How to use SAY and TELL in English | DailyStep English

How to use SAY and TELL in English

 

What is the difference between SAY and TELL in English?

How To Use Say and Tell In  EnglishIn this DailyStep Audio Blog, you will learn how to use SAY and TELL correctly. The difference between SAY and TELL is quite simple really, but  I often hear even advanced speakers often making mistakes when using SAY and TELL. 

First, take this FREE QUIZ :

 

SAY and TELL - what is the difference?
By Jane Lawson at DailyStep.com

SAY and TELL are similar verbs, because in their most common uses, they both mean “to communicate using words or writing”. However, their grammar is different and often confuses English learners.

The easiest way to remember the grammar is this:

You SAY something
Or
You SAY something to someone

and

You TELL someone something

In all these sentences, SOMETHING is the direct object and SOMEONE is the indirect object.

Let’s look at some examples

You SAY something

You TELL someone something

Examples:
1. Sarah said that she was pleased.

2. Bill says you have a new house.

 
3. John said “I am leaving at 3 o’clock.”


1. Sarah told Peter that she was pleased.

2. Bill told me that you have a new house.


3.  John told me that he was leaving at 3 o’clock.

Now let’s look in more detail at these two verbs:


SAY

Form: SAY, SAID, SAID


Meanings:

1. to pronounce sounds or words

2.  to express a thought, opinion, or suggestion

3.  to state an instruction or fact

Grammar: SAY is a transitive verb, so it always takes a direct object. In each example below, the direct object is underlined.

Examples:

1. I gave her a present and she said, “Thank you.” (note: here, the direct object is the actual words that she used.)

 

2. He said something about his job, but I can’t remember what it was. (note: here, the direct object is ‘something about his job’. As in example 1, this object relates to the words that were used.)

 

3. The teacher said that the students should study hard. (note: here, the direct object is a ‘that’ clause, which is a type of noun clause, because it has the same function as a noun. We often omit the word ‘that’ in these clauses, so we can also say “The teacher said the students should study hard.”)

 

4. The teacher didn’t say what we had to do for homework. (note: here, the direct object is a wh- clause. This is a clause beginning with who, what, where, why, which, when, whether or how. A wh-clause is another kind of noun clause, as has the same function as a noun.

A good way to recognise a noun clause is to replace the whole clause with the word “it”, and see if the grammar is still correct. So, in this example, we can correctly say “The teacher didn’t say it”.)

 

5.He said to meet him at the station. (informal English)  (note: here, the direct object is the infinitive form, ‘to meet’.

Another way to write this sentence is “He said to me that I should meet him at the station.” or “He told me to meet him at the station.”)

 


Tell

Form: TELL, TOLD, TOLD


Meaning 1:

to say something to someone, often giving them instructions or information

 

Grammar: This meaning always takes a Personal Object. In each case below, the Personal Object is underlined.

Examples:

1. The teacher told the students to study English every day. (note: here we can also say “The teacher said to the students that they should study English every day.”)

This is Indirect Speech, also called Reported Speech. The teacher’s actual words were “You should study English every day.”

The structure here is tell someone to do something

 

2. He told me about the party, but I couldn’t go. (note: we could also say here, “He said to me that the party was happening, but I couldn’t go.” but we cannot say “He said to me about the party but I could not go.”)

This is also Indirect speech. His actual words were something like “There is a party. Shall we go?”

The structure here is tell someone about something

 

3. He told me that he was planning to resign from his job. (note: we could also say here, “ He said to me that he was planning to resign from his job.”)


This is also Indirect speech. His actual words were “I am planning to resign from my job”)

The structure here is tell someone + noun clause.

Here, the  NOUN CLAUSE  is “that he was planning to resign from his job”

 

4. The teacher didn’t tell us what we had to do for homework. (note: here we can say “The teacher didn’t say what we had to do for homework.”)


The structure here is tell someone + noun clause.

Here, the  NOUN CLAUSE  is “what we had to do for homework”.

 

4. He told the children a story.  (note: here we can say “He told a story to the children.”)
The structure here is tell + noun

Here, the  NOUN here is “a story”. We can also tell a joke, an anecdote, the truth, a lie and other things.

 


Now, let’s look at another common meaning of TELL


Meaning 2:

to know, recognise or be certain

 


Examples: 1. I can tell that you are busy so I will ask you later. (note: we can also say “I can recognise / I can see  that you are busy so I will ask you later”.)

 

2. John: “I’m sure they are brothers.”

   Jane: “How can you tell?”
   John: “Because they look so similar to each other.”

(note: here, “How can you tell?” means “How do you know?”)

3. You can always tell when he is telling a lie because his face goes red.
(note: in this sentence, TELL is used twice with 2 different meanings!)

 

4. It is easy to tell the difference between a lion and a tiger, because a tiger is orange with black stripes, but a lion is mostly a golden brown colour.

(note: we can also say “It is easy to recognise the difference between a lion and a tiger)

 
 
 

So, I hope the grammar of SAY and TELL  is clearer for you now! Next, take the second quiz below to check how well you understand this lesson.

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What is the difference between SAY and TELL in English?