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How to use Say, Tell and Ask

Average: 3.6 (84 votes)

What's the difference between say, tell and ask?


We say: hello and goodbye, please and thank you, happy birthday and congratulations.

Say hello to your sister for me.
We said goodbye at the airport.
Did you say thank you to Mrs Anderson?

We use say to ask about language:
How do you say 'car' in Portuguese? 'Carro'.

We use say to report someone's words:
He said "I love you".
She said she loved him.


Tell is usually followed immediately by a person. Said is not:
He told me where to go. (NOT He said me...)

We use tell in indirect questions:
Can you tell me where the bus station is? (NOT Can you say me...)
Can you tell me who owns that red car?

We use tell with some wh- words. You can tell someone where something is, why something happened, when we want to do something:
She told me where to go.
Tell me why you' re so angry.

You can tell a story or a joke:
Please tell Tony that joke you told me. It was so funny!


Ask is used for questions:

What is your name?
Can I ask you a question?

You can ask someone to do something/for something:

I asked Carol to meet me at the café.
He asked for directions.

Lesson by Nasreen, teacher at EC Cape Town English School

Complete the sentences with the correct form of say, tell or ask:

  • 1. "Where's the park?" she ___.

  • 2. He didn't know so I ___ him where to get the train.

  • 3. Please ___ me how to use the dishwasher.

  • 4. Peter ___ me to go to the cinema with him.

  • 5. Sarah ___ she'd be coming at 5pm.

  • 6. Did you ___ "Happy birthday" to Cedric?

  • 7. "I'm so tired!" ___ Angela.

  • 8. Why don't you ___ Louella to help you?

  • 9. They ___ us they'd be late.

  • 10. He ___ her: "Come with me".