Knowing When to Use the Verbs to Speak & to Talk


Speak vs Talk

The verbs speak and talk share similar definitions. They both generally mean communication using the mouth. Despite that shared general meaning, they are not interchangeable.

In this Grey Tech grammar moment, I explain the specific context of both speak and talk.

Focusing on the Verb Speak

If only one person is producing words and others are listening, the verb to speak is correct.

However, if two or more people take turns producing words and listening, the verb to talk is correct.

Another way to distinguish speak from talk is how formal the setting is.

For example, the king speaks to his people but talks with his wife.

In the first half of the previous example, the verb to speak is used in a formal setting where the king is the only one producing words.

In this second half of that example, the setting is informal with the royal couple conversing.

Examples of to speak in the present tense 
  • She always speaks quietly.
  • Speak slowly.
  • I speak English.
Examples of to speak in the past tense
  • The principal spoke sternly to the two girls.
  • They spoke to the manager about the poor quality of service.
  • He spoke longer than his allotted time.

Focusing on the Verb Talk

While speak is for formal settings, talk is for informal settings. Talk is the word to use when referring to a conversation or a discussion of two or more people.

 Examples Using the Present Tense of Talk
  • Your father and I will talk about it.
  • My friends and I always talk on Skype.
  • He loves to talk about it.
Examples Using the Past Tense of Talk
  • They talked for three hours before they found a solution.
  • I talked until I lost my voice.
  • The twins talked all night.

 Summary

Use the verb to speak when only one person is producing words and in more formal settings. Use the verb to talk when referring to a conversation and during informal settings.

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