What is the difference between say and tell?

Here are my shortest notes explaining the difference between ‘say’ and ‘tell and how you can improve your English for free.  If you have any other questions, contact me by commenting or at ronan_mcdermott@hotmail.

Say and tell are the two verbs most commonly used to report things in English

The main difference:

  • Told.  When we use told, we normally say who is spoken to, so we have to use it with a direct personal object.
    • Eg.  He told me ….

Told  +  personal object 

  • Say.  When we use say, we don’t usually say who is spoken to,
    • Eg.  He said that ….

OR, if we indicate who is spoken to, we must put to before the object.

  • Eg.  He said to me that ….

Said + that  OR Said + person object + that

Compare the following:

He told me (that) he was going into hospital for a major operation.
He said (that) he expected to be kept in hospital for six weeks.

Did you say anything to her?
I told her nothing about it!

Note that when we are quoting (citando) direct speech, ‘tell’ is used only with the meaning of instruct or inform.  Compare the following:“Eat properly and exercise regularly”, I said.
“Eat properly and exercise regularly”, I told her.
We use ‘tell’ for commands and orders, not ‘say’.Told + object + infinitive = imperativeI told her to get a taxi from the station and not to walk.
If we are reporting a topic(tema) and not what was said, we use ‘tell’ and not ‘said’.Told + object + aboutThey told me all about their holiday in Greece.
I told them about how I got sunburnt in Portugal.

 Basically, don’t ever say “he said me…”

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About No More Spanglish

I have been an English teacher for over eight years in Madrid. Most of that time has been spent teaching, correcting and translating in the Media sector. My mission, and that of this blog, is to improve your level of English by eliminating one common/repeated error at a time. For further details - check me out on LinkedIn or email me directly at nomorespanglish@hotmail.com

Posted on 25/04/2012, in Confusing Words and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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