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  1. englishhobby's Avatar
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    #1

    It's difficult to say / tell

    It's difficult to (say / tell) how old the building is.

    I googled it to find out both words are used equally frequently (about 500.000 examples of each). What do the native speakers think?

  2. Barb_D's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: It's difficult to say / tell

    They can mean different things.
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

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    #3

    Re: It's difficult to say / tell

    [QUOTE=englishhobby;811369]It's difficult to (say / tell) how old the building is.

    NOT A TEACHER


    (1) What an interesting question. I had never thought about this before.

    (2) As the moderator told us, it depends on the context.

    (3) Tom: How old is that building on the corner?

    Sue: It's difficult to tell. It's built of wood, so it's probably pretty old; yet it has

    some features that indicate that maybe it's not so old as I think. Sorry. I can't

    give you an answer, Tom. It's just too difficult for me to tell. I am not an expert in

    architecture.

    (4) Sue: I just sent in my application for college. When do you think I'll receive an

    answer?

    George: That's difficult to say. I received my answer within one week, but who knows?

    Maybe they have so many applicants this year that they will need more time to notify you.

    NOTES: (a) Other people may disagree with my examples.

    (b) In a certain country (which, of course, I shall not name) the people are afraid to

    give their opinions about the government. I read that if you ask "Do you think the

    government is a dictatorship?" they will answer (in their native language): "That is

    difficult to say." They will smile and immediately change the subject.

  3. 5jj's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: It's difficult to say / tell

    There are, as has been noted, differences between say and tell. However, in the expression 'it's difficult to ...', I feel no significant difference. My personal preference is for 'tell'.

  4. Barb_D's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: It's difficult to say / tell

    For me the difference is that a lack of external evidience or seemingly conflicting or vague facts make it more likely to say "It's hard to tell."

    However, my lack of knowledge or my internal uncertainy would make ti more likely that I would say "It's hard to say."
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

  5. 5jj's Avatar
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    #6

    Re: It's difficult to say / tell

    Quote Originally Posted by Barb_D View Post
    For me the difference is that a lack of external evidence or seemingly conflicting or vague facts make it more likely to say "It's hard to tell."

    However, my lack of knowledge or my internal uncertainy would make it more likely that I would say "It's hard to say."
    That was my first thought when I looked at the question, and I still think that that it is a valid answer. However, when I began to consider various situations, I began to think that in many I might well say either.

    (later) Re-reading your post, I think that I did not pay sufficient attention to your 'more likely'. You are right, I think, but I will leave my previous post. I think it is useful for learners to know that there are not always immediate clear-cut answers to questions about usage.
    Last edited by 5jj; 15-Oct-2011 at 20:46. Reason: typo

  6. Barb_D's Avatar
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    #7

    Re: It's difficult to say / tell

    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon View Post
    . I think it is useful for leaners to know that there are not always immediate clear-cut answers to questions about usage.
    I completely agree!
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

  7. englishhobby's Avatar
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    #8

    Re: It's difficult to say / tell

    So, both variants are possible, as far as I understand. (Though not in all cases.)


    Thank you all so much!

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