"He told me when to leave."

At first sight, I interpreted this sentence as " He told me when I should leave." in case "told" means 'to order."

However, at a second thought, can it be also interpreted as "He told me when he would leave." ? Can "told" have a sense of 'announcing one's thought to others'?

  • Yes, tell can mean inform, but He told me when to leave cannot mean He told me when he intended to leave. The presence of to makes it into a command or instruction. Oct 6, 2022 at 8:43
  • @KateBunting - could be just advice - e.g. he told me when to leave if I wanted to be sure to catch the bus. Oct 6, 2022 at 9:13
  • @MichaelHarvey - So are you saying that the sentence is ambiguous? Oct 6, 2022 at 10:06
  • @KateBunting - I suppose I am. Oct 6, 2022 at 10:16
  • Order: My boss at the bus company told me when to leave (to start my run). Suggestion: my sister told me when to leave for the airport in order to avoid heavy traffic. Oct 6, 2022 at 13:15

1 Answer 1


The structure [ "tell" + someone + "to" + infinitive ] has the function of either giving an order, or giving instructions, but it's always to someone else.

That sentence could include the speaker if they're leaving together, but could never refer to the time the speaker alone is leaving.

To refer only to the speaker, it would have to be something like:

He told me when he has to to leave.

Of course, this is a completely different grammar structure, and not an order or instruction at all, simply [ "tell" + somebody + something].

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