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SAY TELL TALK SPEAK - HARD 4 POLES


Polonius3 1,000 | 12,446  
11 Jan 2009 /  #1
He said me...She told to me,... I don't talk German... Please say more slowly... are but a few examples of the difficutly and confusion many Polish learners of English experience. Anyone know of a quick and easy way to explain the differences?
mafketis 25 | 9,308  
11 Jan 2009 /  #2
First rule might have to do with objects

say = you have to include what the person said, whether as a quote (direct or indirect) "He said he'd be here." or as a pronoun "That's what they said." "What did she say?" the person being told doesn't have to be included but can be (with 'to') "That's what he said to me."

tell = you have to include the person who was told. "Tell me." "Let me tell you." "I told him to get out." "Are you thinking of telling him?" (if the person being told is left out then the contents are obligatorily absent and the meaning is changed 'to inform on'. "I'm telling."

as for speak, talk

speak = a language or a more formal activity (with a 'to' object) (He spoke to the delegates. Her boss spoke to her about her lateness). As a general human activity it's equivalent to walking or breathing. "When the baby begins to speak ...."

talk = general human activity with no object but maybe a topic. "Let's talk (about) politics". Also a way to pass the time "We talked for a while"

Enough to get started.
sausage 19 | 777  
11 Jan 2009 /  #3
Here are my observations (completely undefinitive of course!)

Tell / told...
One usage is when issuing an instruction e.g.
He told me to shut the door on my way out.

Tell, is usually used in preference to said when enquiring about something or imparting knowledge/a fact...
Please tell me where I can get a taxi.
He told me that he wasn't coming into work.
Wroclaw 44 | 5,384  
11 Jan 2009 /  #4
say something to someone.

tell someone something.
Seanus 15 | 19,706  
11 Jan 2009 /  #5
Very good thread, P3. This is more like it. I had to explain a highly complex situation to my HOS/DOS and Polish teacher of English. Their English, clearly, is of a high level but they were unsure as to how to differentiate them in a specialist context. There are some things, how can I say, that are intuitively felt by a native speaker of English. Couple that with a knowledge of the language and you have it easier.

The key is, switch off the Polish. That's the first point. It just confuses things. Let yourself be drilled (forgive the pun, please) by your teacher, it'll sink in eventually (again, forgive me).

As for now, I'll wait for any questions of a specific nature as the key points have been answered by others (the general stuff).
mafketis 25 | 9,308  
11 Jan 2009 /  #6
say something to someone.

tell someone something.

The problem with that is that it suggests the two are equivalent when they're not at all.

"Say something to someone" is not common and can sound awkward or stilted. Students need to know to generally stay away from it like nuclear waste.

A simpler rule:

Say something.

Tell someone (something).
MrBubbles 10 | 614  
11 Jan 2009 /  #7
"Say something to someone" is not common and can sound awkward or stilted. Students need to know to generally stay away from it like nuclear waste.

'Say hello to him' or 'Say thank you to the man' is awkward?
Seanus 15 | 19,706  
11 Jan 2009 /  #8
A rare slip up by mafketis, I'd suggest.

There is nothing wrong with the above, Mr Bubbles. You are right.
Bartolome 2 | 1,085  
11 Jan 2009 /  #9
I'm telling you - it's not what I wanted to say.
OP Polonius3 1,000 | 12,446  
11 Jan 2009 /  #10
Another pitfall for Poles is 'How can you tell?' which they often translate as 'Jak tak możesz mówić?'
Seanus 15 | 19,706  
11 Jan 2009 /  #11
I've just read Makfetis's post again. He outlined the speak/talk difference quite well. Especially the part about the 'to' object with speak.

Without this qualification, he'd've laid himself open to those who could have retorted, 'she got a right good talking to'. The word 'object' is important, much like in the difference between a transitive and an intransitive verb.
mafketis 25 | 9,308  
11 Jan 2009 /  #12
'Say hello to him' or 'Say thank you to the man' is awkward?

Please note that I wrote "_can_ sound awkward" no "inevitably sounds awkward". Yes there are times when "say something 'to someone'" are okay, but there are times when it's not.

Also note that neither of these violates the 'say something' rule. Adding 'to ....' is more an afterthought and the sentences are fine without them

Say hello. Say thank you.

But unless you're carefull you'll open to the door to:

"He said to me to leave. " or "I'll say it to him" or "I'll say it to you again." which are understandable but awkward or at least not optimal.

