Beginner Vocabulary – Say or Tell?

Good morning!

Today we are going to remember the difference between say and tell.

So how do you know when to use them? It’s easy:

  • You say something to someone
  • You tell someone something

Say is inmediately followed by a noun clause (He said that he was right) or, if it is followed by a personal object, by to (He said to his father that he was right).

Tell is followed by an object noun or pronoun (Can you tell me who is right, please?)


1. We sometimes use “to someone” after we use say, for example:

“I said to him he was welcome to my birthday party but he said to me that he was busy, so I said to him that he could come later if he wanted to”

2. We use say with direct speech, for example:

Paul said, “Hi Julia! How are you?”
Julia said, “Well, I’m having a birthday party tomorrow, would you like to come?”
Paul said, “I’m working tomorrow”
Julia said, “Oh, well you can come later if you want to”

3. More examples with say:

– Susan said she was tired.
– Anthony says you found a new job. Congratulations!
– James came to my house yesterday and said he loved me.


1. We follow tell with a personal object, for example:

“I told everyone it was time to go home”

2. We use tell for orders and advice using the structure: tell + object + infinitive, for example:

“She told him to sit down but he told her he was not going to wait”

3. There are some fixed phrases we always use tell with, not say.

  • tell (someone) a story
  • tell (someone) a lie
  • tell (someone) the truth
  • tell the future
  • tell the time
  • tell a joke

4. More examples with tell:

– Tania told Charlie, “Turn off the TV now, I have to study”
– David told me that he found a new flat.
– Could you tell me what time it is?

Say or Tell? Exercise

Complete these sentences with say or tell. 

When to use say or tell English1. “Have a nice weekend!” Oliver _________ to me.

2. The teacher _________ us to study more.

3.  It’s very late, I’m going to have to _________ goodbye.

4. Don’t trust Tim, he always ________ lies.

5. Marissa ________ me that she was moving to Delhi.

6. Forget everything I just _________.

7. You shouldn’t _________ us that about Nina, it’s too personal.

8. Can you ________ me the way to the station, please?

9. What did Bruno ________ when he saw the surprise party?

10. Let me ________ you something about Victor: he always _________ the truth.

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