When to Use "Say" Instead of "Tell"?

Say and tell are both used as reporting verbs.  It is common to use tell if we want to mention the speaker and the listener. It is not common to name the listener when we use say.

Remember to use to after say when naming the listener but never use this preposition after tell. Look at below examples:

  • She (speaker) told us (listeners) that she’s turning 20 next month. [frequent]
  • She (speakersaid to us (listeners) that she’s turning 20 next month.[rare]

Say is often used for greetings, farewells, polite phrases and giving yes-no responses. Meanwhile, we use tell for facts, and information. Check out below sentences:


  • She said goodbye first.
  • He moistened his lips once and said yes.
  • He distinctly said that I was to come alone and be prompt.


  • I’ve told the boss that something ought to be done.
  • Eric told us what he had learned during the morning session.
  • Our professor told us that Socrates died by drinking a hemlock-based liquid.
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