Difference between say and tell
These words are used in different structures. Use ‘tell’ with a personal object. Use ‘say’ if there is no object.
- He told me a story. (NOT He told a story.) (NOT He said me a story.)
- I told her that I would be late. (NOT I said her that I would be late.)
- She told me that she loved me. (NOT She told that she loved me.) (NOT She said me that she loved me.)
Note that the word ‘tell’ cannot be used before certain words like ‘a word’, ‘a name’, ‘a sentence’ or ‘a phrase’.
- The teacher punished him for saying a naughty word in the class. (NOT The teacher punished him for telling a naughty word in the class.)
Tell is used without a personal object in a few fixed expressions like ‘tell the truth / tell a story / tell a lie / tell a joke’.
- Are you telling the truth? (NOT Are you saying the truth?)