I was told by some users @Shoe and @Greybeard that “tell [...] advice” is not a collocation used by native speakers at all, “give advice” is the only expression used.

So I investigated to see whether this was true and I found some results. I googled “tell me some advice” which gave results of about 521,000 with some sources being less legitimate and with some occurrences even occurring in Google books:


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It even appears in the UK “The Times” Newspaper (2006)

To me “to give someone advice” is the most common variant but it sounds phrasally and unidiomatic. However, to be politically correct I think “tell some advice” is more appropriate as personally in my grammar you cannot “give X advice”, you can only give physical objects but you can tell or speak advice/words. This is my reasoning for being able to use “Tell advice”. I don’t however suggest that it’s more popular than “give advice” which is obviously the most used, however I wouldn’t say that native speakers do not talk like this or that it is ungrammatical.

Note it’s not about whether something is grammatically or politically correct, it seems, as long as the phrase’s use is attested for by the community then it can “seem” valid, almost just as grammatical and accepted as their Standard counterpart. This is what is usually seen with phrasal verbs.

Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA):

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People are telling me they can't find the tell + advice collocation on COCA, that's because you do not know how to use it! Follow the above screenshot, then click "0" on the left before clicking search.


Example 1

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Put too much stock in others' opinions, though, and you can feel pulled in all directions. If you lack the confidence or experience to tell good advice from bad, you might lose sight of your own story, cobbling ideas from mismatched bits of cloth. [...]

Example 2

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A young person, bemused among gaudy allurements of life's candy store, knows not how to discriminate, knows not how to tell good advice from bad, nor whom to emulate, nor whom to shun. To survive to maturity, the young hero must learn to evaluate skillfully and choose ethically

Example 3

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Q: Which social issues? # A: Some of the social issues. # . # Q: Choice, the issue of abortions, would that be one of the social issues? # A: That's one. # . # Q: That's a good start. Do you recall any others off the top of your head? # A: There probably are more. (Laughter) # . # Q: If you had to give your own kids one piece of advice, what would it be? # A: One piece of advice I'd tell my kids is stay committed to the important things. And they're not jobs or they're not different positions, but they're the basic elements of living a good life and that is commitment to your faith and your family and to your belief structure

My questions are this:

(1) Do you consider the collocation “tell advice” as not used by native speakers, therefore not “idiomatic”, despite what the Google search results and COCA suggest?

(2) Is “tell advice” ungrammatical in anyway over “give advice”?

People have questioned the validty of "tell advice" from the above sources and so I found several usages of it in the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). Is this evidence more valid to attest the use of "the advice"? If so, can my question now be taken seriously?

Also, I wouldn't consider n-grams a reliable source for 'idiomatic' over corpuses...

Furthermore as stated in the first line of my question, I didn't mention anything about fixed collocations!

  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – aesking
    Feb 15 '20 at 21:02
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    As far as the UK quotation from The Times is concerned, it forms part of a letter written by the former England football team coach, Sven Eriksson, to his successor Steve McClaren. Sven Eriksson is Swedish and though his English would be described as fluent, he is NOT a native speaker and he often makes grammatical errors. And this is a grammatical error.
    – WS2
    Mar 4 '20 at 23:13
  • @WS2 but it has already been discussed it isn’t a grammatical error - what grammatical error does “this” break? To describe something as non-idiomatic isn’t always necessarily the same as ungrammatical.
    – aesking
    Mar 6 '20 at 11:45
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    No native speaker would use the expression “tell advice” outside of some very specific constructs, where the actual meaning is different from the general sense of one person giving information or counsel to another. To give someone a gift has different connotations than tell someone a tale. Mar 10 '20 at 15:57

Phase 1: Close comparison of phrases of the form 'X [to] you some advice'

As a narrow inquiry into the world of verb + pronoun + "some advice," I ran a Google Books search across the period 1800–2006 for the following phrases: "you some advice" (yellow line), give you some advice (blue line), "offer you some advice" (red line), "leave you some advice" (green line), "share with you some advice" (no line because too few matches to track), "lend you some advice" (same), "provide you some advice (same), "send you some advice" (same), "impart to you some advice" (same), and "tell you some advice" (same). Here is the resulting Ngram chart:

Goodle Ngrams show the year-by-year frequency of matches in the Google Books database of published works for each search term submitted.

As you can see, the lines for the generic "you some advice"—which obviously includes instances of any verb (or other word) plus the phrase "[word] you some advice"—is only slightly more frequent year by year than the much more specific phrase "give you some advice"; this result is even more striking when you consider that it doesn't include matches for various other forms of "give": "gave you some advice," "gives you some advice," and "given you some advice," and "giving you some advice."

