Confusing English Verbs: SAY | TELL | TALK | SPEAK
Do these English verbs sometimes confuse you?
They are so similar, that it can be difficult to know which one is the right one to use!
Don’t worry, you are not alone! I get asked the difference between SAY and TELL and TALK and SPEAK all the time by my students!
So, I’ve made this video to help you understand!
CLICK HERE to read the full lesson transcript.
“Tell him to meet us here.”
“Can you say your name again?”
“We talk on the phone every week.”
“Speak quietly, this is a library.”
Hello, I’m Emma from mmmEnglish.
Do these verbs sometimes confuse you?
They’re so similar, that it can be difficult to know which one is the right one to use.
Don’t worry, you are not alone! I get asked the difference between “tell” and “say” and “talk” and “speak” all the time by my students!
So, I’ve made this video to help you understand!
Let’s start with “say” and “tell”.
Now, this is the verb form in the present tense, but they’re both irregular verbs, so in the past tense the form changes. It becomes “said” and “told”.
These verbs are slightly different in their definitions.
“Say” means to express something with words.
And “tell” means to give information to a person.
And that’s the most important difference between these two words.
When you use “tell” you must have a person following the verb. It could be a name or a pronoun, but there must be a person following.
“He told me to do it.”
So to help you understand I want to use some examples. So feel free to practice out loud with me while I’m saying these sentences, you’ll get some extra speaking practice too as well as a grammar lesson.
“Where are they going? She didn’t say.”
“Where are they going? She didn’t tell me.” (She didn’t give me the information)
“What did he say?”
“What did he tell you?” (what information did he give you?)
“Say ‘hi’ to Paul for me!”
“Tell Paul I said hi!”
“I want to say something about our teacher.”
“I want to tell you something about our teacher.”
“I said that their new house is beautiful.”
“I told them that their new house was beautiful.”
“Did he say how it happened?”
“Did he tell you how it happened?”
“I said that I would meet him on Sunday.”
“I told him that I would meet him on Sunday.”
One of the most important differences about using these verbs is that “tell” MUST have a person following.
Now, what about “speak” & “talk”?!
Just like “say” and “tell”, “speak” is an irregular verb. So in the past tense the form is “spoke”. But “talk” is a regular verb, so all you need to do to change the verb to the past tense is add -ed-. The pronunciation of that -ed- is the just a /t/ sound added to the end of the verb: talk/t/.
Now, “speak” and “talk” are synonyms, and most of the time you can use either one of these words interchangeably, which means it doesn’t matter, you can choose either. There are a few slight differences in the way that they’re used:
“Speak” tends to be a bit more formal. It also refers to more general topics than “talk”. Usually when you use “talk” you might add it with a proposition “about”.
“Talk about something.”
So it’s a little more specific.
“Speak” you can use quite generally.
“Can I speak with you?”
Now, this is quite general, we’re not being specific about what we want to speak about. But it also sounds a bit more formal, it sounds important.
“Can I talk with you?”
So this is a little more casual, a little informal, it doesn’t sound as important. And if we add “about” we can add some more detail.
“Can we talk about your brother?”
So let’s talk about propositions quickly. Which words can you use with these verbs.
You can talk to someone, you can speak to someone, you can talk with someone, or you can speak with someone, or you can speak about something, or you can talk about something – or someone.
Most importantly you can only use “speak” when you’re talking about languages.
“They speak French.” NOT “They talk French.”
Though you might hear people say “They talk in French”.
“How many languages do you speak?” NOT “How many languages do you talk?”
“I speak three languages” NOT “I talk three languages.”
That’s the most important thing to remember about these two verbs, but remember that they’re synonyms, so you can usually use either of them. The difference is very slight or small.
“I spoke with my manager yesterday.”
“I talked with my manager yesterday.”
They are interchangeable.
Well that’s it! I hope that you you enjoyed that lesson and if you did please subscribe to my channel just here if you haven’t already and you can check out more of my English video lessons right there.
You can also connect with me on Facebook at mmmEnglish and if you’re super keen to keep improving your English with me, check out my online courses at mmmEnglish.com.
Looking forward to our next lesson. See you next time!
Links mentioned in the video
40 Professional Phrases To Host A Meeting in English
BY & UNTIL Can You Use These Prepositions CORRECTLY?
Let’s TOUCH BASE! 15 English idioms to use at work