Speak/Talk

What’s the difference between speak and talk?

Speak and talk are synonyms, but we use them differently. The key difference is that speak is used in formal, official contexts, while talk is used in informal situations. Both verbs are used in specific expressions. Learn the difference between them with Lingolia’s list of examples and collocations, then put your knowledge to the test in the free exercises.

Example

A: Hello, can I speak to Max?

B: Speaking.

A: Hi Max, it’s Emilio. I want to talk to you about the meeting next week. The customers are French and they can’t speak English. We need someone who can speak French, otherwise we won’t be able to talk to them.

B: No problem. I’ll speak to my boss about it.

A: Thanks, bye.

Advertisement

Speak

Speak is more formal than talk. We use it in situations that are more official and with particular expressions.

  • say words, have a formal conversation, discuss something serious, talk to someone you don’t know
Example:
I will speak to my boss about it.
  • hold a formal lecture for a group of people
Example:
The CEO will speak at next month’s annual board meeting
  • know/be able to use a language
Example:
The customers can’t speak English.
We need someone who speaks French.
  • on the telephone
Example:
Hello, can I speak to Max?
Yes, speaking. (Max is speaking)

Talk

Talk is less formal than speak. We use talk in informal situations and in specific expressions.

  • say words, have an informal conversation with someone you don’t know, talk with friends
Example:
Can I talk to you for a few minutes?
  • give an informal lecture
Example:
Julia will be talking about different learning styles.
  • discuss something (talk + noun)
Example:
Let’s talk business/money/travel arrangements

Speak and talk with prepositions

We use the prepositions to, with and about with speak and talk. We speak and talk to/with someone and speak and talk about someone/something.

Example:
I spoke/talked to my manager yesterday.
The manager and I had a conversation
We spoke/talked about a promotion.
The promotion was the topic of conversation

Phrasal Verbs with Speak

There are several phrasal verbs and idioms with speak. We’ve listed some of the most important ones here:

  • speak for yourself/someone = communicate your own or someone else’s ideas or opinions
  • speaking of + noun = introduce something related to the current topic of conversation (idiom)
  • speak out = express your opinion about a law or official plan publicly
  • speak up = speak more loudly

Phrasal Verbs with Talk

There are plenty of phrasal verbs with talk. Here are some of the most important ones:

  • talk someone into/out of something = convince someone or yourself to do/not to do someting
  • talk at someone = talk to someone without letting them reply or speak (a one-sided conversation)
  • talk back = reply to someone rudely (usually used with children)
  • talk something down = minimise the importance of something
  • talk something up = say that something is more important/better than it actually is
  • talk someone down = convince someone they are incorrect, or that they shouldn’t act on something
  • talk down to someone = talk to someone as if you are better and smarter than them
  • talk something out/over/through = discuss the details of something
  • talk somebody round/around = convince someone to change their mind
  • talk someone through something = explain something to someone

Talk is a regular verb, while speak is an irregular verb. See the conjugation of speak as well as thousands of other verbs in our verb conjugator. To learn about another confusing word pair related to speaking, go to our page on say vs. tell.