“I can't tell what that word's supposed to be. Any ideas?”
A patient at the doctor's office you work at filled out an information form. His handwriting is messy, and there's a word that you can't read. After trying to figure it out yourself, you turn to a coworker and ask for her help.
I can't tell what that word's supposed to be. Any ideas?
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I can't tell (clause)
In this case, "tell" doesn't mean "say". It means "decide" or "figure out". The phrase "I can't tell ___" is used to talk about something you're not sure about:
I can't tell whether it's finished or not. I can't tell whether she's being shy or just doesn't want to talk to me.
You can use "can't tell" with any question word like "how", "what", "who", and so on:
I couldn't tell what they were saying.
For the life of me, I can not tell how he did it.
what (something) is supposed to (do/be)
One of the ways to use the phrase "supposed to ___" is to talk about what a person intended, or what they were trying to communicate.
For example, if you see a number written down, but it's not clear, you can ask:
Is this supposed to be an 8?
Or if your friend says something that might be critical of you, you can angrily ask:
What's that supposed to mean?
This means something like "Why did you say that?"
This sentence is a shortened version of "Do you have any ideas?" Ask this when you want someone to help you think of something like:
- a solution for a problem
- the answer to a confusing question
- suggestions for fun things to do
Here's an example:
We need to get Trey somethng for his birthday. Any ideas?