Again remembering the rule that say has to include a reference to what was said while tell has to include who was told is a good basic rule. Refinements (like when you can add a 'to someone' phrase come later.

adding this due to the stupid posting policy:

Another pitfall for Poles is 'How can you tell?' which they often translate as 'Jak tak możesz mówić?'

I would just treat that as a separate verb that happens to be written and spelled the same. Or, if the students are up to it, a separate use of the verb unrelated to speech acts.

That is, a secondary meaning of 'tell' and arguably 'say' is (roughly) wiedzieć but this is limited mostly to set expressions.

I can tell. (Wiem i tyle. Znam się na tym)

It's hard to say. (Trudno powiedzieć. Nie wiadomo.)

One of the hardest things about English is the difference between productive meanings that can be freely used to generate new sentences and set expressions that have to be treated separately and learned one by one and which have no wider application.

Even native speakers (I don't exempt myself from this) can get caught up and forget about the latter.
Seanus 15 | 19,706  
11 Jan 2009 /  #13
Who's gonna say it to him? Nobody? Come on, oh, ok, 'I'll say it to him'. This is OK makfetis. Not awkward.

Oh, I didn't catch it. Hmm, ok, I'll say it to you again.

See the difference? The above two don't have an infinitive, the first one does.
MrBubbles 10 | 614  
11 Jan 2009 /  #14
There is nothing wrong with the above, Mr Bubbles. You are right.

Thank you. I just wish more people would recognise it....

Please note that I wrote "_can_ sound awkward" no "inevitably sounds awkward". Yes there are times when "say something 'to someone'" are okay, but there are times when it's not.

You make a good point about register and appropriacy of language but you need to give a better explanation to a student than 'sometimes you do and sometimes you don't'. This is arguably one of the failings of grammatical / lexical syllabi - there are rules that govern the use and form of language but these are socially organised and grammar explanations don't cut the ice with them.

My advice is to give the student a situation and tell them what to say. Don't bother contrasting the four words.

Mr Bubbles. You are right.

Thanks!
polishgirltx  
11 Jan 2009 /  #15
"When the baby begins to speak ...."

i thought it's 'when the baby begins to talk...'?
as of a baby's first words...
sausage 19 | 777  
11 Jan 2009 /  #16
Anyone who isn't a native English speaker reading this thread is probably confused by now.
I googled "say tell" and this came up...

englishclub.com/vocabulary/cw-say-tell.htm

It's probably not exhaustive, but there are plenty of examples and a link to a quiz at the foot of the page.
mafketis 25 | 9,308  
11 Jan 2009 /  #17
I think this thread is a good counterpart to the thread about Anglophones learning Polish (and discussions wherein on the difficulties of English for Polish speakers).

Two simple pairs of words and natives have some agreement (and clear disagreements) about when to use each member.

i thought it's 'when the baby begins to talk...'?
as of a baby's first words...

Well speak and talk overlap more than say and tell, I was thinking of linguistics (and studies of language acquisition) where it seems to me that 'begin to speak' is a lot more common, corresponding with a general principle that when both are possible 'speak' sounds more formal.
Bondi 4 | 142  
16 Jan 2009 /  #18
to speak ~ przemawiać
to talk ~ rozmawiać
to say ~ mówić
to tell ~ opowiadać

This is only a rough approximation of mine. One simply has to learn the nuances in English expressions, as you've already explained above.

I think this situation is far more worse 'vice versa', i.e. for an English speaker to learn Polish, because of the co-verbs and the imperfect/perfect distinction: prze-, roz-, poroz-, wymawiać; opowiadać - opowiedzieć etc. :)
Matyjasz 2 | 1,544  
17 Jan 2009 /  #19
I'm telling you - it's not what I wanted to say.

I'm saying you - it's not what I wanted to tell! <-- this one sounds great! ;)
Seanus 15 | 19,706  
8 Feb 2009 /  #20
Let's continue this thread. It's full of chances to show how it should be done.
Bartolome 2 | 1,085  
8 Feb 2009 /  #21
I'm saying you - it's not what I wanted to tell! <-- this one sounds great! ;)

I have told
...or said
...or was it 'spoken' ?
Howgh anyway
osiol 55 | 3,922  
8 Feb 2009 /  #22
to talk ~ rozmawiać

I thought that was more like to converse.

I can tell you all something without speaking. The written word can only occasionally speak volumes.

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