What’s the Difference Between “Say” and “Tell”?

Difference between Say and Tell | Say vs Tell

If you’re learning English, you’ve likely come across the verbssay“[said] and “tell” [told] at some point. While they may seem similar, they have distinct differences in usage and meaning. In this article, we will explore the nuances between these two commonly used verbs.

The basic distinction between “say” and “tell” lies in their respective structures. “Say” is a transitive verb that doesn’t require a direct object, while “tell” is a transitive verb that always needs a direct object. To understand this better, let’s dive into the specific characteristics and usage of each word.


  1. “Saying” is a general verb that could mean expressing something out loud, without highlighting who is being spoken to. Often, it’s used when repeating someone else’s words, or when the listener is not specified.
  • She said, “I love playing the piano.”
  • He said he would be late for the meeting.
  • They said it was a beautiful movie.
  • He said that he was
  • She says hello
  • Did you say something?

In these instances, “say” is used to relay or communicate a message or statement without specifying the recipient. It focuses on the act of expressing words or thoughts.


  1. “Tell”: On the other hand, “tell” is used to give information directly to someone. In other words, there is a particular recipient for the information. Therefore, “tell” always requires an object – you tell someone something.
  • She told me a secret.
  • He told the students to be quiet.
  • They told their parents about their plans.
  • Tell me your name
  • She told the children a story

As you can see, “tell” is followed by an object, indicating the person or people who receive the information. Unlike “say,” “tell” emphasizes the act of conveying information to someone in particular.

It’s important to note that “tell” is often accompanied by indirect objects or prepositions to indicate the recipient or the means of communication. Some common examples include:

  • She told him about the party. (indirect object)
  • He told the story to his friends. (preposition)
  • They told us through email. (preposition)

Additionally, “tell” is commonly used in reported speech when we are conveying a message that someone communicated to us:

  • She told me she would arrive late.
  • He told us that he had finished his work.

In such cases, “tell” is used to describe the act of passing on information from one person to another.


To remember the distinction, think about the general rule:

  • Tell: We tell SOMEBODY something.
  • Say: We say SOMETHING.


  • Wrong: She said that- Right: She told me that she was tired.
  • Wrong He told that he was happy.
  • Right: He said that he was happy.

In conclusion, using “say” and “tell” correctly may seem daunting, but with practice, it becomes second nature. Just remember, if there’s a direct object (someone being spoken to), use “tell.” If not, or you are quoting someone else’s words, use “say.”

Video – Learn English: SAY or TELL?

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