Say and Tell - what is the difference? CEF A2/B1

Say or Tell - What is the difference?

So is there a rule? What is the difference between these two words?

We use 'say' for something and 'tell' for someone.

Example: He said he would be late. He told me he would be late.

Easy - yes?  Well no -  not if you're a German speaker.

The problem is that 'erzählen' is used mainly in the sense of telling a story, or talking about past experiences. The rest of the time German uses 'sagen' for both the English verbs 'say' and 'tell'. So in German my example above would be:

Er sagte, dass er spät sein würde. Er sagte mir, dass er spät sein würde.

This is why, of course, there is a tendency for German learners English to use 'say' when a native speaker would use 'tell'.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that as usual there are a lot of exceptions to the English rule; expressions where we should use 'say', but we use 'tell'. I'm telling the truth here  (Sorry!) If you're interested in a comprehensive list of these exceptions in picture form click this link here.  As usual, however, most of us  have to rely on our 'Bauchgefühl'. How is yours?  Try the test and see.

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