The Difference between SAY, TALK, TELL, and SPEAK in English
How to Use: Say, Tell, Talk, Speak...
How to Use "SAY"
- "Say" use with direct and indirect speech
- The most common use of the word say is in "reported speech"
E.g. She said that it was my last chance.
- "Say " is most often used without a personal object
E.g. She said that she would be late. (not She said me...)
- If we want to put a personal object after say, we use "to"
E.g. And I say to all the people of this great country...
Prepositions for SAY
To/ That – If we are going to use an object, we always use the preposition “to”.
E.g. “He said to Stevethat that he was going to be late.
“I said tohimthat I couldn’t go.”
We use “to” to show who we are directing our words at and “that” to say the information.
2. How to Use "TELL"
- To give information to somebody by speaking or writing
- Used with direct and indirect speech
- When we use tell we need to use the object , i.e., tell someone something
E.g. "She told me that she would be late."
“I told you about the party.”
“Have you told him the news?”
“She always tells me that.”
- Only used to mean ‘instruct’ or ‘inform’
E.g. She told me that it was my last chance.
- Tell is used to tell someone to do something
E.g. Tom’s mother told him to clean his room.
- Tell is not used before objects like a word, a name, a sentence, a phrase.
E.g. Alice said a naughty word... (not Alice told a naughty word...)
- We do not usually use It after tell to refer to a fact.
E.g. ‘I’ll tell you tomorrow.’ (not I’ll tell you it tomorrow.)
- Tell someone again (repeat)
E.g. ‘I don’t want to tell you again to get your homework done.’
Prepositions for Tell
To - When we use to with tell we are giving someone an order or making a strong request.
E.g. “I told you to buy me a drink,”
“Didn’t I tell you to mind your own business?”
About – To tell someone about something is used to pass information about an event or a series of events which happened to a person.
E.g. “Let me tell you about a girl I know, she had a drink about an hour ago,”
“Did I tell you about my party?”
That – When we use that we are expressing an action or a more permanent situation. To compare examples, we can’t say, “Did I tell you about she is pregnant,” we would have to say, “Did I tell you about her pregnancy.”
E.g. “Did she tell you that she was pregnant?”
“Did I tell you I changed cell number?”
3. How to Use "TALK"
- "Talk" is used about a general topic.
- Talk is the more usual word to refer to conversational exchanges and informal communication.
E.g. When she walked into the room everybody stopped talking.
- In spoken English, we commonly use the word talk in the continuous form
E.g. “The movie was really good but people kept talking during the best parts.”
“This guy talks forever.”
Prepositions with talk
To/ About– We use “to” to show who we are directing our words at and “about” to give the information.
E.g. “I need to talk to you about last night.”
“Did he talk to you about his trip?”
4. How to Use "SPEAK"
- "Speak" is often used for one-way communication and for exchanges in more serious or formal situations.
E.g. I’ll have to speak to that boy -- he’s getting very lazy.
How many languages do you speak?”
After she had finished reading the letter, nobody spoke.
- Speak is the usual word to refer to knowledge and use of languages.
E.g. She speaks three languages fluently.
- “Speak” sounds more formal than talk.
Prepositions with Speak
To… about…– Just like tell, we use “to” and “about” to direct our words and give information.
E.g. “Did you speak to him about our new project?”
With – We use “with” to say who we are speaking to or how that person speaks, usually in reference to their accent.
E.g. “Have you ever spoken English with an Australian?”