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Lesson 6.2

Say vs. Tell

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The verbs “say” and “tell” are frequently confused in English. There are several rules indicating the use of one over the other. Below is an explanation of these rules.


“Say” is used in both direct and indirect or reported speech. If we want to use say with a object, we must use the preposition “to”.


Direct Speech:

 “I’m hungry”, he said.
 “I need your help,” Glen said to Mike.

Indirect Speech:

 He said he was hungry.
 Glen said to Mike that he needed his help.


We may also use “tell” in both direct and indirect or reported speech, although it is not so common. When we use “tell” we must use a indirect object immediately after the verb. We do not use the preposition “to”, as with “say”.


Direct Speech:

 He told me, “I’m hungry”.
 Glen told Mike, “I need your help”.

Indirect Speech

 He told me that he was hungry.
 Glen told Mike that he needed his help.

Other uses of “tell”:

1. “Tell” is used for orders or instructions.


 I told him, “Stop complaining.”
 She told us to hurry.

2. We use “tell” when giving or asking for information.


 “Can you tell me your name please?”
 You told him the address of the office?

3. We “tell” jokes and stories.


 He told us a great story.
 Tell me a joke,” she said.

4. With truth and lies, we use “tell.”


 Tell me the truth”, she demanded.
 Keith never tells lies.

5. We use “tell” with the time and the date.


 “Could you tell me the time, please?” she asked.
 Bob told me the date.
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