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ਯੂਨਿਟ 1: English In A Minute
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  1. 1 English In A Minute

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Welcome to English In A Minute. Give us a minute and we'll give you a hot tip about English. Grammar, vocabulary... there's so much to learn! And all taught by your favourite BBC Learning English staff!

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When 'tell' doesn't mean 'tell'

Do you have a minute to spare to learn some English? Dan's here to demonstrate when 'tell' doesn't mean 'tell'! Give us 60 seconds and we'll give you the English!

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Dan
Hi, everyone! Think of tell and you think of speaking, but tell doesn't always mean tell. Let me tell you why… OK that time I meant speaking.

Not only does the verb tell mean 'say something to someone', it also has a meaning similar to 'know', 'recognise', 'understand', or 'perceive'.

We often use it in combination with the verb 'can' to make can tell for the present and 'could tell' for the past.

I can tell he's from France. He has an accent!
Or: We could tell it was going to rain because of the clouds.

We often use it to talk about differences. Then, we might use the negative or the question.
Can you tell the difference between this cup and that cup? I can't tell the difference between this cup and that cup.

We often use can tell with the pronoun 'you' to talk about something that many people should find obvious.
You can tell he's an English teacher – he knows all the answers.

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When 'tell' doesn't mean 'tell'

Tell
Tell 
often means 'say something to someone' but it can also mean 'know', 'recognise', 'understand', or 'perceive'. Combine 'tell with 'can' to make 'can tell' for the present and 'could tell' for the past.

  • I can tell he's from France. He has an accent!
  • We could tell it was going to rain because of the clouds.
  • She can never tell when he's upset.
  • Could you tell that you were going to miss the train?

Differences
We can use 'can tell' to talk about differences. In this case, we more commonly use the negative and question.

  • Can you tell the difference between this cup and that cup?
  • I can't tell the difference between this cup and that cup.
  • I couldn't tell the difference between the twins until they were three years old!
  • So which soup is better? Can you tell the difference?

It's obvious
Use 'can tell' with the pronoun you to talk about something that many people should find obvious.

  • You can tell he's an English teacher - he knows all the answers.
  • You could tell the car was going to break down. It was making some strange noises.

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