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Apr 2, 2017

When to Use the Verbs "To Say" and "To Tell"


Two very common reporting verbs are “to say” and “to tell.” People often get confused about which one to use. Today I’ll show you how easy it is!

Even though “to say” and “to tell” have a similar meaning, we often use them differently.

THE RULE OF USING "SAY" AND "TELL"

The rule is that you say something whereas you tell someone something.

Examples:
  • to say:  Tammy said he was hungry / Emeka said that he would like to come to the party.
  • to tell:  Tammy told me he was hungry / Kevin told us that he would like to come to the party.

DIFFERENT WAYS YOU CAN USE "TO SAY" AND "TO TELL"

1. Both “to say” and “to tell” may be used in direct and reported speech. 
Examples:
  • Direct speech: I said: “I’m thirsty.” / I told him: “I’m thirsty.”
  • Reported speech: I said (that) I was thirsty / I told him (that) I was thirsty.
Note: “that” is optional in reported speech.

2. We often use “to someone” with “to say”
Example:
  • She said to Paul that she was tired.
  • Alex said to her: “I hope you aren’t angry.”
  • Mary said to him that she was nervous.
3. When we want to give orders or advice we use “to tell”
Examples:
  • He told me it wasn’t worth the money.
  • Mary told me to wait.
  • Tell Susan to take a long holiday this year. She deserves it!
Lastly, check out some set of phrases with “to tell”:
  • to tell the time.
  • to tell (someone) the truth.
  • to tell (someone) a lie.
  • to tell (someone) a story.


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