Difference Between Said and Told

As a learner of English, you may have come across two common verbs used when reporting speech: ‘said’ and ‘told’.

At first glance, these words might seem interchangeable, but they each have their unique grammatical usage and contexts. Understanding the difference between said and told is essential in mastering English conversation and writing.

So, let’s delve into their grammatical particulars.


The verb ‘said’ is one of the most frequently used verbs in English when reporting direct and indirect speech.

It is often used without a personal object. In other words, you do not typically have to specify the person to whom the comment was directed when using ‘said’.

For instance, consider the following sentences:

  • Direct Speech: John said, "I'll come to the party."
  • Indirect Speech: John said that he would come to the party."

Note that in both sentences, the conversation was reported without specifying to whom John was speaking. Therefore, if you’re unsure about the 'receiver' of the information, it's safe to use 'said'.


The verb ‘told’, on the other hand, is always used with a personal object.  In other words, it can only be used as a transitive verb.

This means that ‘told’ requires both a subject and an object, namely, the person who said something (the subject), and the person to whom it was said (the object).

Here are some examples:

  • Direct Speech: John told Mary, "I'll come to the party."
  • Indirect Speech: John told Mary that he would come to the party.

You can see from the examples that ‘told’ always takes a personal object, in this case, 'Mary'. We get to know in this case that John was speaking to Mary.

So the main difference between 'said' and 'told' is basically the person to whom the speech is directed. If the receiver of information needs to be mentioned, use 'told'. But if the receiver of the information isn't important or isn't known, use 'said'.


Remember, exceptions exist in the English language, and one such exception is that 'said to someone' is possible to use as in:

  • John said to Mary, "I'll come to the party."

However, this is less common and can sound a little more formal or old-fashioned. If you are using it this way, note that you use 'to' with 'said', but we don't with 'told'.

Summing Up

So, always keep in mind the subject and object requirement of 'said' and 'told'. Said doesn't usually require a personal object, whereas ‘told’ does require one.

Get into the habit of asking yourself who was speaking and to whom before deciding which verb to use. If the answer to both these questions is clear, then 'told' is likely the correct verb to use. If not, 'said' will usually do the job.

Put this into practice, and in no time, you'll master the difference between said and told.

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