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1. Of a person, to be able to understand the time of day by looking at an analog clock or watch. Now that many young children carry phones around with them, it's becoming harder and harder to teach them how to tell time.
2. Of a clock or watch, to keep track of the current time of day. My grandfather's old pocket watch doesn't tell time anymore, but I really like the look of having it on me.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
1. Lit. to keep or report the correct time. This clock doesn't tell time very accurately. My watch stopped telling time, so I had to have it repaired.
2. Fig. to be able to read time from a clock or watch. Billy is only four. He can't tell time yet. They are teaching the children to tell time at school.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Keep track of the hours; also, know how to read a clock or watch. For example, This old clock still tells time quite accurately, or He taught his niece to tell time by using a cuckoo clock. This expression uses tell in the sense of "reckon" or "calculate," a usage dating from about a.d. 1000.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
To determine the time of day indicated by the positions of the hands on a clock.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.