Say Something and Tell Someone

Say something.

Tell someone.

A common error I hear is misuse of the words, “say,” “tell,” “said,” and “told.” To say something is to speak words. We can say something to another person. We can say something to ourselves to help us remember something. The past tense of “say” is “said.” In sentences, “say” and “said” should not have a pronoun or proper noun like a name of a person in after them. For example, it is incorrect to use “say” like this:

INCORRECT: He said me he is going to check the status of the project.

CORRECT: He told me he was going to check the status of the project.

INCORRECT: She said me she was sick yesterday.

CORRECT: She told me she had been sick yesterday.

Notice that when we report what someone told us, the verb becomes a past tense verb. He is going to check the status (now or soon), but we change “is going to” to “was going to.” This is because it is not direct speech, but reported speech. The original speaker is not saying the words. We are reporting what the person said. Past tense becomes past perfect.

When using the word “tell” or “told,” we use a pronoun or a proper noun (a name) after the word. We tell someone something.

The pattern is (Subject + tell/told + someone + independent clause)

Example: He told me he was going to back to Japan later this year.

The independent clause is “…he was going back to Japan later this year” because it expresses an entire idea with a subject and verb.

In short, remember this:

Say something.

Tell someone.