VerbAbout VerbsAction VerbsCausative VerbsContractionsDo and MakeFinite and Nonfinite VerbsGerundInfinitive FormInversionLinking VerbsModal VerbsMay and MightMoodsPhrasal VerbsSay and TellShallStative VerbsThird Person SingularUsed toRegular VerbsIrregular VerbsVerb FormsCompound Verbs
ConditionalConditionalZero ConditionalFirst ConditionalSecond ConditionalThird ConditionalMixed ConditionalInversion in Conditional Sentences
Passive VoicePassive VoicePresent Simple PassivePresent Continuous PassivePast Simple PassivePast Continuous PassivePerfect Tenses PassiveFuture Simple PassiveGoing to PassiveSay / Believe / SupposeGet + Participle
Adverbs of FrequencyAdverbs of FrequencyAdverbs of Frequency - Position in Sentence
QuestionsQuestion TagsRhetorical QuestionsEcho Questions
Reported SpeechReported SpeechModals in Reported SpeechReported Commands and RequestsReported QuestionsPresent Perfect in Reported SpeechFuture Perfect in Reported Speech
Irregular VerbsIrregular Verbs - GroupsIrregular Verbs - Forms
ParticiplesPresent ParticiplePast ParticiplePerfect Participle
Other TopicsWill vs. Going toIf / Even if / Whether / Unless If + Were or If + WasAs If / As Though + Past SubjunctiveHabits Expressed by Will and WouldHad BetterSubject
Read MoreAuxiliary VerbsAuxiliary Verbs: To BeAuxiliary Verbs: To HaveAuxiliary Verbs: To DoWhen To Use the Verb To Be
Grammar

Say and Tell

The verbs say and tell have similar meanings but we often use them in different ways. Look at the pairs of sentences below:

  • Tom said that he was impressed seeing my new dress.
  • Tom told Cristi that he was impressed seeing her new dress.
     
  • Marc says you have a new car.
  • Marc tells me you have a new car.
     
  • Doris said: "I love you".
  • Doris told Peter that she loved him.

We usually connect tell with a person that we are speaking to (it's so called personal object) whereas say we usually don't connect
with a personal object.

Sometimes we can use an expression say to someone:

  • Tom said to me that he was impressed seeing my new dress.

Direct Speech

We can use say with direct speech:

  • His wife said: "How do you like my new dress?"
  • "It looks perfect", he said.

We use tell only with direct speech that is an information or instruction:

  • My husband told me: "You have never looked more beautiful".
  • He told his wife: "Drive carefully, darling".

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

  • Doris said: "Do you love me?"
  • Tom said to his wife: "How much did this dress cost?" 

Reported Speech

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

  • He said that he has never met anyone like me. 
  • She told me that she couldn't come to the party.

We can't use say or tell to talk about reported questions. Instead we have to use ask:

  • Julie asked if I had ever been in love.
  • The waitres asked what I wanted to drink.

Orders and Advices

We use tell + object + infinitive to form orders or advices:

  • The teacher told pupils to open the books.
  • The doctor told me not to work too hard.

Phrases

There are some fixed phrases with tell. We can't use say with them:

  • tell (someone) a joke
  • tell (someone) a story
  • tell (someone) a lie
  • tell (someone) the truth
  • tell the time (means: know how to read a clock)
  • tell the future (means: know what the future will bring)
  • tell apart (means: someone is able to see the difference between two people or things)

Check your understanding!

VerbAbout VerbsAction VerbsCausative VerbsContractionsDo and MakeFinite and Nonfinite VerbsGerundInfinitive FormInversionLinking VerbsModal VerbsMay and MightMoodsPhrasal VerbsSay and TellShallStative VerbsThird Person SingularUsed toRegular VerbsIrregular VerbsVerb FormsCompound Verbs
ConditionalConditionalZero ConditionalFirst ConditionalSecond ConditionalThird ConditionalMixed ConditionalInversion in Conditional Sentences
Passive VoicePassive VoicePresent Simple PassivePresent Continuous PassivePast Simple PassivePast Continuous PassivePerfect Tenses PassiveFuture Simple PassiveGoing to PassiveSay / Believe / SupposeGet + Participle
Adverbs of FrequencyAdverbs of FrequencyAdverbs of Frequency - Position in Sentence
QuestionsQuestion TagsRhetorical QuestionsEcho Questions
Reported SpeechReported SpeechModals in Reported SpeechReported Commands and RequestsReported QuestionsPresent Perfect in Reported SpeechFuture Perfect in Reported Speech
Irregular VerbsIrregular Verbs - GroupsIrregular Verbs - Forms
ParticiplesPresent ParticiplePast ParticiplePerfect Participle
Other TopicsWill vs. Going toIf / Even if / Whether / Unless If + Were or If + WasAs If / As Though + Past SubjunctiveHabits Expressed by Will and WouldHad BetterSubject
Read MoreAuxiliary VerbsAuxiliary Verbs: To BeAuxiliary Verbs: To HaveAuxiliary Verbs: To DoWhen To Use the Verb To Be