talk

Speak or talk

Speak or talk

Speak and talk are ‘say’ words. However, there are some differences in when and how we use speak or talk.

Read the tips below about when to use speak or talk then try the practice exercises.

 

speak or talkSpeak or Talk Tip 1: ‘speak’ (not talk) is used on the telephone

  • Who’s speaking please? I’ll put you through to Mr Jones now.
  • Who’s talking please? I’ll put you through to Mr Jones now.

 

Speak or Talk Tip 2: ‘speak’ (not talk) is used in relation to languages

  • I speak English, French and Italian.
  • I talk English, French and Italian.

 

Speak or Talk Tip 3: ‘speak’ is more formal than ‘talk’

Can you see the difference between these two sentences?

  • My teacher wants to speak to me after class.
  • Can I talk to you when you’re free?

 

We often use ‘speak’ when:

  • the situation is a formal situation;
  • we don’t know the person we are talking to very well; and / or
  • the subject to be spoken about is serious / formal.

 

We often use ‘talk’ when:

  • we are talking to someone we know quite well, or
  • we may not know the person all that well but the subject we want to talk about is not serious / formal.

 

Speak or Talk Tip 4: ‘speak’ is used in relation to one person (the speaker), ‘talk’ is used to in relation to more than one person (a conversation)

Can you see the difference between these two sentences?

  • The boss will be speaking later about the proposed changes to company policy.
  • In today’s meeting, the team will be talking about new ideas for next year.

 

Speak or Talk Tip 5: The noun form of the verb ‘talk’ is ‘talk’, the noun form of the verb ‘speak’ changes to ‘speech’

  • He will be making a speech  after dinner.
  • She is giving a talk this afternoon.

Note: a ‘speech’ is more formal than a ‘talk’.

Also note the differences: ‘make’ a speech / ‘give’ a talk.

 

Speak or Talk Tip 6: ‘speak’ and ‘talk’ prepositions

The sentences we have used as examples so far all use the preposition ‘to’: talk to (someone), speak to (someone).

To make the sentence more formal / polite, we can use the preposition ‘with’.

  • “I must speak with you about your performance at work as soon as you are available.”

We also use the preposition ‘about‘ to talk about the subject of the conversation / speech / talk.

  • He will be making a speech about climate change at the conference.
  • She is giving a talk about healthy eating this afternoon.
  • Can I talk to you about our holiday plans?
  • I must speak to you about your progress with that report.

Now practice!

Read the sentences below. Are they correct? Should we use speak or talk?

1. (on the telephone) “Hello, I’d like to make an appointment for a haircut please.” “Sure, who’s talking please?”.

Show answerThis is incorrect. It should be: “Sure, who’s speaking please?”

2. He speaks Japanese fluently as he lived there for 10 years.

Show answerThis is correct.

3. ‘Hi, how are things? Are you free now? I want to speak with you about our plans for Saturday night.

Show answerThis is not correct. This is an informal situation involving people who know each other. It is better to say: I want to talk to you about our plans for Saturday night.

4. ‘Hello, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you. If you have some time I’d like to speak with you about a business proposal.

Show answerThis is correct.

5. It is a tradition for the groom, the bride’s father and the best man to give a speech at the wedding reception.

Show answerThis is incorrect. We should say ‘make a speech’ not ‘give a speech’.

6. We can speak about what food we need for the party later on.

Show answerThis is incorrect. The situation is informal involving a conversation. It is better to say: “We can talk about what food we need for the party later on.”

7. We have both lived in Australia, so we were talking to our experiences there.

Show answerThis is not the correct preposition. It should be: We have both lived in Australia, so we were talking about our experiences there.
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