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.
We usually follow tell with a personal object (the person that we are speaking to). 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 come soon."
- "I'd like to sleep," she said to him quietly.
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 8pm?"
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 2pm.
We cannot use say or tell to talk 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.
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)
|1||Anthony that he was hungry.|
|2||Tara me that you were ill.|
|3||He everybody that he is French.|
|4||He to me that he was angry.|
|5||The doctor her: "Lie on the couch."|
|6||She , "That's a great idea!"|
|7||She : "What's the time?"|
|8||He that it had snowed the week before.|
|9||She me that Bangkok was hot.|
|10||She if I had ever been there.|
|11||James him to shut up.|
|12||They what I felt like.|
|13||him to have a drink and relax.|
|14||He always his daughter a bed-time story.|
|15||Some people just cannot the truth.|
|16||Panita that she was disappointed.|
|17||The teacher : "Have you done your homework?"|
|18||He's 9 years old and still can't the time.|
|19||His father him not to come home late.|
|20||How do I know? I can't the future.|