“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?
Want Video and Sound? Follow us on YouTube
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.
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?