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When I look up verbs in the dictionary, I sometimes see them marked as "disapproving".

My question is that:

Do we say "I" or "We" with disapproving verbs?

For example, in the dictionary

tattle verb [intransitive] (informal, disapproving, especially North American English)

​tattle (on somebody) (to somebody): to tell somebody, especially somebody in authority, about something bad that somebody else has done

I think we can say "you/he/she/they tattled on the boy to his teacher"

However, Does it sound ok to say "I/we tattled on the boy to his teacher"? Because "tattle" has a disapproving meaning so "I/we" disapprove myself or ourselves or what?

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    Did you attempt to research what "disapproving" means in those dictionary entries? I'm a native English speaker, yet I can't tell exactly what "disapproving" means in that OLD entry. Aug 31, 2023 at 4:05
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    @MarcInManhattan - Surely it means 'usually used when referring to someone's action with disapproval'? Aug 31, 2023 at 9:16
  • @KateBunting Not necessarily, IMO. If I say, "Alice cheated on the test, so Bob tattled on her to the teacher," then Bob might not have disapproved of what Alice did, while I might disapprove of Bob's tattling. Aug 31, 2023 at 15:29
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    @MarcInManhattan - Precisely. You are the one referring to Bob's action with disapproval - you call it 'tattling' rather than using a neutral term like 'reporting'. Aug 31, 2023 at 16:27
  • @KateBunting Oh, I see what you mean. The other possibility is that "tattling" is the "disapproving" action (i.e., Bob disapproves of what Alice did). That's why it's not entirely clear to me. Aug 31, 2023 at 18:18

2 Answers 2

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It's definitely possible for an individual to disapprove of their own past actions. There's no restriction on using I or we with tattle.

A person can even disapprove of their own present or future actions.
"Even though I shouldn't, I will tattle on her."

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  • Yes, I get a sense of "I expect you'll disapprove" more than "I disapprove of myself"
    – James K
    Aug 31, 2023 at 6:07
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Long story short, to say that someone tattled is not always to speak disapprovingly of them, but it can be.

The verb tattle means to inform someone in authority that an infraction of some kind, usually but not always fairly minor, has been committed by a peer. For example, a child could tell a teacher that Johnny, a classmate, put glue on the seat of someone's chair. The child would be tattling on Johnny.

To call someone a tattler is a form of derision, especially if said directly to their face. You're a stinkin' tattler! But to say that someone tattled could be a neutral statement or a disapproving statement. It would depend on how the person felt about the infraction committed. If they felt the infraction was "really mean-spirited", for example, and that Johnny should not have done it, for that person to say that "Joe tattled on Johnny" would not necessarily be derisive or disapproving of Joe.

And you could say the following sentence neutrally as a matter of fact without any regret or disapproval for your own actions, or you could say it somewhat sheepishly, because upon reflection you regret doing so, for whatever reason--maybe now people are calling you a tattler, or perhaps because the punishment Johnny received was harsher than you expected:

I tattled on Johnny because he broke a window on purpose.

The verb is not used with major acts of wrongdoing. It would be strange to hear an adult say that a person had tattled on a bank robber.

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