Monday, 22 February 2016

Confusing words: to speak or to talk


To speak can refer to the ability. 

For example: I can speak Portuguese and English (not talk)

Speak can also be used as a synonym of talk in reference to a conversation. 

Speak is recognised as slightly more formal so I would speak to/with someone I don't know or it can be used to give a presentation. I will speak to you today about anthropology.


Talk is used for conversation and is more informal than speak. You do not use it for ability.

I talked to my best friend today about football.

Tip: Do not say soccer to a British person.
This is football as we use our foot with the ball.


The verbs Talk and Speak both take the indirect object, which means it needs a preposition when using an object. So you would say I talked to him (not talked him).

In most forms of native English 'to' is more common'. The preposition 'with' usually makes it a little more formal. Therefore speak with him is slightly more formal than speak to. You can use talk with and 'with' and 'to' have very little difference in meaning,

You may want to highlight the fact it was a bi-directional conversation i.e. both people were speaking, but it is generally accepted that 'talk/speak to' also implies that it was a two way conversation. So both prepositions can be used and while 'to' is much more common, the difference in meaning is negligible.

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