Say Vs. Tell

Posted 10:04 by Sailaja Prakash in Labels:

Say and Tell have similar meanings. They both mean to communicate verbally with someone. But we often use them differently.

The simple way to think of say and tell is:

You say something.

You tell someone something.

You Say Something You Tell Someone Something
Ram said that he was tired Ram told Jane that he was tired
Anthony says you have a new job. Anthony tells me you have a new job.
Tara said: "I love you." Tara told John that she loved him.

But, of course, it is not always so easy. Here are a few rules to help you.

Personal Object(the person that we are speaking to):

We usually follow tell with a personal object. We usually use say without a personal object.

She told me that she loved John.

She said that she loved John.

He told everybody that he had to leave.

He said that he had to leave.

Say "to someone":

With say, we sometimes use "to someone":

He said to me that he was tired.

Tara said to Ram that he had done very well.

Anthony said to her, "I hope you can come soon."

"I'd like to sleep," she said to him quietly.

Direct Speech:

We can use say with direct speech. We use tell only with direct speech that is an instruction or information:

Amanda said, "Hello John. How are you?"

"That's great" she said.

He told her: "Open the door quietly."

She told me, "I have never been to England."

We can use say with direct questions, but we cannot use tell:

She said: "Do you love me?"

The policeman said to the prisoner, "Where were you at 8 p.m?"

Reported Speech:

We can use say and tell to talk about reported information:

She said that it was raining.

She told me that she would call at 2 p.m.

We cannot use say or tell about reported questions. We must use ask (or a similar verb):

She asked if I had ever been there.

They asked what I wanted to eat.

She asked where he lived.

He asked if she wanted to go home.

Orders, advice:

We use tell + object + infinitive for orders or advice:

She told him to sit down.

They told me not to wait.

Tell Neil to have a holiday and forget her.


Here are a few fixed phrases with tell. We cannot use say with these phrases:

tell (someone) a story

tell (someone) a lie

tell (someone) the truth

tell the future (= to know what the future will bring)

tell the time (= know how to read a clock)

Right or Wrong:

Read these examples of correct and incorrect usage:

We Cannot These are Not possible These are possible
say someone to do something: Tara said Jo to go away. Tara told Jo to go away.
say someone something: Panita said me that she was hungry. Panita told me that she was hungry.
tell something: He told that he likes coffee. He said that he likes coffee.
tell to someone: He told to me that she was coming. He told to that she was coming.


She said to me that she was coming.
say a lie: Siri always says lies. Siri always tells lies.
tell "somebody direct speech" (except instructions and informations): Ram told Sam: "Let's turn on the T.V." Ram said to Sam: "Let's turn on the T.V."


Ram told Sam, "Turn on the T.V."
say or tell a Reported Question: She said if I wanted to come. She asked if I wanted to come.
He told what I wanted to do. He asked what I wanted to do.

2 comment(s) to... “Say Vs. Tell”


MarĂ­a Florencia said...

very good notes!!! going to use them in my class, its simple its great! for children trying to tell the difference between these two! :D

Unknown said...

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