This is part 2 of my Common English Mistakes series. I want to share some common grammar problems my English students have. I hope these will help you improve your English. If you have any comments or suggestions you want to share, feel free to send an e-mail to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Proper Use of the Verbs Say and Tell
We use the verbs Say and Tell differently. Students assume they are used the same way and then make grammar mistakes. In reported speech, Say is used to report the words someone said in a conversation or other form of presentation). Tell is used to emphasize the information/content of what was said. When we want to emphasize direct speech, or exactly what was said, we use Say.
Direct speech: John said, “wait for me at the bus station”.
Reported speech: John said (that) I should wait for him at the bus station.
Reported with Tell: John told me to wait for him at the bus station.
Remember these tips:
The verb Tell is usually followed by an object pronoun when we are describing a conversation and what was said by one person to another. Think of Tell/Told + Who? and this will help you get it right.
– I will tell you after class.
-He told me to wait for him at the bus station. (told + object pronoun + infinitive)
– They told us to wait for them at the bus station.
– They told us they hadn’t seen the movie.
– We told them they were making too much noise.
Object pronouns are: me, you, he, she, it, we, you (plural), they
For more on pronouns see this link: http://www.eflnet.com/tutorials/subobjpronouns.php
Told doesn’t always have to be followed by an object pronoun. Told can also be followed by a noun.
– He told the story of what life was like in his country. (He told what?)
– The candidate told the reporters why she decided to run for mayor. (She told who?)
Here are some examples of mistakes students make:
Incorrect: She told why she decided to run for mayor. (missing object pronoun)
Correct: She told us why decided to run for mayor. (now it’s clear who she told).
Incorrect: The policeman told they were making too much noise. (Missing object pronoun)
Correct: The policeman told them they were making too much noise. who she told).
The verb Say is NOT followed by an object pronoun. It is used to describe a conversation and what was said by one person to another person. Think of Say/Said What? and this will help you get it right. What indicates the important information (a noun clause for example). Use of “that” is optional in speech, but it’s better in formal writing.
– I said (that) I had to miss the next lesson at the end of the class.
– She said (that) she hadn’t eaten dinner yet. (Said can be followed by a subject pronoun)
-He said to wait for him at the bus station. (Said can be followed by an infinitive verb, but told cannot)
– They said (that) they haven’t seen the movie yet.
– We said (that) they were making too much noise.
This form is called Reported Speech. For a helpful video explanation, see:
Click for more information on Say or tell ? – English Grammar Today – Cambridge Dictionaries Online
Stay tuned for Common English Mistakes – Part 3!
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