things or people.

  • If your brother wasn’t taller than you, I couldn’t tell you apart.
  • Some of their paintings are so similar that it’s very difficult to tell them apart.

Tell of

To tell of means to talk about something.

  • The old man lived long enough to tell of the horrors of war.
  • When he visited us last weekend, Michael told us of his journey to China.

Also: to indicate.

  • Although she wasn’t very old, her wrinkled face told of her hard life. 
  • The old castle told of the history of the town.

20 ways to use the verb tell

Tell off

To tell off means to criticise or reprimand someone.

  • Mr Brown told Fiona off for being late again.
  • The soldier was told off because he was improperly dressed.

Tell on

If something tells on someone or something, then it has a bad influence on them/it.

  • Poor diet began to tell on her health.
  • Insomnia started to tell on him so his private life was suffering.

Also: to tell a person in authority about someone’s bad behaviour.

  • Please, promise not to tell on me about the broken window.
  • If you tell on me I’ll find ways to make your life miserable.

20 ways to use the verb tell

20 ways to use the verb tell
20 ways to use the verb tell

Idioms with TELL

(Only) time will tell

The idiom is used to say that only later in the future we will know the truth about something.

  • Only time will tell whether it was the right thing to do.
  • No one can predict how the product will cope with the market. Only time will tell, so be patient.

Tell its own tale/story

If something tells its own tale or story, then it clearly shows the truth about something.

  • Sara said that she wouldn’t mind sleeping on the sofa, but her face told its own story.
  • Although the police said there was no evidence of burglary,  broken glass in front of the jewellery store told its own story.


This expression refers to a person who publicly reveals details about an affair they had with someone.

  • Lorna did a kiss-and-tell interview for a music magazine about her relationship with the drummer of a famous band.
  • She regretted seeing him because he was a kiss-and-tell kind of person.

20 ways to use the verb tell

Live to tell the tale

When someone survives something difficult or dangerous we can say that they live to tell the tale, which means that they can talk about their experience to others.

  • Simona survived a horrible traffic accident and lived to tell the tale.
  •  Unfortunately, the victims of an air crash didn’t live to tell the tale.

Tell someone where to get off

Use this expression to tell someone that you won’t tolerate their bad behaviour anymore.

  • If my boyfriend ever told me that, I would tell him where to get off.
  • I’ll tell you where to get off if you ever call me again!

20 ways to use the verb tell

A little bird told me

Use the expression to say that you have your source of information but you don’t want to reveal it.

  • “How do you know that Tom and Tara have broken up?” “A little bird told me.
  • A little bird told me that you’ve got a new boyfriend. 

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