Ask vs. Tell: What's the Difference?
"Ask" means to request information or action, while "Tell" means to give information or instructions.
"Ask" typically implies a sense of inquiry or request. It’s utilized when one seeks information, permission, or assistance. On the other hand, "Tell" generally involves providing information, often in a straightforward or directive manner. Both words are pivotal in communication, facilitating a flow of information between individuals, yet they function distinctly.
In utilizing "Ask," one may be soliciting knowledge or understanding, often exposing a gap in their own awareness or capability. Contrarily, "Tell" presumes an authority or possession of knowledge which is being conveyed to another. The dynamics of interaction hence are subtly altered based on which verb is employed.
Examples of "Ask" in communication might involve queries or pleas, exemplifying a degree of humility or curiosity. "Tell" might embody imparting wisdom, sharing narratives, or providing directives. The former implies a kind of vulnerability, while the latter exudes confidence or command.
"Ask" often suggests a politeness or deference, particularly in scenarios of requesting assistance or permission. "Tell" can, at times, appear imperious as it typically does not involve seeking the recipient’s agreement or feedback. The nature of the communication can be gentler or more authoritarian depending on the choice between "ask" and "tell."
In cultural and contextual adjustments, "Ask" and "Tell" might also carry various implications or etiquettes. For instance, in some contexts, it's preferred to 'ask’ delicately rather than ‘tell’ commandingly. Understanding the nuanced use of each allows for more effective and empathetic communication in various scenarios.
Seeking information or permission
Providing information or directives
Curiosity or deference
Authority or assurance
Inquisitive or submissive
Informative or commanding
Relies on the respondent's information
Independent of recipient's knowledge
Questions or requests
Statements or orders
Ask and Tell Definitions
To request an action or assistance.
Could you ask him to call me?
To discern or recognize.
You can tell she is upset.
To put a question to
When we realized that we didn't know the answer, we asked the teacher.
To predict or foretell.
The signs tell of upcoming danger.
To seek an answer to
Ask a question.
To communicate by speech or writing; express with words
She told him that the store was closed. Tell me the truth.
To seek information about
To give a detailed account of; narrate
Told what happened.
Told us a story.
To make a request of
Asked me for a loan.
To notify (someone) of something; inform
He told us of his dream to sail around the world.
To make a request for. Often used with an infinitive or clause
Ask a favor of a friend.
Asked to go along on the trip.
Asked that he be allowed to stay out late.
To make known; disclose or reveal
Tell a secret.
To require or call for as a price or condition
Asked ten dollars for the book.
To inform (someone) positively; assure
I tell you, the plan will work.
To expect or demand
Ask too much of a child.
To give instructions to; direct
Told the customers to wait in line.
Asked them to dinner.
To discover by observation; discern
We could tell that he was upset.
(Archaic)To publish, as marriage banns.
To name or number one by one; count
Telling one's blessings.
16 windows, all told.
To make inquiry; seek information.
To relate a story or give an account of an event
The sailor told of having been adrift for days.
To make a request
Asked for help.
To reveal something that is not supposed to be revealed, especially something that someone has done wrong
She promised not to tell on her friend.
The act of making a request
“He was contacted by the mayor's fund-raiser ... a day after the mayor made the ask” (Jennifer Fermino).
To have an effect or impact
In this game every move tells.
Something that is requested
“Being funny on demand is a big ask” (Anne Curzan).
An unintentional or unconsciously exhibited behavior that reveals or betrays one's state of mind, as when playing poker.
To request (information, or an answer to a question).
I asked her age.
I asked her (for) her age.
A mound, especially in the Middle East, made up of the remains of a succession of previous settlements.
To put forward (a question) to be answered.
To ask a question
To count, reckon, or enumerate.
All told, there were over a dozen.
Can you tell time on a clock?
He had untold wealth.
To interrogate or enquire of (a person).
I'm going to ask this lady for directions.
I want to tell a story;
I want to tell you a story.
To request or petition; usually with for.
To ask for a second helping at dinner
To ask for help with homework
Emma asked Jim to close his eyes.
To convey by speech; to say.
Finally, someone told him the truth.
He seems to like to tell lies.
To request permission to do something.
She asked to see the doctor.
Did you ask to use the car?
(transitive) To instruct or inform.
Please tell me how to do it.
To require, demand, claim, or expect, whether by way of remuneration or return, or as a matter of necessity.
What price are you asking for the house?
(transitive) To order; to direct, to say to someone.
Tell him to go away.
Don't ask them to the wedding.
To discern, notice, identify or distinguish.
Can you tell whether those flowers are real or silk, from this distance?
No, there's no way to tell.
I can tell you're upset.
An expert can tell an original from a forgery.
To publish in church for marriage; said of both the banns and the persons.
(transitive) To reveal.
Time will tell what became of him.
(figuratively) To take (a person's situation) as an example.
(intransitive) To be revealed.
An act or instance of asking.
(intransitive) To have an effect, especially a noticeable one; to be apparent, to be demonstrated.
Sir Gerald was moving slower; his wounds were beginning to tell.
Something asked or asked for.
I know this is a big ask, but …
To use (beads or similar objects) as an aid to prayer.
An asking price.
To inform someone in authority about a wrongdoing.
I saw you steal those sweets! I'm telling!
(Internet) A message sent to a blog on social networking platform Tumblr, which can be publicly posted and replied to by the recipient.
To reveal information in prose through outright expository statement -- contrasted with show
Maria rewrote the section of her novel that talked about Meg and Sage's friendship to have less telling and more showing.
An eft; newt.
A reflexive, often habitual behavior, especially one occurring in a context that often features attempts at deception by persons under psychological stress (such as a poker game or police interrogation), that reveals information that the person exhibiting the behavior is attempting to withhold.
