History of the English Language




Say and Tell

In the English lessons during the summer at SGI, I noticed that students from all levels and all different nationalities had difficulties using say and tell correctly. Here’s a quick run through of some of the rules to help you. There are also a few questions at the end to test yourself! The simple way to think of say and tell is: * You say something * You tell someone something (used to mean ‘instruct’ or ‘inform’) Example: Jim said that he was tired.                     Jim told Jane that he was tired. But, of course, it is not always so easy. Here are a few rules to help... 1. Personal object We usually follow tell with a personal object (the person that we are speaking to). We usually use say without a personal object: * She told me that she was allergic to cats. * She said that she was allergic to cats. 2. Say "to someone" With say, we sometimes use "to someone": * He said to me that he was really tired. * Sarah said to Jim that he had done very well in his first day at work. 3. Direct speech We can use say with direct speech. We use tell only with direct speech that is an instruction or information: * Amanda said, "Hello John. How are you?" * He told her to "Open the door quietly." We can use say with direct questions, but we cannot use tell: * She said, "Do you want me to help?" * The boss said to the cleaner, "Where were you at 8am?" 4. Reported speech We can use say and tell to talk about reported information: * She said that it was raining. * She told me that she would call at 5pm We cannot use say or tell to talk about reported questions. We must use ask (or a similar verb): * She asked if I had ever been there before. * He asked her where she lived. 5. Orders, advice We use tell + object + infinitive for orders or advice: * She told him to sit down and be quiet. * They told me not to wait for them.

Now a few questions to test yourself!

If you leave the answers in a reply to this post, I will mark your answers for you.

  1. Arturo  says / tells / said / told  me that he would be a few minutes late.
  2. She  says / tells / said / told  me this morning that September will be a bad month for sales
  3. The government  says / tells / said / told  that inflation had fallen to 2.5%.
  4. We hope that they are going to  say / tell  us that there will be an increase in demand.
  5. Say / Tell   him to hurry up.
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