Say/Tell

Introduction

Say and tell are both connected with speaking, but they are used differently. Choosing the right one doesn’t have to be tricky. We’ve summaraized the differences below.

“I haven’t told Mabel about the cat yet.” said Anna.

“Haven’t you? What are you going to say?” asked Jane.

“I don’t know. I’ll say something.” replied Anna.

“Why don’t you just tell the truth?” asked Jane.

“That the cat ran away? No way! He’s back now – maybe I shouldn’t say anything. ” said Jane.

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Tell

  • tell = say something to somebody
Example:
I haven’t told Mabel about the cat yet.
I’ll tell her the truth.
  • use tell with an indirect object (often an object pronoun: me, you, him etc. But also a name or person: Mabel), the indirect object goes directly after tell
Example:
What did she tell you? (not: What did she tell?)
She told me that the cat had run away.
  • use tell without an indirect object in the following fixed expressions:
tell +
a lie → Children shouldn’t tell lies.
the truth → I'm going to tell the truth.
a joke → Max is great at telling jokes.
a story → The children stayed up late telling ghost stories.

Say

  • say = use words, speak
Example:
“I haven’t told Mabel about the cat yet.” Said Anna.
What are you going to say?
  • don’t use object pronouns directly after say
Example:
What did she say? (not: What did she say you?)
She said that the cat had run away.
  • use the contruction say + to + indirect object, to include an indirect object
Example:
What did she say to you?
  • use say with something and anything
Example:
Did you say something?
No I didn’t say anything.