Foretell is a transitive verb, so it needs an object.

I believe it should be "foretell smth for someone," like "He can foretell my future for me." Or does it work like to tell, meaning, no preposition is needed?

  • Garcia Marquez: Chronicle of a Death Foretold. The death was foretold. The writer foretold the death of Santiago Nasar.
    – Lambie
    Nov 7, 2021 at 14:10
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    Note that foretell is usually monotransitive, unlike plain tell, which is ditransitive. So you probably would include the preposition (to or for, for example). But having said that, it's easy to find plenty of ditransitive usages in Google Books by searching for the sequence [Someone] foretold him his [destiny, future,...]. Generally, though, I'd avoid using to foretell in the first place - it's very much a declining usage, that can often sound at least "dated" today. Nov 7, 2021 at 14:24
  • @FumbleFingers Thank you! I've been discussing this verb with a teacher, and he insists on "to," but the general rule says to use "for" for nouns but "to" for verbs. That's why I'm in doubts.
    – Diane Mik
    Nov 7, 2021 at 15:00
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    If you are going to start using "foretell", I think it sounds best with only one object - i.e. the thing foretold. Somehow it loses some power if you say "I foretold the end of the world... uh, to some people."
    – cruthers
    Nov 7, 2021 at 15:13
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    You're not alone in having doubts. Obviously to foretell is trivially derived from to tell in the first place, so logically, both versions of "the same" verb should have the same "valency" ("transitiveness", mono, single, or double). But to foretell has declined so much over the centuries that people can't easily conflate it with to tell any more. And "ditransitive" verbs are rare, so that aspect easily gets "lost". Nov 7, 2021 at 15:19

1 Answer 1


It can be used either way.

"Three mages foretold the fate of the newborn prince for the king."

The mages acted at the behest of the king. There is no necessity that they did so in the king's presence.

"Three mages foretold the fate of the newborn prince to the king."

The mages spoke directly to the king in delivering their prophesy. They might have done so because they thought the king needed to know, but were not asked to do so by the king.

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