Wednesday, May 19, 2010

SAY or TELL, what's the difference?

Well, here at PLS English Users we do have something to say about when to use SAY and when to use TELL.

Here are some guidelines...


We use it to report someone's words:

  • Bill said, "I'm tired"
  • Bill said that he was tired.

We use say followed by 'to' before the object:

  • What did he say to you?

We use say to ask about languages :

  • How do you say 'water' in Spanish?
We use say for the following:

  • Bill said hello.
  • She left without saying goodbye.
  • Remember to say please.
  • Please say congratulations on my behalf.
  • I just called to say Merry Christmas / Happy New Year / Happy Birthday / etc.


We use tell to provide information or to give orders:

  • Could you tell me how to get to the Marriot hotel?
  • Tell Tom that I cancelled the meeting.

You might have noticed that tell is followed directly by the object :

  • Did Mary tell you what happened?

We also use tell for the following:

  • Tom is good at telling stories.
  • Could you tell me the time?
  • Tell me your name, please.
  • Don’t tell me lies.
  • Hey, I’m telling the truth.
  • I can’t tell the difference between these two products.


  1. It is a very interesting article because students tend to get confused when using these two verbs...Good Job!

  2. Appreciate the input. Have a good one!