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Say, tell, talk, speak

Uses Examples

Say  used with direct and indirect  She said that it was my last
speech chance.
 Say is most often used without  He said, ‘Good morning.’
a personal object.  She said that she would be late.
 If we want to put a personal (not She said me...)
object after say, we use to.  And I say to all the people of this
great country...

Tell  used with direct and indirect  She told me that she would be
speech late.
 after tell, we usually say who  She told me that it was my last
is told, i.e., tellsomeone chance.
something  (not He told them, ‘Good
 only used to mean ‘instruct’ or morning.’)
‘inform’  Tom’s mother told him to clean his
 Tell is used to tellsomeone to room.
do something  Alice said a naughty
 Tell is not used before objects word...(not Alice told a naughty
like a word, a name, a word...)
sentence, a phrase.  ‘I’ll tell you tomorrow.’ (not I’ll tell
 We do not usually you ittomorrow.)
use itafter tell to refer to a fact.  I don’t want to tell you again to
 tell someone again (repeat) get your homework done.’

Talk  There is not very much  When she walked into the room
difference everybody stopped talking.
between speakand talk.
 Talk is the more usual word to
refer to conversational
exchanges and informal

Speak  is often used for one-way  I’ll have to speak to that boy --
communication and for he’s getting very lazy.
exchanges in more serious or  After she had finished reading the
formal situations. letter, nobody spoke.
 Speak is the usual word to  She speaks three languages
refer to knowledge and use of fluently.
• Use ‘say’ for direct quotations: She said, ‘I am very busy.’ Use ‘say’ for indirect
quotations when the person to whom the words are spoken is not mentioned: She said
that she was very busy.
• Use ‘tell’ for indirect quotations when the person to whom the words are spoken is
mentioned: She told me that she was very busy.
• ‘Speak’ is used with languages, and in formal settings: He speaks three languages
• ‘Talk’ refers to a conversation and is often followed by an indirect object with ‘TO’: After
the lecture, coffee was served and people began to talk to one another.
1) Brazilians _____________ Portuguese.
2) Yesterday the teacher _______ me that our children _______ too much.
3) __________ louder, please. I can’t hear what you __________ .
4) The Prime Minister ____________ on television last night.
5) Chimpanzees cannot ___________ but everybody __________ they are very
6) What will you _________ when you __________ to Mr Reed tomorrow?
7) [on the telephone]… ‘May I __________ to Mrs Brown please?’
8) The policeman ___________ me to show him my driving license.
9) Don’t ___________ during the film. If you want to __________ to me, wait until it’s over.
10) His throat disease has left him unable to __________ .
11) If you promise not to _________ anyone, I’ll __________ you a secret.
12) She always __________ the children a story before they go to bed.
13) The little boy doesn’t know how to _________ the time yet.
14) If you _______ so, I suppose it’s true. I don’t think you would ________ me a lie.
15) He left without __________ goodbye
16) If you could ___________ a good word for him, he might get the job.
17) She _______ that she can’t ________ the difference between butter and margarine.
18) To _________ the truth, I haven’t been there long.
19) Please ________ no more about it.
20) They asked the prisoner several questions, but he _________ nothing.