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Just a reality check:

I must say that car mechanics I come across are mostly rogues.

and

I must tell that car mechanics I come across are mostly rogues.

Would the second sentence sound unnatural to a native speaker? Would it be different in meaning or tone?

I know that we usually use an object ("tell you") with tell but still, would it be passable as a stand-in for say in this case?

If it would indeed sound strange, would this introduction of an object suffice:

I must tell you that car mechanics I come across are mostly rogues.

Would this be fully analogous to sentence 1?

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  • For people who may think this a duplicate: Although there are many questions discriminating 'tell', 'say', 'speak' &c, none really makes clear when the goal of tell may be omitted. Dec 6, 2014 at 15:35
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    Not something I can formulate into an answer, but essentially, yes 1 & 3 works, 2 is awkward. Either 'say' to speak generally about it whilst you're listening [which works even if there's only the 2 of you in the conversation], or 'tell you' to specifically talk to you about it. That might be the distinction, but I'm not certain. Dec 6, 2014 at 18:30
  • 1 "I must say that car mechanics I come across are mostly rogues" could be the same as 3, so "I must say/tell you that" is just for emphasis (You could simply say, "Car mechanics I come across are mostly rogues" in that conversation). But 1 could also mean, in the future, if that's the context understood in the wider conversation. Slightly clunky example: "What advice will you give in your talk tomorrow?" "I must say that car mechanics I come across are mostly rogues. After that, I haven't really decided." Aug 18, 2023 at 19:06

1 Answer 1

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The second sentence does sound unnatural. "Tell" needs an object in this case.

The first and third sentences both work, and mean almost the same thing. The third sentence focuses on telling you something. Out of context, it sounds more like a direct warning -- "Hey, pay attention to this, car mechanics are trouble!" The first sentence sounds more like a remark or opinion -- "Speaking of car mechanics, I've met a lot of dishonest ones." It might be agreeing or disagreeing with another sentence. These are only small differences, though.

Also, you might want to put a "the" before "car mechanics". It makes the sentence sound smoother since you're talking about specific car mechanics (the ones you come across).

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  • Thank you for the tip on the definite article, Adam! I thought that since the speaker's reference includes the mechanics that he might come across in the future, the reference is too "vague" for the use of the. But I wasn't sure. Dec 6, 2014 at 19:03
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    It's a borderline case. I think the important part is whether "car mechanics" refers to a type of person or a specific group of people. But again, this is a small difference. Other people might say that there is no difference. In context, the meaning would be clear.
    – Adam Haun
    Dec 6, 2014 at 19:52

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