How to Use ‘Say’ and ‘Tell’

In reported statements, we can use either ‘say‘ or ‘tell‘. The meaning is the same, but the grammar is different. For example:

How to Use 'Say' and 'Tell'
How to Use ‘Say’ and ‘Tell’

Direct speech:

  • John: “I’ll be late”.

Reported speech:

  • John said (that) he would be late.


  • John told me (that) he was going to be late.

With ‘tell’ we NEED the object (e.g. ‘me’, ‘you’, ‘her’).
With ‘say’ we CAN’T use the object (e.g. ‘me’, ‘them’, ‘us’).

So we CAN’T say:

  • John said me that he would be late.
  • John told that he would be late.

Here are some correct examples:

  • Julie said (that) she’d come to the party.
  • said (that) I was going to bed early.
  • He told me (that) he loved living in London.
  • They told John (that) they would arrive at six.

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