Difference Between Say and Tell

Say vs Tell

Say and Tell are two verbs that are easily confused by virtue of the closeness in their meanings. Strictly speaking there is difference between the two verbs ‘say’ and ‘tell’.

One of the main differences between ‘tell’ and ‘say’ is that ‘tell’ is used with personal direct object whereas ‘say’ is not usually used with personal object. This difference is clear from the following sentences:

1. He told me that he would come in time.

2. He said that he would be in time.

In the first sentence the verb ‘tell’ is used with a direct object. In the second sentence the verb ‘say’ is not used with direct object.

It is interesting to note that the verb ‘say’ is used with direct speech as in the sentence Robert said ‘Come tomorrow’. 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 as in the sentence I told him ‘Go straight and turn right’.

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. Observe the sentences given below:

1. I said that I was too young then.

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

In both the sentences a piece of information is meant in the usage of the verbs ‘say’ and ‘tell’ in the reported speech. This is one of the important differences between the verbs ‘say’ and ‘tell’ when it comes to direct speech and reported speech.

The verb ‘say’ is used with the objects like a word or a name as in the sentence ‘Robert said a naughty word’. It is important that the two verbs should be used with care.