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Confusing words: say – tell

say/ tell

Both are verb associated to communication but both are used quite differently. Look at some of the examples of how to use these words.


say something/say something to somebody/say  as a reporting verb.

  • Ask him to say something in English.
  • She didn’t say anything to him about the party
  • She said that she liked it very much.

Say in impersonal passive structures

  • It is said that many lost their lives in WWII

Say + what/how/when/why

  • He didn’t say why he had come.


 tell somebody something / tell somebody to do something

  • She told him a bedtime story
  • They told me to get the job done as soon as possible.

tell somebody about something/tell a joke or a story

  • The company manager told them about the strike.
  • Mike told us this really funny joke.

We don’t  use say to somebody.

  • She said to me that I couldn’t go. She told me that I couldn’t go.

It is much more common to use ‘tell’ for orders

  • The fireman told us to be careful.
Created by blogdeserena

Confusing words say - tell

Do this quiz to learn how to differentiate theseĀ  words that are often found confusing

Activity by Serena

The doctor ... him that he had to cut down on fatty foods.

She ... that she was tired of being bullied and that she was never going to go back to teaching.

Michael was always .... the department the most amazing lies.

Jane ... that we shouldn't go too near the edge. It's dangerous.

My mum used to .... us lots of bedtime stories.

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