a.1) He said he was moving to New York.
a.2) *He said me he was moving to New York.

b.1) *He told he was moving to New York.
b.2) He told me he was moving to New York.

Why is a.2) wrong, but b.2) is right?

Can anybody explain what the difference between these verbs (say, tell) is, obviously with regard to the rule, if any, for which "me" has to be omitted in a.1) but not in b.2).


Both say and tell are transitive verbs: they take as their objects the utterance quoted (in direct speech) or paraphrased (in indirect speech).

The difference is that tell in most cases requires an indirect object, the hearer of the utterance (it is like give in this respect), which may be expressed with or without a preposition. With say the indirect object is optional, and must be expressed with a prepositional phrase:

He told me that. He told that to me.
He said that to me.

However, tell does not require an indirect object when used with certain direct objects:

He told the story/history/tale/joke.


As you know say and tell are very similar in meaning. Stoney B has given a very good grammatical explanation already, but when you speak it's sometimes easier to think in terms of what you want to say.

Since the grammar has already been explained, I'll just give a couple of examples of what I mean.

With the veb say, the focus is on what is said or the information.

Example: He said the movie was amazing.

In this example, we can only assume he was talking to the speaker. But it's very possible he was talking to someone else, and the speaker simply heard him. The focus here is on the information. It must come directly after the verb say.

With the veb tell, the focus is on whom we tell or the listener.

Example: He told his students they had homework.

In this example, the information is present, but the most important part is the listeners, the students. When we use tell, the person or people to whom we are talking must come directly after the verb tell.


Well, both told & said are used in narration.

Mostly, Said is used, when somebody narrating the monologue of the speech held in the past. eg> The leader said that ……………………….

And, Told is used, when somebody narrating the dialogue of the conversation held in the past. eg> The boss told me that …………………….

However, today’s trends are using both the words as replica to each other.

  • 5
    No, today's trend is not to use these words interchangeably, except among people who don't speak English very well. – Martha Aug 5 '13 at 14:06

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