When to use Say and when to use Tell

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When to use Say and when to use Tell.   Many English learners are not sure. This is because although Say and Tell have very similar meanings, we use them differently.

Here is the difference between say and tell and below are some exercises to try:)


Say is a verb that means to give information in words.

With say, the focus is on the information.

Say is always followed immediately by what is said.

If you want to mention the listener, you can use the word to at the end of the statement.

If we mention who the listener with used to.


  • Jan said something about a meeting this morning.
  • He said we all have to attend the Christmas party this year.
  • I heard him say to Tom that they were going to the movies.
  • The new receptionist is starting today. Be sure to say hi to her!

I have underlined the information that the speaker is providing.


Tell is a verb that means to provide information to a person in words.

With tell, the emphasis is on the listener, so who is being told?

Tell is always followed immediately by whom we tell.


  • Kim told everyone in the office that the boss was sick.
  • I told you to clean up the mess.
  • I hope you didn’t forget to tell Mark and John not to be late for the meeting.
  • They told me that the meeting was cancelled.
  • Please tell your manager. if you are sick and cannot come to work.

A simple trick to remember.

When you want to use say or tell, think about whether the information or the listener is the most important point.

If the information is more important (what you say), you should use say.

If who you are telling or told is more important (whom you tell), you should use tell.

Here are some exercises to try.

  1. ____  Jenny to meet me at 2 pm 
  2. He _____________ me that she was going jogging this evening.
  3. Sally _____________ that he couldn’t come to the party.
  4. She _____________ them she was going to quit.
  5. David _____________ that his flight was going to arrive at eight.
  6. I _____________ you that I hated giving presentations.
  7. We _____________ that we were going on holiday this week.

The answers are below 🙂

Answers 1) tell 2) told, 3) said) 4) told) 5) said, 6) told, 7) said

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