my science teacher told time without any clock or watch

Nightowll

Senior Member
Italian
Most dictionaries say tell the time (BE) or tell time (AE) means to be able to know what time it is by looking at a clock or a watch.
On the other hand, there is an online article with a title like this: 4 Ways to Tell Time Without a Clock - wikiHow. In this case, they are using tell time even though they aren't using any clock or watch.

Then, can you use the idiom tell the time/tell time when you can tell what time it is without looking at a clock or watch, as in the sentence below?

On our field trip, my science teacher told time without any clock or watch by seeing the sun or the moon.
 
  • Chez

    Senior Member
    English English
    Yes, absolutely. It just means 'to know what the time is' (by consulting a watch/the moon/the sun/an inner feeling)
     

    Chez

    Senior Member
    English English
    Well sometimes you feel you can.

    e.g. in your regular office day, you go through the usual routines and if nothing unusual happens you can probably 'feel' that it must be about 3 o'clock (or whatever). It doesn't mean you know with pinpoint accuracy, but you have a pretty strong feeling and would be quite surprised if it turned out to be 12 o'clock or 5 o'clock.
     

    Nightowll

    Senior Member
    Italian
    I see. When I was in school, there was someone who would fall asleep in a certain class, but he always woke up several minutes before the end, so perhaps routine is the key!
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    On our field trip, my science teacher told time without any clock or watch by seeing the sun or the moon.

    I would modify your sentence. The past tense sounds odd to me.

    On our field trip, my science teacher could tell the time without any clock or watch by seeing the sun or the moon.
    On our field trip, my science teacher could tell what time it was without any clock or watch by seeing the sun or the moon.

    "Tell" in this context means understand. It doesn't mean say or announce. When you say "told time", to me, it sounds like he was continually announcing the time, instead of understanding what time it was at a certain moment.
     

    Nightowll

    Senior Member
    Italian
    I actually first wrote could tell time, not told time. Then I found that some dictionaries define tell (the) time as to be able to read the time. So I thought, if I said could tell time, it'd be like saying my science teacher could be able to read the time. Maybe my interpretation was wrong.

    On our field trip, my science teacher could tell (the) time without any clock or watch by seeing the sun or the moon.
     

    ain'ttranslationfun?

    Senior Member
    US English
    Not sure about "seeing"; maybe "looking at"? We also say (I think) to tell time by" the sun/moon/stars.

    Addendum: In this context, I'm not sure I wouldn't use "tell the time".
     
    Last edited:

    ain'ttranslationfun?

    Senior Member
    US English
    I actually first wrote could tell time, not told time. Then I found that some dictionaries define tell (the) time as to be able to read the time. So I thought, if I said could tell time, it'd be like saying my science teacher could be able to read the time. Maybe my interpretation was wrong.

    On our field trip, my science teacher could tell (the) time without any clock or watch by seeing the sun or the moon.
    Mightn't this be (mis)interpreted as meaning that he couldn't do so except on the field trip -?
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    I'm not saying "told time" is wrong. It just sounds a bit odd to me in that context. It seems more appropriate with "bigger" things like "The Mayans told time using their celestial calendar" or something like that. But on a camping trip where you want to know if it's time to eat it seems more natural to say, "We could tell it was noon because the sun was directly to the south, so we stopped to eat."
     

    Nightowll

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Not sure about "seeing"; maybe "looking at"? We also say (I think) to tell time by" the sun/moon/stars.

    Addendum: In this context, I'm not sure I wouldn't use "tell the time".
    OK, in that case,

    On our field trip, my science teacher could tell time without any clock or watch by the sun or the moon.

    On our field trip, my science teacher could tell time without any clock or watch by looking at the sun or the moon.

    Mightn't this be (mis)interpreted as meaning that he couldn't do so except on the field trip -?
    Good point! I'm hoping it will not be misinterpreted because I said on our field trip instead of on our field trips ... meaning it happened on this particular trip. But I'm not really sure if it matters whether I say trip or trips.

    Or perhaps,

    On our field trip, my science teacher was able to tell time without any clock or watch by the sun or the moon.

    I'm not saying "told time" is wrong. It just sounds a bit odd to me in that context. It seems more appropriate with "bigger" things like "The Mayans told time using their celestial calendar" or something like that. But on a camping trip where you want to know if it's time to eat it seems more natural to say, "We could tell it was noon because the sun was directly to the south, so we stopped to eat."
    Interesting! We were just a bunch of teachers and schoolkids, not the Mayans, :D so we could've been too specific of people to tell (the) time.
     
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