Word pairs: say | tell


I told her - She didn't say anything


We use tell when information or instruction is given and we communicate the person receiving that information/instruction. The structure is tell + someone + something:

  • He told us to wait here.
  • Could you tell me his name, please?

We also use tell in some fixed expressions (e.g. tell the difference, tell the truth, tell a lie, tell the time, tell a joke, tell a secret):

  • I can't tell the difference between those twins.
  • You shouldn't be telling lies.


We use say when we don't mention the person receiving the information. We can use say when we refer to anything related to talking. :

  • Did he say when they are coming? (say + something)
  • They said 'yes' to your offer. (say + something + someone)
  • What did you say to him? (say + to someone)

We can also use say to quote someone's exact words:

  • Jonas said, 'I hate crowded places'.
Further learning
Description Author Language
How to construct sentences when using 'say' and 'tell'. English with Vanessa
When to use 'say' and 'tell. English with Nick