Once you take "give you some advice" out of the mix, there aren't terribly many instances of "you some advice" left unaccounted for. Of those, "offer you some advice" provides a substantial number and "leave you some advice" a much smaller (but still trackable) number.

Left out of the Ngram because of too few matches are the phrases starting with "provide," "send" "share with," and "tell." And yet each of these phrases does draw some matches in the Google Books database. This is how the frequency of each of the also-ran stacks up" in terms of confirmed nonduplicate matches:

So at least in the case of "tell you some advice," the phrase with "tell" is not only so rare in the Google Books database that it doesn't generate a line graph (unlike four relatively frequent alternatives), but it finishes last in the cohort of six relatively uncommon alternatives, with only two matches.

Phase 2: Close comparison of phrases of the form 'X some advice'

I next took the same verb options as in the previous set of terms but attached each one directly to "some advice." That is, I asked for matches across the period 1800–2006 for the following phrases: "give some advice" (blue line), "offer some advice" (red line), "share some advice" (green line), "provide some advice" (yellow line), "send some advice" (teal line), "impart some advice (purple line), "leave some advice" (no line because too few matches to track), "lend some advice" (same), and "tell some advice" (same). Here is the resulting Ngram chart:

The most striking thing about this chart is rise in frequency of "offer some advice" since about 1970: since the early 1980s it has been more common in Google Books publications than "give some advice." Also noteworthy is the fact that six of the nine phrases I tested were frequent enough to generate line plots on this Ngram chart. Here are the confirmed nonduplicate matches for the three that were not sufficiently frequently used:

In this cohort of nine phrases of the form "[verb] some advice," the phrase "tell some advice" finishes dead last, with just one match.

Phase 3: Close comparison of phrases of the form 'X advice'

Finally I reduced the search terms to verb + "advice," and ran the same set of Google Books searches. This time around, the Ngram came out as follows:

In this case, eight of the nine search terms registered enough matches to enable Ngram to plot individual lines for them—although the frequency of "give advice" was so much greater than the most of the rest that only "offer advice" and "provide advice" rise appreciably above the baseline of the chart. The one phrase that didn't generate enough matches to produce a line plot was "tell advice." Here are the confirmed nonduplicate matches for that phrase:


There are a great many ways to express the idea of conveying advice to a person—and a number of verbs can stand in for "give" or "offer," the two verbs most commonly used to complement the noun "advice." One possibility—at least for some published authors—is "tell [someone] [some] advice." But this is by no means a common choice, and indeed, in the three Google Books searches that I ran for phrases describing the conveyance of advice, "tell" was the least common of the nine verbs I searched for each time.

  • Great work. I’ll also note of the two matches you found for “tell you some advice”, the first is using “tell” in the sense of “relay from one person to another”. As in “let me tell you what Sara said the other day”. Here, we have “I’ll tell you some advice [that someone gave to me previously]”. The other hit uses “tell” in the way I think OP aims for. So in all of the Google Books database from the last 200 years, we have 1 instance of “tell you some advice” used in the way OP inquired into (and that one appears to be from a character intentionally designed to use “mobster language”, I think?)
    – Dan Bron
    Feb 18 '20 at 13:38
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    Adding to that, the one match you found in the second analysis (dates 2019) is clearly from a non-native speaker and the whole page is full of solecisms. I believe it might be Indian English; I do note a higher incidence of the verb “tell” in that dialect (it’s a bit of a shibboleth for it, similar to increased use of the progressive tense).
    – Dan Bron
    Feb 18 '20 at 13:43
  • And finally on the third analysis: the first and last hits are false positives; both are due to the parser’s ignoring punctuation (the first hit incorrectly joins two words across clauses, the second ignores that one word is in an independent parenthetical). The second hit is from a Hindi-English dictionary, compounds the risk arising from its age with another from its authors perhaps being imperfectly familIar with English. The third is explicitly comparing “give advice” with “tell advice”, advocating the former as correct and the latter incorrect as a sort of metaphor for sales practices.
    – Dan Bron
    Feb 18 '20 at 13:50
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    Summing up these comments (sorry they’re so long). We have 3 analyses of 2, 1, and 4 hits respectively, for 7 hits total. This handful is small enough for direct analysis of each specimen. Of the 7, between 1 (the mobster one, more plausible) and 2 (the Hindi dictionary one, less plausible?) survive this direct examination. Assuming the best case, your comprehensive and expert analysis shows 2 legitimate uses of “tell advice” across all the published works Google Books has indexed in the last 200 years. I’d say this validates the advice Shoe and Greybeard gave OP which sparked this question.
    – Dan Bron
    Feb 18 '20 at 13:56
  • @DanBron: For the most part, I agree with your analysis of the individual cases, but in the instance from 1758 ("Physicians can easily tell / Advice to others, when themselves are well"), I think that the comma after "tell" is an instance of the comma plague that afflicted (for example) the framers of the U.S. Constitution; in my view, "tell Advice" in this bit of witty doggerel is meant to be read continuously—but "tell" was chosen not for idiomatic appropriateness but in order to achieve a rhyme with the following "well."
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 18 '20 at 16:58

