grammatical word: tell


Previously I wrote that certain verbs have surprising second meanings. The verb “tell” is another example of this. The main meaning of “tell” is to say something to another person. However, there is a second meaning which is to be able to notice something about someone or something based on your observation of that person or thing. For example:

What’s wrong with Nathan? I can tell that something is bothering him.

I’ve only seen the new video game for about a minute, but I can already tell it’s going to be really fun.

Is Paula telling the truth? I can never tell if she’s lying or not.

My wife can always tell if I’ve been drinking, and she doesn’t like it. I’d better not have a drink.

Most of the time, this meaning of “tell” is used to talk about other people. In these cases, the person observes the other person and realizes the truth about them.

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