Scientific English as a Foreign Language
Answers to Lesson of November 7, 1997
Say and Tell

It is hard for non-native speakers to know when to use "say" as opposed to "tell". Sometimes they are exact synonyms, and sometimes only one may be properly used. There are many different definitions of "say & tell"- 17 for "say" and 23 for "tell". I can give you two clues: 1) you normally "tell" jokes and stories, not "say" them; 2) when "say" and "tell" are synonyms, "tell" usually takes an indirect object: "He told me that the sample was ready." or "He said that the sample was ready." or "He said to me that the sample was ready." But don't use: "He told that the sample was ready." (no me, that is, no indirect object)

Try these:

1. Last week you said "No", yesterday you said "Yes". What will you say tomorrow?

2. They told us a great story.

3. Didn't he tell you that?

4. Didn't he say that?

5. Didn't he say that to you?

6. When you were young, did your parents tell you fairy tales?

7. In a presentation, it is useful to tell a joke (to the audience) in order to keep people's attention.

An electron, while traveling in space,
Met a positron there "face-to-face."
The electron then sighed,
At the sight of his bride
And they "died" in a loving embrace.

-W. Rolnick

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Created April 30, 1998, by Nancy Burnham and Fred Hutson.