Talk / Say / Tell - Podcast Episode 34

Welcome to Episode 34 of The English Sessions. Talk / Say / Tell (Rock and Roll Edition!). I am your host and English teacher, Mike Butler. These podcasts can help you improve your English! Together, we will talk about grammar… pronunciation… structure... and have some fun too. Remember to visit my website, to contact me for private lessons, and for more content.

You can also read the transcript of this audio on the website, as you listen to this episode. Also, go to the website for some great Rock and Roll songs today!

Listen for these words today:
To devote - ‘to devote’ is a verb that means ‘to give all or most of your time to something’. The monk devoted their life to their religion.

Break down - ‘break down’ is a phrasal verb. It has more than one meaning. Today, it is used to talk about someone’s vehicle that is not working/functioning properly.

To repair - ‘to repair’ is a verb that means ‘to fix’ something. ‘Repair’ is often used in relation to mechanic devices, appliances or technology. My refrigerator needed to be repaired.

Tom Petty - Breakdown
(He is probably not talking about his car breaking down in this song. You can also have an emotional 'breakdown'.)

We are going to talk about 3 verbs today. Talk, say, and tell. They are all similar words. They are all about communication. So why devote an entire episode on these verbs? Because there are small differences related to when you use them, and also how they go into a sentence. So let’s get started.

TALK: Let’s start with talk. Listen to my examples: John talked to Mary yesterday about the weather / Bill talked about sports with his friend Joe.
Okay, you probably know what talk means. It is about communication, right? John used his words, in a language, and Mary listened to those words. This is obviously a very common verb.

Notice that there is no direct object after the verb ‘talk’. That means it is intransitive. To understand the importance of knowing which verbs are transitive, and which verbs are intransitive, listen to Episode 28 of the English Sessions. ( ).

This is the MOST COMMON way to use the verb ‘talk’. We will talk about less common ways later.

So again, you will commonly see a preposition after the verb talk. Talk about; talk to; talk with. We talk ‘to’ or talk ‘with’ people. We talk ‘about’ information. You can talk ‘about’ a person, and that typically means the person is not part of that conversation. For example: My friend and I talked about Iggy Pop, the famous rock musician.  He’s still creating great music after all these years! How does he do it?

Also, since this verb is intransitive, we don’t need an object at all! We talked for hours. He talked, but no one listened.

Iggy Pop - 1969

TELL: Next is ‘tell’. I’ll start with examples again: I will tell you the latest news. I will tell you the facts. The doctor will tell the patient the good news. We told scary stories on Halloween. I told you yesterday to clean your room, young man!

You see, there is a big difference here between ‘talk’ and ‘tell’. In the most common uses, ‘tell’ HAS objects directly after the verb. Often, you will see both the information and the person directly after the verb. I told you the latest news. I told you. I told you the latest news. The person: YOU. The information: THE NEWS.

Sometimes, you will see a preposition before the person. For example: “He told the truth to his parents”. So, you still have an object directly after the verb, “HE TOLD THE TRUTH”. To whom did he tell the truth? He told the truth to his parents, but his parents could tell that he was lying.

SAY: Let’s now talk about ‘say’. Let’s again start with examples: Joe said that his car broke down. He needs to repair the engine / Our parents never believe what we say. Say it, don’t spray it!

Notice, ‘say’ also has an object directly after the verb. They said mean things about the prime minister. “SAY” is also the most common verb in stories. “Where is the princess?”, said the prince. The mother said to her children, “don’t forget to bring your backpacks to school today!”.

Do you see the big difference between the common uses of ‘tell’ and ‘say’? Remember, with ‘tell’ you can have the person and the information directly after the verb: “He told me the truth”, BUT, with ‘say’ you only have the information directly after the verb: He said that TO me. The politician said this TO the crowd.

This last fact is the reason why I wanted to make this episode today. Often, my students say, “you said me to do my homework” OR “Mike, you said me this already!”. This is NOT the common way to use this verb. It is not common to have the person right after the verb, ‘say’. Try to break this bad habit. I recommend that you do not say this. The verb you want to use is tell.

CORRECT: “You told me to do my homework” and “You told me this already”. Ahhh, this sounds much better. So remember what I told you, and try to say these examples out loud. Don’t forget to talk to all of your friends about The English Sessions.

After the break, I will talk about less common and informal ways to use ‘talk’, ‘say’ and ‘tell’.


So, remember when I said that the verb ‘talk’ is intransitive? That means that you don’t need an object, and the object is introduced by a preposition. I talked to my mom. I talked about my amazing dog, Murphy. Well there are certain phrases that are used in English that DO have the object directly after the verb ‘talk’. EXAMPLES: “You’re talking nonsense!” That means that you are not making sense. Here’s another example: Don’t try to talk your way out of it, I know that you robbed that bank!” This means that the speaker believes that the bank robber is lying about not robbing the bank.

Also, you may hear this informal phrase at work: “Let’s talk business!” Perhaps you are about to enter a negotiation. “Okay, let’s talk business. What’s your offer?”

And then there’s also this interesting phrase: “Let’s talk turkey!”. This means to speak plainly, and get to the point. If you ‘talk turkey’, you want to talk in an open and serious way in order to solve a problem ( ). That’s an interesting expression, perhaps I’ll do an episode of Get The Word! about that one.

Again, go and listen to Episode 28 of the English Sessions about transitive and intransitive verbs. In that episode, I talk about how many many many verbs have both meanings that are sometimes transitive and intransitive. ‘Talk’, ‘say’, and ’tell’ are no exception.

I want to give an example of ‘say’ without any object at all. Sometimes, when someone wants to strongly agree with someone else, they’ll use the words: “I’ll say!”. For example, my friend Ron might say, “Wow! Did you see that meteor shower last night? It was definitely an exciting night to be looking at the sky!”. Then, I would reply with: “I’ll say! I’ve never seen so many shooting stars!”

Finally, here’s an example of ‘tell’ without an object. Perhaps you have a secret. You want to tell your friend that secret, but you want to make sure that your friend is not going to tell that secret to anyone else. You can say, “Hey Mike, promise you won’t tell?”. (EXAMPLE FROM THE OXFORD DICTIONARY).

These are all very common verbs in the English language, and there are definitely other ways to use these verbs that I didn’t talk about today. Write in to the podcast, or leave a message on the website, with some other examples of these verbs.

Any questions? Write to me at . Leave a message for me on the website, and I will play it on the podcast. Make sure to subscribe to this podcast so you won’t miss an episode. Visit for more content. Please rate and review The English Sessions on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Find us on social media. Twitter @theEsessions; Instagram @englishsessionswithmike; Search for The English Sessions on Facebook. Until next time, this is Mike signing off. 


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