Say vs Tell

Say and tell have similar meanings. They both mean to communicate verbally with someone. However, actually we use them differently.

The simple way to think of say and tell is:

  • You say SOMETHING (to someone)
  • You tell SOMEONE (something)

Say

  1. Dina said, “I love you” to her dad.
  2. Andi says he has a new job.
  3. I said that I was worry.

Tell

  1. Dina told her dad that she loved him.
  2. Andi told me that he has a new job.
  3. I told Amri that I was worry.

Direct speech

We can use say with direct speech and we use tell only with direct speech that is an instruction or information:

  1. Amanda said, “Hello John. How are you?”
  2. “That’s great”, she said.
  3. He told her, “Open the door quietly.”
  4. She told me, “I have never been to England.”

We can use say with direct questions, but we cannot use tell:

  1. She said, “Do you love me?”
  2. The policeman said to the prisoner, “Where were you at 8pm?”

Reported speech

We can use say and tell to talk about reported information:

  1. She said that it was raining.
  2. She told me that she would call at 2pm.

We cannot use say or tell to talk about reported questions. We must use ask (or a similar verb):

  1. She asked if I had ever been there.
  2. They asked what I wanted to eat.
  3. She asked where he lived.
  4. He asked if she wanted to go home.

Orders, advice

We use tell + object + infinitive for orders or advice:

  1. She told him to sit down.
  2. They told me not to wait.
  3. Tell Neil to have a holiday and forget her.

Exception: tell+(joke/story/lie/truth)

  1. He told a joke.
  2. She tells good stories.
  3. They told a lie.
  4. I always tell the truth.

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