Talking: Say, Tell, Ask, Speak, Talk, Answer, Reply

Say (say/said/said)

We use say when we report someone’s words.

  • She said ‘This is horrible!’
  • He said that he wanted a drink.

We use say when we ask about language.

  • a: How do you say ‘book’ in Spanish? b: ‘Libro’.

We say hello / goodbye   please / thank you /Happy Birthday / Merry Christmas / Happy New Year / Congratulations

Tell (tell/told/told)

Tell is usually followed immediately by a person. Say is not followed immediately by a person.

  • He told me his name. [not He said me his name.]

We use tell when we want to know how to get to a place.

  • Can you tell me where the bus station is, please? [not Can you say me …?]

We use tell with other wh- words too (when, how, why, where), e.g. you can tell someone how to do something, where something is, why something happened.

  • He told me how to send a fax.
  • Tell me when you want to have dinner.
  • You can tell someone the time / a story / a joke / your name / address / telephone number.


Ask is used for questions.

  • My sister asked me where I was going, (or My sister asked (me) ‘Where are you going?’)
  • a: Can I ask you a question? b: Yes.
  • a: What day of the week were you born? b: Thursday.

You can ask someone the way / the time / a question.

Ask somebody to do something and ask someone for something.

  • I asked him to turn off his radio, (or I said ‘Please turn off your radio.’
  • She asked for the bill, (or She said ‘Can I have the bill please?’)


Do you speak Japanese?   [not Do you -talk Japanese?]

I like talking to you. (having a conversation with you)

Can you answer the telephone / the door, please?
(pick up the phone / open the door to see who it is)

I wrote a letter to him but he did not reply.
(for letters/faxes/e-mails) (he did not send me a letter