It goes without saying: phrases with ‘say’

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by Liz Walter

I was writing some learning materials on the topic of communication the other day, when I noticed how many common phrases include the word ‘say’. This post looks at some of the most useful of them.

Firstly, if you have a lot to say for yourself, you talk a lot. This is usually a rather disapproving phrase. Conversely, we say that a very quiet person doesn’t have much to say for himself/herself:

Wow, Stephanie had a lot to say for herself, didn’t she?

I asked Freddie to explain what had happened, but he didn’t have much to say for himself.

If there’s a lot to be said for something, it has a lot of good points or advantages. This phrase can be adapted in many ways to talk about degrees of advantage or disadvantage. For instance, there’s something to be said for something is less emphatic but still positive, while there’s little/not much to be said for something means that it has very few (or even no) good points:

There’s a lot to be said for living alone.

I love the city, but there’s something to be said for the peace of the countryside.

It’s a lovely country, though there’s not much to be said for the cuisine.

There are several phrases with ‘say’ that are used for emphasis. For example, we might add I must say at the beginning or end of a sentence or to say the least to the end.

I must say, I’m overwhelmed by all their kindness.

The experience was disappointing, to say the least.

When we want to agree emphatically with someone, we can say You can say that again! We emphasize that something is obvious with the phrases Needless to say or It goes without saying:

‘Harry’s in  bad mood today.’ ‘You can say that again!’

Needless to say, Mick forgot Mum’s birthday.

It goes without saying that you can call me any time you want.

Conversely, we say that’s not saying much to show that something is not impressive or surprising:

The book’s better than the movie, but that’s not saying much.

We often use the phrase I have to say with something we find slightly surprising or something that we think the person we are talking to may not like:

I have to say, I was never very fond of Joe.

I’ll finish with the phrase when all is said and done. We use it to sum up a discussion, often in a way that implies that a situation isn’t as bad or as serious as it may seem:

He can be rude, but when all’s said and done, nobody’s perfect, are they?

Do add any other useful ‘say’ phrases you can think of!

15 thoughts on “It goes without saying: phrases with ‘say’

  1. Denis

    When something that we want to mention is enough to say in that situation, we can start our sentence with the phrase ‘suffice (it) to say (that)’.
    The idiom ‘easier said than done’ suggests that although something seems like a good idea, it would be in fact difficult to do.
    Finally, when we absolutely agree with someone, we can emphatically say ‘I couldn’t have said it better myself!’.

    1. Parth patel

      Hello liz,

      Please suggest me that could i use ‘ there is a lot to be said for’ in IELTS essay (advantages and disadvantages) to say that there is a advantage of something?

      Could i use ‘when all is said and done’ instead of ‘to conclude’ in IELTS essay?

  2. Zahi

    Needless to say, this post is marvellous! Right now, I just can recall easier said than done.
    Talking Sue into taking up sports is easier said than done.
    :=)
    Have a lovely day!

    1. Gretchen P

      It’s usually used with the emphasis on I as a way to express that someone has offended you.
      Ex: John tells Sarah that her hair looks terrible
      today.
      Sarah responds to John by saying “Well, I say!”

      1. Liz Walter

        You are right that it could be used as a reprimand. It would normally be followed by something making the offence more explicit, and it’s rather old-fashioned. ‘I say, old chap, that’s a bit rude!’. But the stress would still be on ‘say’, not ‘I’.

    2. Majid riaz

      A very good and informative post. But I have one suggestion, hopefully, you will consider it. As non-native speaker we need more explanation and information about the phrases in the post.

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