In colloquial prose, is the idiomatic "say for" an appropriate substitute for "tell" in "tell someone to do something" whatever the context?


Have I ever said for you to pretend to be someone you are not. source

We concluded the conversation with my saying for him to contact me in six months.source

Now I am saying for you to sit down...source

May I say for you to call... source

We parted with her saying for me to be safe. source

Didn't you say for him to call his probation officer and tell him he was terminated? source

I think he might be saying for us to reach out to Muslims... source

I never said for him to rot in hell, that is God's decision after death. source

It sounds like what is meant in the last example is something like "I never wished for him to rot in hell" or "I never said he should rot in hell" rather than "I never told him to."

Does this sort of more obscure meaning of "say for" have any currency in colloquial speech and writing?

  • I suspect you're right about the colloquial usage (in the UK at least, and, I'd guess, to a greater degree in the US). I'd add that the usage seems to be confined to interrogative and negative contexts (as in your examples). Sadly, there seem to be no examples on Google! I don't know why. Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 17:50
  • Ah, thanks for the references. Examples seem very rare! The first is a tramslation from Portuguese, and may be overly 'word-for-word'. The second might be evasion by a Lawyer, not wanting to be as direct as 'Didn't you tell him to ...' or as weak as 'Didn't you suggest that he ...'. Setting up the - defendant? - by unconventional terminology! Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 18:25
  • @EdwinAshworth The first example is not a translation from Portuguese. The thing is I formatted my computer in Brazilian Portuguese for some reason.;)
    – Elian
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 18:46

2 Answers 2


The usage is perfectly common and natural in colloquial speech for many people, but it wouldn't be considered acceptable in more formal contexts. It's certainly no more AmE than BrE.

Generally, to say for [pro]noun to [do or be something] implies call for them to do/be [whatever]. Thus it can't always be assumed that tell is a valid substitution. OP's final construction is more likely to be used where the speaker is claiming he never said "I hope he rots in hell" (spoken to a third party), rather than "I hope you rot in hell" (words addressed to "him").

Even in OP's first two examples, it's quite possible the speaker means he never suggested to anyone else that you/he should disguise your true self/call his probation officer. Only the precise context might make this clear - but personally, if it didn't, my inclination would be to favour the told other people interpretation.

  • For ... to is the full infinitive complementizer. For introduces the subject of the infinitive clause, and to introduces the infinitive verb. Both may be deleted, under certain circumstances, and for normally is deleted under most circumstances. The only place for is really required is when an infinitive clause with a subject starts the sentence: For Bill to leave now would be a bad idea vs *Bill to leave now would be a bad idea. Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 19:35
  • @John: Ah, right. That clarifies for me what I hadn't quite managed to articulate above. When it occurs as say for X to, this does not significantly imply saying anything to X (X connects forward to the infinitive clause following, not back to "say"). It can't possibly connect backwards in, for example, They didn't say for it to be within the four walls; maybe they'd have to go out somewhere. Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 21:20
  • @FumbleFingers Sorry, what does "It's certainly no more AmE than BrE." mean? Thanks.
    – Loviii
    Commented Dec 23, 2022 at 21:08
  • Z is no more X than Y is an alternative to Z is as much Y as it is X. That's used when refuting the prior claim that Z is predominantly X (if the prior claim had been that Z is predominantly Y, the positions of X and Y would be reversed in both versions, when refuting the claim). Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 14:23

Tell seems good here.

Have I ever told you to pretend to be someone you are not.

Didn't you tell him to call his probation officer and tell him he was terminated?

I never told him to rot in hell.

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