So I'm living in South Korea and nearly everyone who is conversational in English says "say to X" instead of "tell X." For some reason, they avoid using "tell X" or "told X" and they stick to "say to X" and "said to X" when making statements, which to me doesn't sound colloquial (and perhaps grammatically incorrect). Furthermore, they always feel the need to add "me" when using "say" or "said" when the statement was made to them.

For instance

"Say to John he needs to be here by 9:00 p.m." (instead of "tell John...")

"John said to me he loves me" (instead of "John said..." or "John told me...")

"John said to Alice he loves her " (instead of "John told Alice...")

They also use the "to" preposition in other instances when it is not necessary.

To me, "say/ said" should be used in statements only when quoting something that was said to the speaker. So adding "to me" to "say/said" is completely superfluous. Also, "say/said" shouldn't be used to quote something that wasn't said directly to the speaker.

Are the examples above grammatically correct but not colloquial? If not, what is the appropriate grammar rule to cite?

Thanks for the help.

closed as off-topic by user140086, Nicole, Roaring Fish, tchrist, michael_timofeev Dec 26 '15 at 13:00

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  • If "everyone here" uses these constructions it would seem to follow that they are perfectly good Korean English. I don't think we have a tag for that--yet--though I have added the existing tag "Korean." – Brian Donovan Dec 24 '15 at 16:50
  • I meant to say "everyone who is conversational in English" I will make the edits. – CDM Dec 24 '15 at 16:53
  • What makes you think they have to use tell? Is there something wrong with the verb say? Call to John is an entirely different issue and you need to capitalize john. – user140086 Dec 24 '15 at 16:58
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    The reason I asked you the question in the comment was I wanted to guide you to write a more on-topic question. You should have specified that reason. Then users understand why you are asking this question. – user140086 Dec 24 '15 at 17:12
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because not only is the question unclear, but the question is primarily opinion-based without proper research or full example sentences. – user140086 Dec 24 '15 at 17:40

No, "say to X" is fine. It is OK in formal speech as well as colloquial speech. We can find it in Shakespeare, for example.

Shall I say to Caesar
What you require of him?

--Anthony and Cleopatra: III, 13

  • Using Shakespeare to demonstrate a particular word usage or phrasing is colloquial is specious. – CDM Jan 2 '16 at 20:46
  • Also, the question pertains to declarative statements and not questions. – CDM Jan 2 '16 at 20:46

"Say to X" is colloquial in casual and everyday conversation. The sentence is definitely understood and from experience I have heard the use of "X said to me" or "X said to Y" or "I said to X". However, I have not heard "Say to X" as often, but regardless it is used. Personally to me, it sounds a bit odd to say "Say to X" because usually say "Tell it to X" and less commonly "Say it to X".

Long story short, yes, it makes sense, and no, it is colloquial.

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    "Say to X" is only colloquial when used in a question. What did you say to me? or What did he say to you? I've only heard it in declarative statements when people fumble their words. So in a declarative sentence, the use of "Say to X" is not colloquial. Colloquial means it sounds natural, not that it is understood or used here and there. – CDM Dec 25 '15 at 11:30

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