The words ‘say’ and ‘tell’ both are irregular verbs, as their past participle form, do not have a regular ‘ed’ ending, i.e. say becomes said and tell becomes told. While the word ‘say‘ is used to utter something verbally, ‘tell‘ can be used to give information, give evidence or orders to a person.
So, the first and foremost difference between these two is that we do not mention whom we are referring to, in the case of ‘say’, but we mention it in case of ‘tell’. Let’s take a look at the examples given below for better understanding:
- Maria says she has no siblings to talk with. I told her that she can talk to me.
- She said, “I will tell you the truth, at the right time.”
- Tell him to say what she feels.
- He was telling me that you were saying illness about me.
In the above examples, you might have observed that with say you express your thought, feelings etc. But with ‘tell’ you inform someone about something or to direct someone.
Content: Say Vs Tell
|Basis for Comparison||Say||Tell|
|Meaning||Say means to utter words, in order to express opinion, feeling or give some information.||Tell means to provide information to a person either orally or in writing.|
|Part of speech||Verb and Noun||Verb|
|Receiver||When we use say we needn't mention the receiver.||When we use tell we must mention the receiver.|
|Usage||Exact quotes and questions.||Orders, advice and instruction.|
|Example||I am not going to say anything on this matter.||I told her, to stay away from this matter.|
|She said, "She wants to be alone."||Kate told me that she is going to Mumbai.|
|What did she say?||The teacher told us to complete the project on time.|
Definition of Say
Whenever you are uttering a word or speaking something, you are actually saying it. It is used to express your opinion, suggestion, feelings, emotions, etc. and also to deliver some information. It can be used in the following ways:
As a verb:
- To state, i.e. to utter words:
- I said I don’t believe in ghosts.
- Don’t say anything.
- I would like to say something.
- Jack says he likes bananas.
- To provide information:
- Office policies say that employees should come to the office on time or else the salary for the concerned day would be deducted.
- The watch says it’s 2’O clock.
- To assume something:
- Let’s say we get interest @ of 10%, then what amount you will invest.
- To repeat something:
- Say cheese.
As an exclamation:
- To show a feeling of shock or surprise and also to seek attention concerning what you are going to speak:
- Say! do you really think I should request him for help?
As a noun:
- It indicates the right or opportunity to speak about something:
- Rishabh has no say in his family.
- The mediator has the final say in the argument.
Definition of Tell
The word ‘tell’ is used to narrate, communicate, discern, instruct or announce something to someone. So, the name of a person or an object pronoun must follow the verb ‘tell’. The uses of say are given as under:
- Tell is used to speak something about a person, in order to inform them:
- When I told him the truth, she was shocked.
- My mother tells me funny stories.
- You must not believe everything your colleagues tell you.
- To give orders, directions or instructions:
- Tell him to stay away from me.
- The teacher told me the process of completing the practical.
- My mom told me to wake up early in the morning.
- It can also be used to know something:
- Tell me about your future plans.
- Can you tell me, if this bus goes to Amritsar?
- To show, reveal or represent:
- This device tells you the exact GPS location of a person.
- The picture tells you the entire story.
- For providing some personal, private or confidential information, or secret:
- Please don’t tell it to anyone.
Key Differences Between Say and Tell
The differences between say and tell can be drawn clearly on the following grounds:
- The word ‘say’ is used to state something, specifically opinion, feelings, suggestions and so forth. On the other hand, tell is used to say something to a person, i.e. provide information or narrate something.
- While say can be used as a noun, verb and interjection, tell can only be used as a verb.
- When you use the word ‘say’, we needn’t use the name of the person to whom we refer. As against, to use the word ‘tell’ we need to use the name of the person or an object pronoun, i.e. him, her, them, us etc. to indicate the person, whom we refer.
- Basically, say is used with exact quotes and questions (in the direct speech), however, in case of indirect speech we use the word ‘asked’. Conversely, tell is mainly used when we give orders, instructions and advise.
- She wants to say something.
- I didn’t say anything to Paul.
- Would you like to say something?
- I told her to register online for the classes.
- Tell Robin I said hello.
- He told me to get the subject books.
How to remember the difference
While using these two words in your sentence, you should keep in mind that use you do not use object pronoun with ‘say’, as it is used only with ‘tell’. Further, when something in expressed in the exact words, use said and not tell, as tell is used with instructions and command.
Thanks for the great article.