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I wonder if I should use 'said' or 'told' in the following dialogue:

I waited for too long. He took her away.

I said to him crying, "I saw her first!"

He said to me smiling,

"finders keepers."

(by the way, is it correct to use "finders keepings" in this situation?).

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

Tell focuses on giving information.

Please tell me your name.

Say focuses on the act of speaking

Please say that again because I didn't hear what you said.

I guess here, better to use "tell"

more info:


  • Say is used to report someone's words:
  She said "I'm thirsty."

 She said that she was thirsty.
  • Say is followed by 'to' before the object:
 Did she say that to you?
  • Say is used to ask about languages :
 How do you say 'water' in Spanish?

We say : hello, goodbye, please, thank you, congratulations, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Birthday!


  • Tell is used to inform or instruct :
 Could you tell me the way to the station please?

 Tell the children to go to bed!
  • Tell is followed directly by the object :
 Did she tell you her name?
  • Tell is used for narration :
 Tom is good at telling stories.

We tell : the time, our name, the truth, lies, the difference between two things.

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So I should use "He told me" or "He said to me" in the "Finders, Keepers" part? – janoChen May 7 '11 at 13:02
@Janochen: I think "He told me" is better in this case. – Gigili May 7 '11 at 13:05
Great answer. Thanks! – janoChen May 7 '11 at 13:06

I presume you're talking about the sentence:

I said to him crying, "I saw her first!"

This isn't really clear, since crying can mean weeping or shouting. At least it would require a comma:

I said to him, crying, "I saw her first!"

But if you mean crying as in shouting out, then why not simply say that?

I cried, "I saw her first!"

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@Robusto I mean crying (with tears). So is it OK to use said to him instead of told him? – janoChen May 7 '11 at 12:52
@Robusto: Actually he was asking between "say" and "tell"... :D – Alenanno May 7 '11 at 12:55
@Robusto So should I change 'He said to me smiling, ' to 'He said to me, smiling,' too? – janoChen May 7 '11 at 12:58
@janoChen: I would use a comma there, yes. – Robusto May 7 '11 at 13:01
@Alenanno: I accidentally upticked your comment. Oh well ... in any case, I know what @janoChen was asking. I responded to what I thought the OP should have been asking. :) – Robusto May 7 '11 at 13:03

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