Google ngrams found zero uses of "tell you some advice" and lots of uses of "give you some advice":

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While I wouldn't normally consider this definitive, in this case I think it can stand.


The OXFORD Collocation Dictionary suggests the following idiomatic usages.


(VERB + ADVICE) give (sb), offer (sb), pass on, provide (sb with) I hope I can pass on some useful advice.

So apparently tell advice, though understandable, is a non-idiomatic construction.

  • sorry I deleted my other comment. Context: I doubt that ‘newer’ collocations will be attested for in that dictionary. [...] I have found it being used in a 2006 UK newspaper The Times, perhaps it’s a British thing - maybe that’s why it sounds strange to your ears?
    – aesking
    Feb 15 '20 at 18:49
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    @aesking That letter in The Times was written by a Swedish national, Sven-Göran Eriksson, who had spent the first 34 years of his life in Sweden. I hardly think he counts as a native English speaker, and newspapers don't edit letters but present them as they were written, warts and all. I know we've already covered this in chat, but the chat isn't visible while reading this answer.
    – CJ Dennis
    Feb 16 '20 at 22:50

According to English Collocations, give advice, offer advice and provide advice are the correct collocations.


From the OP

I googled “tell me some advice” which gave results of about 521,000

One of the problems with Googling English phrases, is the number of results that appear on the first page. In fact, "tell some some advice" does claim there are 531,000 results, which sounds incredibly impressive but the trick is to scroll to the bottom of the page…

content is mentioned above

Note that Google provides only two pages, also note the last result which appears directly above the page views

Jun 13, 2016 - my child is not healthy. his body is week. so tell me some advice to grow him weight. Active Parents : 216. 1 to 3 years. my child is so weak. give ...

Apart from the “tell me some advice”, the other phrase which also tells me the speaker is non-native is “to grow him weight”, it is completely understandable but it is not representative of fluent and natural English.

In the end, the total number of results (according to Google) appears to be as low as 79.

snippet of Google result page. “Page 4 of about 79 results”

  • Hi, thanks for answering! You didn’t answer my questions below and ignored the results from COCA. How does scrolling to the bottom of the reduce the page numbers from more than 2 pages to 2 and the results from 50,000 to 79?
    – aesking
    Feb 17 '20 at 13:28
  • My results show 7 pages and 500,000! How did you get such a narrow result? If people did their own search of “tell me some advice”, it would be the same as mine. You didn’t really explain, how you got such a narrow result.
    – aesking
    Feb 17 '20 at 14:23
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    @aesking I posted a reply because we all have to be careful where Google results are concerned. I took the screenshots just in case anyone queried its validity. Click on the pages on Google, in the screenshot you posted a link above this comment, you were still on page 1, when you reach page 4, you should be unable to go further.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 17 '20 at 17:40
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    @aesking This is a frame challenge answer. It invalidates an important assumption in the question. I got 80 results such as: "I'm a lot like you and I need someone to tell me some advice to how I can get my English better." Obviously from a nonnative speaker. I don't have the time to go through all 80, but it seems likely most are from nonnative speakers. We're still talking about an insignificant number of native speakers using the phrase. I don't think its worth spending any more time on this question.
    – CJ Dennis
    Feb 17 '20 at 20:34

I didn't dig through all of the above examples, but most of them are not using the words in the usual "give advice" context.

For instance,

If you lack the confidence or experience to tell good advice from bad ...

This isn't speaking about "giving" advice to someone else, but rather about distinguishing good advice from bad.

Similarly, in

... knows not how to tell good advice from bad ...

The meaning of "tell" here is "distinguish".

And in

But I could tell you some advice that someone once gave me ...

Here the speaker isn't so much "giving" advice as simply repeating what was given him.

Finally, it needs to be understood that a subtle implication of "give" is that the advice is indeed a gift. If you instead say "Let me tell you some advice ..." the implication is that it's more of an order, especially if the speaker is anyone of authority.

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