# Thread: " . . . tell you what . . ."?

1. ## " . . . tell you what . . ."?

Dear Teacher,
I watched TV and noticed that people are using ". . . tell you what . . ." very often during conversations. Is "tell you what" a kind of time fillers (like "well", "you know", "I see", etc.), or does it have any meaning at all?
Anne

2. ## Re: " . . . tell you what . . ."?

Hello Anne

"Tell you what" usually precedes a suggestion or new idea, e.g.

"What shall we do tomorrow? I don't have any money."
"No, nor do I. Tell you what, why don't we go swimming? That doesn't cost anything."

Here, "tell you what" is the equivalent of the "lightbulb" emoticon.

All the best,

MrP

3. ## Re: " . . . tell you what . . ."?

Dear MrPedantic,

Thank you very much for your quick reply.Your explantion is clear, and it fits the context very well, semantically. Still, would you kindly explain a bit further how this expression ("Tell you what") is structurally linked to the other parts of the sentence you provided. In other words, what is the syntactic function of "Tell you what" in the sentence "Tell you what, why don't we go swimming?"

With best regards,

Anne

4. ## Re: " . . . tell you what . . ."?

Hello Anne

It is a little mysterious.

I would take "tell you" as an ellipsis for "I tell you" or "I'll tell you" or even "let me tell you".

For "what", I can think of two possible explanations:

A) 1st explanation

The suggestion itself is the referent of "what".

Thus you could paraphrase:

"Tell you what, we'll go swimming!"

as

"I'll tell you something: and that something is, we'll go swimming."

B) 2nd explanation

"What" is an ellipsis for "what we'll do", "what I'll do", "what we could do", etc.

Thus you could paraphrase:

"Tell you what, we'll go swimming!"

as

"I'll tell you what we'll do: we'll go swimming."

_______

I lean towards the second explanation. But maybe another member will have a third and better explanation!

All the best,

MrP

5. ## Re: " . . . tell you what . . ."?

Originally Posted by MrPedantic
Hello Anne

It is a little mysterious.

I would take "tell you" as an ellipsis for "I tell you" or "I'll tell you" or even "let me tell you".

For "what", I can think of two possible explanations:

A) 1st explanation

The suggestion itself is the referent of "what".

Thus you could paraphrase:

"Tell you what, we'll go swimming!"

as

"I'll tell you something: and that something is, we'll go swimming."

B) 2nd explanation

"What" is an ellipsis for "what we'll do", "what I'll do", "what we could do", etc.

Thus you could paraphrase:

"Tell you what, we'll go swimming!"

as

"I'll tell you what we'll do: we'll go swimming."

_______

I lean towards the second explanation. But maybe another member will have a third and better explanation!

All the best,

MrP
I agree, particularly with your second explanation.

6. ## Re: " . . . tell you what . . ."?

Dear MrPedantic & MikeNewYork;

Thanks so much for taking your time to read and answer my questions. I got your points and now would like to suggest another possible explanation, which suddenly came up to me after I read MrPedantic's explanations:

"Tell you what" is an ellipsis for "To tell you what I'm thinking of'' or "To tell you what I think we can do".

In my opinion, we could paraphrase:

"Tell you what, we'll go swimming!" (1)

as:

"To tell you what I think we can do: we'll go swimming." (2)

in exactly the same way we would say:

"To tell the truth, I don't have any money." (3)

Thus, syntactically "tell you what" in (1) and "to tell the truth" in (3) have exactly the same function, i.e., to modify the whole sentence, although they're different in form.

I'd appreciate any of your comments on my 'proposed solution' ( ) and welcome any further explanations to this 'mysterious' grammar point!

Anne

7. ## Re: " . . . tell you what . . ."?

Originally Posted by AnneTrinh
Dear MrPedantic & MikeNewYork;

Thanks so much for taking your time to read and answer my questions. I got your points and now would like to suggest another possible explanation, which suddenly came up to me after I read MrPedantic's explanations:

"Tell you what" is an ellipsis for "To tell you what I'm thinking of'' or "To tell you what I think we can do".

In my opinion, we could paraphrase:

"Tell you what, we'll go swimming!" (1)

as:

"To tell you what I think we can do: we'll go swimming." (2)

in exactly the same way we would say:

"To tell the truth, I don't have any money." (3)

Thus, syntactically "tell you what" in (1) and "to tell the truth" in (3) have exactly the same function, i.e., to modify the whole sentence, although they're different in form.

I'd appreciate any of your comments on my 'proposed solution' ( ) and welcome any further explanations to this 'mysterious' grammar point!

Anne
Your analysis is great, but it isn't different from Mr. P's second explanation.

Tell you what I think we could do = Tell you what we could do.

I agree that these expressions "modify" or are preparatory for the entire sentence.

8. ## Re: " . . . tell you what . . ."?

Dear MrPedantic & MikeNewYork,

Despite my efforts and your kind guidance I'm still at a loss when trying to classify "tell you what" into a certain syntactic structure or a grammatical category. We can call "to tell the truth" an infinitive phase, and "in my opinion" a prepositional phrase. Both of them perform the same grammatical function (i.e., to modify the whole sentence) in (1) and (2).

- To tell the truth, I don't have any money. (1)
- In my opinion, it's a very sound investment. (2)
- Tell you what, we'll go swimming. (3)

Would any of you suggest a way to classify "tell you what" in sentence (3) above, syntactically?

Regards,
Anne

9. ## Re: " . . . tell you what . . ."?

Originally Posted by AnneTrinh
Dear MrPedantic & MikeNewYork,

Despite my efforts and your kind guidance I'm still at a loss when trying to classify "tell you what" into a certain syntactic structure or a grammatical category. We can call "to tell the truth" an infinitive phase, and "in my opinion" a prepositional phrase. Both of them perform the same grammatical function (i.e., to modify the whole sentence) in (1) and (2).

- To tell the truth, I don't have any money. (1)
- In my opinion, it's a very sound investment. (2)
- Tell you what, we'll go swimming. (3)

Would any of you suggest a way to classify "tell you what" in sentence (3) above, syntactically?

Regards,
Anne
It is most similar to 1. You can say that the "to" has been elided in that expression. You could also say that it is an idiom: a construction that doesn't necessarily comport to the rules of grammar.

10. ## Re: " . . . tell you what . . ."?

Yes; sometimes the only way to parse an idiomatic phrase is to trace it back through its recorded occurrences, until you find the fuller version. (Unfortunately I have no idea when it first appeared!)

My dictionary doesn't give "Tell you what", but it does give "I'll tell you what", which it paraphrases as "I'll tell you something" or "I'll tell you what it is".

I don't find those two paraphrases exhaustive, though; "(I'll) tell you what (we'll do)" and "(I'll) tell you what (I have in mind)" convey other meanings of the phrase.

It might be easier to think of the phrase in terms of its function: which (like "Listen!") is to warn the addressee that something noteworthy is to follow.

MrP

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