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Say versus Tell – Theory and Activity

Say versus Tell – Theory and Activity

Say versus Tell – Theory and Activity

Common misuses of “say” and “tell” by Spanish speakers

The verbs “say” and “tell” are commonly misused by English students whose mother-tongue is Spanish. Why? Because, even when they are usually translated into “decir” and “contar” the uses and meanings not exactly the same.

When “telling a story” there is no problem, in Spanish it is exactly the same. The problem appears when they want to express a concept such as “Me dijo que el café estaba listo” or “¿Te dijo la profesora que mañana no hay clases?” In these cases it is very common that the students translate directly from Spanish by saying “She said me that the coffee was ready” or “did the teacher say you that tomorrow we don’t have classes?” The correct way to say this would be “She told me the coffee was ready” or “Did the teacher tell you that tomorrow we don’t have classes?” Tell almost always goes with an object pronoun whereas say NEVER does.

Another very common mistake is to use tell without the indirect object, like, “I want to tell something” (instead of saying “I want to tell YOU something” or “I want to SAY something <to you>”). Or, perhaps the indirect object is present but for some reason we add a preposition, for example, “I want to tell to you something.” We would never say “tell to someone.” We would say “tell HER to come here.”

Finally, there are some expressions in English that are always used with the verb “tell.” You always tell a lie, tell time, tell the truth and tell a secret. You would never say any of those things.

Now that you know the rules, read the following passage and see if you can find the errors. Some may be simple misuse of the verbs say and tell, be sure to also check the tense!

The other day I was talking to my sister. She was saying a story about something that happened to her at school. But there was something that didn’t seem right. She kept looking to the left as she said the story and I knew she was saying a lie. She was telling that her teacher began yelling at her for no reason, that he was crazy. She said he told to her that she wasn’t going to pass the exam, that she would have to repeat the year.

I asked her if there was something she wasn’t saying me and she responded by yelling at me. After ten minutes, of her crying and me sitting in silence, she told to me that, her teacher was so angry because she had been caught cheating on the exam. I knew she wasn’t saying the truth! I guess it was just a matter of time before her conscious began to bother her. She never could keep a secret, she always ended up saying someone.

The answers will be published in next month’s newsletter. If you haven’t already, you can sign up by clicking here.