Difference between Said and Told

Key difference: The words said and told are similar in meaning, but their appropriateness is based on the context that they’re used in.

People who’re trying to learn the English language always encounter dilemmas regarding the usage of similar meaning words such as 'said' and 'told'. An easy way of understanding how to use these two words would to be to look at them from the following perspective:

  •  You say words.
  •  You tell someone about something.

The above sentences helps greatly to understand that when a person speaks during a conversation, he/she is saying something from his/her point of view, but from a listener’s or a bystander’s perspective, he/she is telling something to the rest of the people participating in the conversation.

Grammatically, 'told' is a transitive verb, which always needs an object to make sense. Whereas, 'said' doesn’t require any object to go with. A sentence that has said need not have an object in it, but a sentence having told must necessarily feature an object in it.

For example:

I said that I would be back by Monday.

In the above sentence, ‘I’ is the subject, but there isn’t an object in the sentence. However, the sentence still is complete in nature and makes absolute sense as well, which doesn’t hold same in the case of told.

For example:

I told that I would be back by Monday.

The above sentence would be held incorrect in terms of grammar. Told is a transitive verb, so it should always be associated with an object. Due to the absence of an object in this sentence, it feels incomplete and doesn’t make complete sense. However, with the addition of an object in form of the pronoun ‘her’, this sentence would be grammatically correct and make absolute sense:

I told her that I would be back by Monday.

The sentence now looks complete and presents a clearer picture than what it was before.

There are also other differences in using the two words. Told is generally used to provide information about something to a person or persons. Said refers to any type of conversation, and so is used more casually in conversations. Said is used to report what someone else has spoken, such as a comment, a quote, etc. This is also one of the reasons why ‘sayings’ are called so. Whereas, told is used to report what someone else has spoken to a specific person or a group of persons.

For example:

They told us about their experiences in Berlin.

This is the correct form of usage. However, if said was to replace told in this sentence, its meaning would be altered and the sentence would be grammatically incorrect too.

Another way to look at the difference between said and told is that told is often used in sentences constructed in direct speech, whereas said is used in sentences formed using indirect speech.

For example:

The teacher told us to keep quiet. (Direct speech)

Keep quiet, the teacher said to us. (Indirect speech)

Hence, the differences between said and told are very subtle, but ones that cannot be refrained from.

Comparison between Said and Told:

 

Said

Told

Type of verb

Intransitive

Transitive

Condition

N/A

Always needs an object along with it in a sentence.

Used

More casually

Formally and causally. Formally while ordering or commanding.

Implication

Said is used to report what someone else has spoken.

Told is used to report what someone else has spoken to a specific person or a group of persons.

Direct/Indirect speech

Said is used prominently in indirect speech.

Told is used generously in direct speech.

Image Courtesy: newhallpark.primaryblogger.co.uk, theguardian.com

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