Say or Tell?

Are you confused about the difference?

While they both mean the same thing, grammatically they are used differently.




With “say”, we CAN’T USE an indirect object (a person), unless we use “to”. After “say”, we need a direct object (a thing or statement). We can follow this with different grammatical structures.


  1. Say something!
  2. I said it.
  3. He said hello to me.
  4. We said that we are going to quit our jobs.
  5. She didn’t say if she was going to the party.




With tell, we ALWAYS need an indirect object (a person!). This can include a personal indirect object pronoun like me, her, him, us, or them. This in turn can be followed by different grammatical structures.


  1. He told me. (Tell + indirect object)
  2. She told me her idea. (Tell + indirect object + direct object)
  3. I told John that it was OK. (Tell + indirect object + relative clause)
  4. We told the government about the problem. (Tell + indirect object + preposition clause)
  5. If we tell them, they will get angry. (Conditional sentence)

If there is an indirect object pronoun, we will probably use TELL.


  1. We tell a secret
  2. We tell the truth
  3. We tell a lie
  4. We tell the difference
  5. We tell a joke
  6. We tell a story


NOW TRY THE QUIZ! (Login: Stellarweb)

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