A brief guide to ….Say or Tell?

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Photo by Cristina Gottardi

One common problem among many of my students is the use of Say or Tell in a sentence.

They have similar meaning, both mean “to verbally communicate with someone”

The key difference is that we tell someone something but we simply say something.

We don’t say Tell to her or Say her.


With tell we usually follow it with a personal object, but we use say without one.

  • Konrad told me that he’d be late for the lesson.
  • He said that he’d be late for the lesson.
  • Marie told me she’d had a lovely weekend.
  • She said the weather had been very nice.

With say we sometimes use “to someone”

  • He said to me that he’d be late for the lesson

One important rule to remember is with reported questions. You cannot use say or tell in this instance but instead, use ask.

  • He asked if I had free time next week.


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