SPEAK or TALK? What’s the difference?
Speak, Talk, Say, Tell
These 4 words often cause confusion for people learning English.
Here is a short explanation, some examples, and tips to help you use them correctly.
Let’s start with SPEAK AND TALK
SPEAK and TALK both mean to communicate with words
- He speaks so quickly it confuses me.
- He talks so quickly it confuses me
SPEAK tends to be more formal, and so SPEAK is a good choice if the information is important, or serious.
- Can I speak with you? (This is stronger than “Can I talk with you?” It is used, for example, to speak to someone if you have a complaint, or if you are angry.)
- Her boss arranged a meeting to speak to her about the possibility of a promotion.
- The little boy talked and talked about the tiger at the zoo.
- I will talk to Jo after work and she if she wants to go with us tonight.
SPEAK often refers to one person communicating. TALK usually refers to two or more people communicating with each other.
- She will speak at the conference on Sunday.
- Do you speak English?
- Why don’t you phone me and we can talk?
- I love my best friend. We can talk for hours.
TIPS for using SPEAK and TALK
1. Pay attention to how native English speakers use SPEAK and TALK. Some patterns have become common, even though there isn’t always an easy, or logical explanation.
- He could talk before he was two. (his first language)
- Do you speak English? (when you mention the language)
- You’re talking like a crazy person. You can’t afford to buy this boat!
- Did you see the news? I have no idea what the mayor is talking about.
2. Often SPEAK and TALK are followed by a preposition. Preposition Combinations need to be memorized. (e.g., SPEAK/TALK about, SPEAK/TALK to, SPEAK/TALK with)
- At the conference, they spoke about their humanitarian work during the famine.
- You seem unhappy. Do you want to talk about it?
- I’m phoning from Acme Co. Could I please speak to (or with) Bob Smith?
- Why don’t you talk to (or with) my mom? She gives good advice.
Using SPEAK and TALK vs SAY and TELL
SAY and TELL are reporting verbs. Use SAY and TELL when you want to report (or repeat) something to someone.
For a mini-lesson on the difference between SAY and TELL go to:
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