Difference Between Say and Tell

While making sentences and while speaking, we may not realize certain syntax and subject-verb agreement errors but these concepts become very important because of their ability to determine the proficiency of our English speaking and writing skills.

The recruiters and interviewers are looking for people who have knowledge of detailed and minutest subjects.

Say and Tell may have been used interchangeably sometimes, but it is important to understand the difference in implications and contexts of use for the terms.

Say vs Tell

The main difference between Say and Tell is that Say is used to characterize the actions of uttering something, maybe an opinion or a suggestion whereas Tell is used to communicate instructions, orders, and advice. Different forms of Say can be used to quote dialogues and speeches, to make comments while different forms of Tell can be used to show certainty and emphasis.

Say VS Tell


Comparison Table Between Say and Tell (in Tabular Form)

Parameter od ComparisonSayTell
DefinitionSay is used to describe the action of uttering some opinions, instructions, or suggestions. As a noun, it refers to someone’s right to give opinions or views or recommendations.Tell is used to communicate some facts, instructions, or orders to someone. It is also a special action in Poker, where it is used as a noun.
Type of SpeechIt can be used as a Verb, as a Noun, or as an Exclamation.It can be used as a Verb or as a Noun (seldom) only.
OriginIt originated from Germanic.It originated from Arabic.
ObjectWhile using Say in a sentence, mentioning the object isn’t necessary.While using Tell in a Sentence, the recognition of the object is necessary.
Sentence StructureWe always, “Say Something” or “Say Something to Someone”. ‘To’ is used when an object is involved.We always, “Tell someone something”. ‘To’ is not involved.
UsageIt can be used to quote someone, to make comments, and to report.It is used to advise, to order, or to instruct
Special Phrases‘He said that’, ‘I’ll say’, and ‘One can’t Say’.‘I can tell you’, ‘No one can tell’, or ‘I told you so’.
ExampleHe said, “Everyone would be awarded for their work”.He told me, “Exercise can make you fit”.


When to Use Say?

Say is used in English Sentences and its use is a bit complex to understand. Different usages of Say must be understood to have proper syntax and correct sentence structure.

It can be used as a verb, an exclamation or a noun. As a verb, three major forms are, say, said, and saying. We always “ say something” or “say something to someone”, this is how the sentence structure goes.


  1. As reporting verb: To utter something to convey information, suggestion, emotions, intention, instruction. For example, He said that the meeting was important.
  2. With direct speech: To quote the sentences of someone. This is done when the speech of the speaker is conveyed to someone in the original form. For example: “Welcome”, he said.
  3. Of a text: To give out information and instructions. For example, The judgment said that he was guilty.

Noun: Used in the singular form: This means an opportunity to state one’s views and recommendations and an opportunity to influence community decisions and structures. For example, everyone must have an equal say in decision making in an organization.

Exclamation: Used in informal North American English to convey surprise or excitement towards a question or remark. For example, Say It!

There exist certain phrases with which only say and its forms are used. These are ‘have something to say for oneself’, ‘go without saying’, ‘What say you’, ‘I’ll say’, ‘One can not say’, ‘not to say’, ‘I wouldn’t say no’,  and ‘says you’.


When to Use Tell?

Tell is sometimes used interchangeably with say. It is important to note that similar words can have different meanings and specific contexts and sentence structures sometimes.

Tell can be used as a Noun or a Verb and the most common forms are telling, told, and tells. We always “tell someone something”. This is how the sentence structure must go.


  1. As reporting verb: To communicate news, statements, information to someone. For example, I told her the minutes of the meeting.
  2. With Object and Clause: For example, She told me that you were coming.
  3. With Direct Speech and Clause: Example,“ Go away”, I told him.
  4. With two objects: For example, Everyone must be told the truth.
  5. To order, advise, or instruct someone: For example, I am telling you, exercise can make you fit.
  6. When no object: Disclosing information that is private and confidential. For example, “I promise, I won’t tell”.

With clause: To say something with emphasis and certainty. For example, I can tell you they’re hiding something.

Noun: An action in Poker to deceive an attempted betrayal.

It is also used with certain phrases like, “as far as one can tell”, “I can tell you”, “tell me like it is”, “ Tell me about it”, and, “I told you so”.

Main Differences Between Say and Tell

  1. To say means to utter something, maybe an opinion, or a recommendation while to tell means to communicate some information or instructions with someone.
  2. Say can be used as a verb, as a noun, or as an exclamation while Tell can be used as a verb and noun (seldom) only.
  3. A sentence with Say may or may not mention the object while it is often necessary and crucial to mention the object in sentences involving Tell.
  4. The sentence structure for Say would be either ‘Say Something’ or ‘Say Something to Someone’ while that of sentences with Tell would be ‘Tell someone something’. ‘To’ is strictly used with objects in the former case while ‘To’ is strictly not used in the latter.
  5. Say is used to voice opinions and suggestions while Tell is used to convey instructions, orders, and advice.
Difference Between Say and Tell



Understanding the concepts and contexts of similar words in English is important to achieve proficiency in English and to clear many exams.

The most asked questions in Competitive exams are questions relating to syntax and sentence structures, to check whether the understanding of a candidate is detailed.

Say is used to utter opinions and recommendations on a particular issue. While using say, we need not mention the object and therefore, the sentence structure can be either ‘say something’ or ‘say something to someone’.

Tell is used to communicate facts, information, instructions, orders, or advice. Often, the involvement of an object is necessary and crucial, and therefore, the sentence structure is ‘tell someone something’.


  1. https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/say
  2. https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/tell
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