SAY and TELL are similar – they are used to communicate information. So what’s the difference? The major difference is TELL can include the listener. SAY typically does not include the listener, only what is being said.
(Incorrect) She said me to call her.
(Correct) She told me to call her.
TELL is used with direct object pronouns (me, you, it, her, him, us, them) or other nouns (the children, my dad, the staff). So if you need to include the speaker and the listener, use TELL + direct object noun or pronoun.
- The boss told his employees not to be late for the meeting.
- His doctor told him to get more exercise.
- I told her I lost her camera on my trip.
SAY does not often include the person you are speaking to. It refers to what was said, not who said it.
- She said something on the phone, but I couldn’t understand her.
- I said hello to our new neighbors.
- When someone takes a picture, it is common to say “Cheese!”
- If I ask you to come visit, please say yes!
For more on reported speech, check out this post.
It’s time to say goodbye now. Please take a moment to tell me what you think of this lesson.
3 thoughts on “Say vs. Tell: What’s the Difference?”
This is a really great lesson for writers as well as those learning to speak English.