SPEAK or TALK?


COMMONLY CONFUSED WORDS: SPEAK or TALK

SPEAK or TALKSpeak 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.

Rule 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.

Rule 2: ‘speak’ (not talk) is used in relation to languages

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

Rule 3: 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.

Rule 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.

Rule 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.

Rule 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.

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