Say and tell both have the same meaning and are also both used with direct and indirect speech. With the direct speech – say is more common than tell.
Please see examples below:
“Turn left”, I said. Or - Turn left, I told him.
He said that it was my last dance. Or – He told me that it was my last dance.


We only use tell to instruct or inform. So we do not use tell with greetings, exclamations or questions.
Please see examples below:
He said, “Good day”. But not – He told them “Good day”.
John said, “What a nice surprise.” But not – John told us “What a nice surprise.”

Often, say is used without personal objects.

For example: He said that she would be absent. Not – She said to me that she would be absent.
We use “to” if we want to put a personal object after say.
For example: And I say to all the mankind in this world…

We usually say who is told after tell.

For example: He told me that he would be absent. Not – He told that he would be absent.
In a few expressions, tell is used without a personal object. Some common examples are: tell a story/joke; tell the truth; tell a lie
For example: I don’t think she is telling a lie. Not – Saying a lie…
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