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Let's say someone said "You are funny" to me, and I want to report it. Can these two sentences be used interchangeably?

He said (that) I was funny to me.

He said to me (that) I was funny.

Also, are these two sentences interchangeable?

He said, "You are funny" to me.

He said to me, "You are funny".

(I am not sure if I should use the commas.)

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In all of your examples the sentence is better expressed with told. It's important to understand the difference between told and said.

When one says something they merely say it out loud, to the world or no one. In order to direct to an individual they must say something to someone.

Tell, on the other hand, implies that what was said was said to someone. The prepositional phrase is not required with tell.

As a result, tell is almost always the most concise and prefered usage when you are describing your saying something to someone.

This usage is clumsy --

I said to Bob to go to the store.

This usage is preferred (note that to is not needed) --

I told Bob to go to the store.

  • Thank you. Wouldn't native speakers ever use the structures in the sentences I gave? Would it sound very wrong? Can't they be said with the right intonations comprehensibly? – Fire and Ice May 26 '18 at 5:45
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    @DereMemo - I just read a few of your sentences aloud to my spouse: “He said to me that I was funny,” and, “I have stayed there for three weeks.” The immediate response was, “If someone said those to me, I’d assume that English wasn’t their first language.” (In other words, yes, they are understandable, but yes, they also sound awkward.) – J.R. May 26 '18 at 13:03
  • Thanks. But I think Andrew doesn't agree with you. :) – Fire and Ice May 26 '18 at 13:06
  • @J.R. bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/spanish/course/intermediate/unit-11/… Here, it say that the sentence "She said TO me she loves chicken." is correct. – Fire and Ice May 26 '18 at 15:09
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    @DereMemo sounding awkward is not the same as being grammatical. The BBC page is really illustrating the fact that an object cannot be placed directly after "say/said" e.g. She says him "I am running late" (NO) She told him / said to him she was running late* (YES) The version with "told" is the more natural sounding, but both forms are grammatical. – Mari-Lou A May 26 '18 at 16:00
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Yes, in both cases the two sentences mean the same thing. However the order of the words can cause confusion. For example:

The King said the wine tastes funny to me.

Is the king saying that the wine tastes funny to him? Or did he say, "The wine tastes funny," to me? Of course, if you mean the first, then as an indirect quote it should be:

The King said the wine tastes funny to him

Still even if the second, it's nice to make things clear to the reader by writing it as:

The King said to me (that) the wine tastes funny.

Direct quotes are less confusing because the actual quote is set off by quotation marks, but again it's nice to be clear by putting an adverb close to the verb it modifies.

The King said to me, "This wine tastes funny," right before he died from poisoning.

Note that direct quotes that appear in the middle of sentences routinely have commas or other punctuation both before and after the quote.

He said, "Direct quotations should be set off by both quotation marks and commas," but everyone ignored him.

  • Thank you. In speech, can I use all four of the sentences I gave interchangeably with the right intonations and gestures? – Fire and Ice May 26 '18 at 5:40
  • @DereMemo Yes, any of them are fine. – Andrew May 26 '18 at 6:16
  • Thanks again. But I think in speech, "He said to me (that) I was funny" and "He told me I was funny" (this one is the most safe one) are the most comprehensible ones. One more question: Also, native speakers can use the structures in all four sentences I gave, right? – Fire and Ice May 26 '18 at 6:24
  • Can I also say "Who said this to you?" or "Who said to you this?" instead of "Who told you this?"? – Fire and Ice May 26 '18 at 11:39
  • @Andrew - Perhaps the more pertinent question might be: Would ”Who told you this?” be an improvement? – J.R. May 26 '18 at 13:41
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The verb "tell" is ditransitive, it usually requires a listener or recipient, what is/was communicated becomes the object complement. The verb "say" is monotransitive, the message itself becomes the direct object, unless "to" is used to insert a listener as another object.

When would “said to me/him/her etc.” sound most natural?

When we are telling a story that involves dialogue, we can use "said to" + object (noun or pronoun) but it sounds more natural when it comes after the direct quote

The moon is made of green cheese the King said to the boy

However, we're probably more accustomed to seeing "said" used in the following way

The King saidThe moon is made of green cheese

In the OP's scenario, any of the following solutions is acceptable

  1. “You are funny” he said to me
  2. He said “You are funny”
  3. He said (that) I was funny
  4. He told me (that) I was funny
  • There wasn't any more space to add the explanation why I removed tos from "the verb 'to tell'", etc. – the infinitive marker isn't part of the verb; besides, it's potentially confusing when talking about the preposition to in the same answer. – userr2684291 May 27 '18 at 13:56
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    @userr2684291 Thanks for the edit, I had written something different earlier and forgot to take off the "to" when I was satisfied with the "answer". A second pair of eyes is always appreciated. Thanks again :) – Mari-Lou A May 27 '18 at 13:58

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