The difference between "tell" and "say" in English Vocabulary

Ajarn Ken

I have had it explained many times but still I do not know the difference between using Tell and say in English.Can you help?

 Artur from Mexico

Hi Artur

The verbs "to tell" and "to say" mean roughly the same thing, but the verb "to tell" has three additional meanings or uses, which are:

  1. "to inform",
  2. "to order" and
  3. "to relate".

For example: "Can you tell me the time, please ." - or, in other words, "Can you inform me of the time, please."

"Tell that boy to shut up!" - or, in other words, "Order that boy to shut up!"

"Tell us a story, please!" - or, "Relate a story to us, please!"

Another difference between "tell" and "say" is that we generally use "tell" when we speak to somebody, that is, when we tell something to somebody.

For example, "I told John that I was hungry"; while we use "say" when we are not speaking to anybody in particular, but are just saying something.

For example, "I said that I was hungry". In order to make it a little clearer perhaps: Supposing I am in this room alone and I make the statement "I am thirsty": I am saying that I am thirsty.

If, on the other hand, you are in the room with me and I speak to you, making the same statement, I am telling you that I am thirsty.

With Direct Speech, we always use the verb "to say".

For example, "He said to his friend, "I will see you tomorrow", or, "Be careful!", she said.

We must notice that after "say" we use "to", but not after the word "tell".

For example, "He said to me" and "He told me".