Tell Apart

Meaning of Idiom

Tell (someone, something) Apart: to be able to distinguish one thing or person from another; to see the difference between two things or two people. 1Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth M. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. Ware: Wordsworth, 1995.,2Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.

Usage

Tell apart is usually used with can or cannot as in “I can easily tell the twins apart, but I’ve known them all my life.”

Examples Of Use

“I can’t tell most of these new cars apart.”

“The Wilson twins were so identical that Lisa was allowed to wear a hat in class so the teacher could tell her apart from Laura.”

Origin

Used since the first half of the 1900’s 3Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

Tell in this idiom is used in the sense of to determine, discern, identify, understand, etc.

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Sources   [ + ]

1. Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth M. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. Ware: Wordsworth, 1995.
2. Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.
3. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.