Confusing verbs: Speak vs. Talk
Pre-intermediate / Intermediate level
The verbs speak and talk both generally mean ‘say words’, but there are some small differences in how they are used. Speak is more formal than talk.
(Formal) It is possible that:
(Informal) It is possible that:
We usually use speak for more formal presentations and lectures, and talk for more informal ones:
Speak usually only focuses on the person who is producing the words (one person is speaking):
Talk focuses on a speaker and at least one listener, and can mean ‘have a conversation’ (there is a conversation between two or more people):
The focus is on his use of his voice to produce words. 'Speak' focuses only on the person who is producing the words.
The focus is on the use of words as part of a conversation with someone else.
We use speak on the telephone:
A: Is Rita there?
B: Who’s speaking?
A: My name’s Anna. I work with her.
When we refer to languages, we use speak:
Speak and talk with prepositions:
We usually use 'to' after 'speak' and 'talk'. In more formal situations, people sometimes use with:
'Speak to' and 'talk to' are used more often than 'speak with' and 'talk with'.
'Speak to' is a little more formal than 'talk to', and is often used in polite requests.
We can say:
speak (to somebody) (about something/somebody)
talk to somebody (about something)
Remember to use the preposition 'to' after 'speak' and 'talk'. (speak to, talk to)
In British English speak to and talk to are more common than speak with and talk with.
We don’t use talk when referring to foreign languages:
We don’t use speak to focus on conversation:
When to use speak
In some idioms and fixed phrases:
Other examples with speak:
When to use talk
In the following examples, only talk is correct:
Other examples with talk:
Speak is not usually used before sense, nonsense and other words with similar meanings.
Sometimes 'talk' and 'speak' are BOTH wrong.
Now try this exercise to see how well you can use 'speak' and 'talk'.
1. speaks; 2. speaks; 3. speak; 4. talked; 5. speak; 6. speak; 7. talking; 8. speaking; 9. talk; 10. speak;
11. talks; 12. talks; 13. talks; 14. speak; 15. speak;
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