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Say Tell Talk Speak

Choosing between Say, Tell, Talk and Speak can be a bit confusing for ESL students learning the English language. However, it's really not too difficult, and reading this chart will simplify the issue for you. 



  • Mostly used without an objectex. He said that I was annoying.


  • If you need to add an object, use a preposition – That’s what he said to me!


  • Tell is different from say because tell is used to give instructions/directions –ex. The teacher told us to sit down and read quietly.


  • With tell, we normally include the person who was listening –ex. I told Steve to eat more pizza.


  • Tell is used for repeating –ex. I already told you to wait patiently. I won’t tell you again.


  • Lastly, we say tell in these circumstances:


tell a story (or a lie or the truth)

tell the time

tell a joke


  • Use with conversation and typical communication –ex. Jennifer was talking to Erin, but Jeff couldn’t hear them. AJ talked about the vacation idea. (Use a preposition if you are using an object.)


  • The most common use is for direct one-way communication –ex. The lecturer spoke about being mortal. (The lecturer is speaking, and the audience is listening, not talking.)


  • We also use speak with languages –ex. Do you speak English well?



  • Talk and speak are similar, but talk is for more casual, normal conversation.




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