062 Commonly confused structures in English
Commonly confused structures in English “say”, “tell”, “explain”, “apologies”, “sorry”, “recommend” and “suggest”
Hi there. Welcome back to another episode of The Art of Business English. Andrew Ambrosius here again, and pleasure having you, as always.
Now, today I would really like to look at something which I commonly see with my students and basically, what we’ll be covering is some common structures, three, in fact, three common structures which are commonly confused in English. So what I mean by that is I want to look at the difference between explain, tell, and say, which is very commonly confused. Then in the second part of the episode, I’m going to be looking at how to use sorry and apologize. Okay? Sometimes we have a few issues with sorry and apologize. And then in the third part of the episode, I’m going to look quickly at the difference, or how to use suggest and recommend, because those are also commonly confused in English.
Now, probably going to make a very quick episode today, but very valuable nonetheless, so let’s have a quick look, then, at these three commonly confused structures. So let’s start with tell, say, and explain. Right?
Say, tell and explain
So basically we often see problems with tell, say, and explain because of the confusion in use and meaning between English and Spanish. Now, to say is decir. Okay, so to say something is decir algo. To explain, in English, or in Spanish, is explicar. But often, the Spanish use it to also mean say, or decir. And another thing is that to tell is also [Spanish 00:02:01]. So, there can be quite a bit of confusion between these three words or these three verbs when we’re trying to get them out and in the correct context. We’re trying to get them out with the correct structure.
So, let’s look at what really is the difference between say and tell because that’s probably the first problem that we have. Basically, when we say something, we are really saying it in general and not specifically to a person. So, what do I mean by that? Well, basically what I mean is that the communication is not direct between two people. It’s more like general to the general public, for example. So, we would say something like the government has said it’s going to raise taxes. Okay? So the government says or the government has said that it’s going to raise taxes. So, as you can see, the government has mentioned this or the government has put this out to the public and they haven’t actually said it to someone in particular. Okay? They’ve said it to the general population.
Whereas, tell is more direct communication between two people or a group or people. For example, the other day, Mary told me that she’s pregnant. So, she’s specifically told me something and that communication was direct. It was to me, and to me only. She didn’t say it to everyone. And you couldn’t really say … She didn’t tell it to everyone. We don’t say tell it to everyone. We would say tell everyone. Okay? Or say it to everyone. Okay, so you can see the difference. Not say is to everyone in generally … everyone generally. But tell is more to specific people. Okay?
Now, there is a difference in structure as well and that’s where people often have problems. Firstly, we say things to people. For example, John said he was going to be late to work. So, John said he was going to be late to work. I don’t say John said me. Okay? We can’t put a pronoun after say, okay? Like you can in Spanish. So, you can’t say … For example, many students think that ah, [Spanish 00:04:40] is say me. Like [Spanish 00:04:46] is say me. Say me, we never say that. You don’t say, say me. Okay? Or you could say tell me. Okay? But say does not come followed by this object pronoun. Say is just with the structure of you say something. Okay? So, John said he was going to be late for work. The something is that he was going to be late to work.
I don’t say John said me.
Now tell, on the other hand, yes, because we tell things directly to people, we can then use an object pronoun after tell. So, we can say tell John to come and see me after the meeting. Or John told me that he was going to be late for work. So, then it’s quite clear that John told me specifically. Whereas, if John just said that he was going to be late for work, it’s more general and I’m not including this direct communication to me. Okay? So, when we use tell, we’re actually saying it more specifically to someone, and when we say say, we’re generally saying it to everyone.
Now, another thing is that you can use say with the preposition to but only in the simple past. John said to me, that would work. But you can’t use it in the present simple. John say to me. Okay? That doesn’t work. So, John said to me he was going to be late for work. That would be a similar meaning as John told me he was going to be late for work. And obviously, say and tell are both irregular verbs so they have their special form in the simple past and in the past participle form, so keep that in mind. Now, that’s really the difference between say and tell. So we say things, and we tell things to people. Okay? John told me to be quiet would be another example. Okay? So just keep that structure in mind.
And then, explain. Explain is not really say like with [Spanish 00:06:59]. Explain is more the elaboration of a process … like explaining a process or explaining a story. So in English, we need to explain specific things to people. So, think of them more as a process of a story or some important news. Explain is aligned with an explanation as a noun. So the structure, as well, is something that can cause a bit of confusion. We explain something to someone. Okay? So, John explained the new rules to me. You can see that object pronoun, to me. Explain something to someone. And that someone is generally this object pronoun me, you, him, her, them. Okay?
We don’t say John explained me he was going to be late
So, Mary explained the story to them. Okay? So it’s very important that we follow this structure always because that’s the structure we use with explain. We don’t say John explained me he was going to be late. That doesn’t work at all. It would be John told me he was going to be late. We explain things, processes, stories, news, to people. So those are some of the commonly confused … or some of the ways that say, tell, and explain are commonly confused. Most importantly, it’s just understanding the little differences between them and then making sure that you use the correct structure when you go about explaining them.