Say and tell

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Say refers to any kind of speech. It is most often used without a personal object.

If we want to put a personal object after say, we use to.


Tell is used to mean instruct or inform. After tell, we usually say who is told.

Tell can be followed by object + infinitive. Say cannot be used like this.

Tell is used without a personal object in a few expressions. Examples are: tell the truth, tell a lie, tell a story/joke.

Direct and indirect speech

Both say and tell are used with direct and indirect speech. Note that say is more common than tell with direct speech.

Note that tell is only used to mean instruct or inform; say can refer to any kind of speech.

See also

say and tell
See, look at and watch
Sensible and sensitive
What is a sentence?
Shade and shadow
She is ill and she has been ill: difference
Should in subordinate clauses
Since and for
Since as an adverb and a conjunction
Since, as, because and so
Subject - verb agreement: basic rules
Such and such...that

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