The Difference Between Say and Tell - Confusing Words in English Grammar

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In this lesson you will learn about ‘say’ and ‘tell’ and how to use them in your conversations.


Max: When we say something, it doesn’t need to be to a specific person. It just means that you are speaking. “That’s what everybody is saying.” In this phrase, everybody is saying something, but not to any specific person.

Nina: We can also use “say” to report things, such as “He said that he was on time.”

Max: Right. But we always tell something to someone, like telling your daughter a story.

Nina: Yes! And you can also use “tell” to report things: “He told her he was on time”.

Max: We use “tell” to give facts and information to someone. For example, let me tell you something, Nina: I got the grade I needed!

Nina: Congratulations Max! I knew you’d pass. Now why don’t you tell me more about the difference between say and tell?

Max: That’s pretty much what there is to it, Nina. Let’s listen to some conversations for more examples.

A New Job.

David: Hey, I heard you got a new job.

Anne: Yes, who told you? Did Max tell you I got a new job?

David: Yes, Max told me that.

Anne: Trust Max to quickly spread the news around. What else did he say?

David: He said that you got a 30% raise too.

Anne: Yeah! I am so happy!

David: You deserve it! I can’t wait to tell Cynthia.

The Secret.

Sheila: Hey John, I have a secret to tell you.

John: Tell me! I love secrets and gossip.

Sheila: Well, Max said that he would ask his new girlfriend to marry him.

John: Max really told you that?

Sheila: Yes, he told me that he had got a promotion at work, so he could marry her.

John: That's incredible. Anne said she had seen him with another girl just last week.

Sheila: Oops, maybe he's a player. Don't tell anyone then!

John: I won't tell anybody. Better to let them sort it out themselves.

Sheila: Never tell a secret; it will always come back to haunt you.

The New Action Movie.

Ben: Hey Karen, did you see the new action movie at the cinema?

Karen: No, the critics said it was bad.

Ben: Oh, they always say that. They also said Mission Impossible was bad, but it was good.

Karen: So, about the new movie. Tell me about it.

Ben: I have to say it is a good movie, but too much action and not enough story.

Karen: Tell me, who went with you?

Ben: I took Elizabeth. She told me she didn't like action films, but I took her anyway.

Karen: Did she like it?

Ben : No, she was bored. She got on her phone and messaged her friends all through the movie.

Karen: That’s irritating. Didn’t you tell her to stop?

Ben: No, I didn’t. I wanted to focus on the movie, so I didn’t say anything.

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