(archaic) That which is told; a tale or account.
To request; to seek to obtain by words; to petition; to solicit; - often with of, in the sense of from, before the person addressed.
Ask counsel, we pray thee, of God.
If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
(internet) A private message to an individual in a chat room; a whisper.
To require, demand, claim, or expect, whether by way of remuneration or return, or as a matter of necessity; as, what price do you ask?
Ask me never so much dowry.
To whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.
An exigence of state asks a much longer time to conduct a design to maturity.
(archaeology) A hill or mound, originally and especially in the Middle East, over or consisting of the ruins of ancient settlements.
To interrogate or inquire of or concerning; to put a question to or about; to question.
He is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself.
He asked the way to Chester.
To mention one by one, or piece by piece; to recount; to enumerate; to reckon; to number; to count; as, to tell money.
He telleth the number of the stars.
Tell the joints of the body.
To invite; as, to ask one to an entertainment.
To utter or recite in detail; to give an account of; to narrate.
Of which I shall tell all the array.
And not a man appears to tell their fate.
To publish in church for marriage; - said of both the banns and the persons.
To make known; to publish; to disclose; to divulge.
Why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife?
To request or petition; - usually followed by for; as, to ask for bread.
Ask, and it shall be given you.
To give instruction to; to make report to; to acquaint; to teach; to inform.
A secret pilgrimage,That you to-day promised to tell me of?
To make inquiry, or seek by request; - sometimes followed by after.
Wherefore . . . dost ask after my name?
To order; to request; to command.
He told her not to be frightened.
A water newt.
To discern so as to report; to ascertain by observing; to find out; to discover; as, I can not tell where one color ends and the other begins.
I asked about their special today
He had to ask directions several times
To make account of; to regard; to reckon; to value; to estimate.
I ne told no dainity of her love.
Make a request or demand for something to somebody;
She asked him for a loan
To give an account; to make report.
That I may publish with the voice of thankgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works.
Direct or put; seek an answer to;
Ask a question
To take effect; to produce a marked effect; as, every shot tells; every expression tells.
Lest they should tell on us, saying, So did David.
Consider obligatory; request and expect;
We require our secretary to be on time
Aren't we asking too much of these children?
I expect my students to arrive in time for their lessons
That which is told; tale; account.
I am at the end of my tell.
Require or ask for as a price or condition;
He is asking $200 for the table
The kidnapers are asking a million dollars in return for the release of their hostage
A hill or mound.
Address a question to and expect an answer from;
Ask your teacher about trigonometry
The children asked me about their dead grandmother
A Swiss patriot who lived in the early 14th century and who was renowned for his skill as an archer; according to legend an Austrian governor compelled him to shoot an apple from his son's head with his crossbow (which he did successfully without mishap)
Require as useful, just, or proper;
It takes nerve to do what she did
Success usually requires hard work
This job asks a lot of patience and skill
This position demands a lot of personal sacrifice
This dinner calls for a spectacular dessert
This intervention does not postulates a patient's consent
Express in words;
He said that he wanted to marry her
Tell me what is bothering you
State your opinion
State your name
To request an answer or information.
Can I ask you a question?
Let something be known;
Tell them that you will be late
To invite or request the presence of.
I will ask her to the party.
Narrate or give a detailed account of;
Tell what happened
The father told a story to his child
To seek permission.
May I ask to leave early today?
Give instructions to or direct somebody to do something with authority;
I said to him to go home
She ordered him to do the shopping
The mother told the child to get dressed
To require something.
This task asks for patience.
Discern or comprehend;
He could tell that she was unhappy
Inform positively and with certainty and confidence;
I tell you that man is a crook!
He was telling on all his former colleague
Mark as different;
We distinguish several kinds of maple
To give information.
Please tell me your name.
To order or instruct.
Tell him to stop.
To narrate a story.
Can you tell us a bedtime story?
What's a common phrasal verb with "ask"?
"Ask for" – to request something, e.g., "He asked for some water."
How do you form the past tense of "ask"?
"Asked" – "She asked him a question."
Can "ask" be used as a noun?
Yes, e.g., "If you have an ask, please let me know."
Is "ask" always about questions?
Not always. It can be about seeking permission, e.g., "Can I ask to leave early?"
Is "ask" a transitive or intransitive verb?
It can be both, but it's often transitive, e.g., "She asked a question."
What is the basic meaning of "ask"?
"Ask" means to request information or to make an inquiry.
What's the noun form related to "ask"?
"Question" or "inquiry."
What's the basic definition of "tell"?
"Tell" means to communicate information or facts.
Is "tell" transitive or intransitive?
It's primarily transitive, e.g., "He told a story."
Can "ask" be used in passive voice?
Yes, e.g., "She was asked about her opinion."
How is "ask" pronounced?
It's pronounced as /ɑ:sk/ (American: /æsk/).
Can "ask" be formal?
Yes, depending on context. For instance, "I'd like to ask for your assistance."
Can "tell" indicate a sign of something?
Yes, e.g., "The dark clouds tell of an approaching storm."
What's the difference between "tell" and "inform"?
Both convey information, but "inform" is more formal and is often about specific or official details.
How is "tell" pronounced?
It's pronounced as /tɛl/.
Can "tell" be used in idioms?
Yes, e.g., "tell it like it is" or "you can't tell a book by its cover."
How is the past tense of "tell" formed?
"Told" – "She told me the news."
Is "tell" the same as "say"?
Not exactly. "Tell" usually requires a direct object (whom you're telling), while "say" focuses on the words spoken.
Can you provide a common phrasal verb with "tell"?
"Tell apart" – to distinguish between, e.g., "I can't tell them apart."
What's a noun form related to "tell"?
"Tale" or "story."
Written bySawaira Riaz
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Edited bySumera Saeed
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