Difference Between Say and Tell

Say vs Tell
 

Strictly speaking there is a difference between say and tell. However, say and tell are two verbs that are easily confused by virtue of the closeness in their meanings. Say is used as a verb, noun and an exclamation. Say is used as an exclamation only in North American informal context. The verb tell is used as a verb as well as a noun. Both say and tell have their origins in Old English. Say comes from the word secgan and tell comes from the word tellan. Other than these features, both say and tell are used in a number of phrases such as go without saying, have something to say for oneself, as far as one can tell, I tell you, etc.

What does Say mean?

Say is not usually used with a personal object. Take a look at the following sentence.

He said that he would be in time.

In the above sentence, the verb say is not used with a direct object.
It is interesting to note that the verb say is used with direct speech as in the sentence given below.

Robert said ‘Come tomorrow.’

The verb say is used in reported speech. Look at the following sentence.

I said that I was too young then.

In the above sentence, a piece of information is meant in the usage of the verb say.
The verb say is used with the objects like a word or a name as in the following sentence.

Robert said a naughty word.

Difference Between Say and Tell

What does Tell mean?

Tell is used with personal direct object. Look at the following sentence.

He told me that he would come in time.

In the above sentence, the verb tell is used with a direct object.The verb tell is used in direct speech only if what is quoted is a kind of instruction or a kind of information as in the sentence given below.

I told him ‘Go straight and turn right.’

The verb tell is also used in reported speech to give the idea of information but not a question. Observe the following sentence.

She did not tell me where she was at that time.

In the above given sentence, a piece of information is meant in the usage of the verb tell.

What is the difference between Say and Tell?

• One of the main differences between say and tell is that tell is used with personal direct object whereas say is not usually used with a personal object.

• The verb say is used with direct speech. On the other hand, the verb tell is used in direct speech only if what is quoted is a kind of instruction or a kind of information.

• It is important to know that in the reported speech both the verbs say and tell are used to give the idea of information but not a question.

• The verb say is used with the objects like a word or a name.

It is important that the two verbs, say and tell, should be used with care.

Images Courtesy:

  1. Say image by Bart Everson (CC BY 2.0)