Tell and say are two words which are commonly confused. The functions and grammatical rules of these two words are quite different, however, and they are used in slightly different ways.

Say is a more basic verb, which means simply that words are being spoken. It is commonly used in books to report what someone said, and is commonly used in daily conversation in the same way. For example:

  1. "Did you hear what Carl said at the meeting yesterday?"

  2. "Please don't say anything about the court case."

  3. "Tom said that he didn't want to go, but Susan says that he really did."

Note that say is commonly used in the pattern: To say something to someone.

Tell gives the impression of transmitting information, or informing somebody about something. Tell does not simply imply words coming out of one's mouth. For example:

  1. "Somebody should tell Steve about the package we received for him."

  2. "I found out yesterday that I'm pregnant, but I haven't told anyone yet."

  3. "Please tell everyone that dinner will be served at 7:30."

In the above examples, a message is being given or information is being conveyed. This is why we use the word tell. Note that is often used in the pattern: to tell someone about something.