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SAY vs TELL vs SPEAK vs TALK 

Hi English learners! Welcome to a new lesson. We’re going to clear out the difference between the verbs say, tell, speak and talk.

All four verbs mean to express your thoughts and feelings by communication; however, they are not interchangeable. How do we know when to use which one? It’s very simple, let’s find out.

SAY vs TELL vs SPEAK vs TALK

SAY

Here are some examples of how to use say in a sentence:

  • Ryan never said anything about it.  
  • Helen said: “I’ll just say that we had a wonderful holiday.
  • It is said that it is better to do well than to say well.
  • It is difficult to say why people are eating so much junk food these days.
  • Listen to me! I have something important to say to you.
  • You should watch your mouth. It’s a horrible thing to say.
  • I want to say I’m sorry about the way I treated you the other day.
  • If you’d be so kind to listen, I’d like to say a few words.
  • I have nothing to say to you.

SAY vs TELL vs SPEAK vs TALK

TELL

Unlike say, the verb tell usually has an object. Look at some typical examples of using tell in a sentence.

  • Will you tell the waiter to bring us two coffees, please?
  • No one can tell what the future holds.
  • I can’t wait to get back home and tell you all about my holiday.
  • What do these pictures tell us about the actress?
  • I was told to sit and wait for the doctor.
  • Why don’t you tell me how it all happened?
  • Just do as you are told and don’t worry about anything.
  • Can you tell the difference between your twin neighbours?
  • Could you tell me the time, please?

SAY vs TELL vs SPEAK vs TALK

SAY vs TELL

The main difference between the two verbs is that say usually doesn’t have an object while tell does.

  • Bob said that something is going on at the back of the car.
  • She said: “It’s cold in here. Will you turn on the heating”,  

But:

  • The doctor told me to avoid eating late at night.
  • He told us: “It’s a sunny day. Let’s go on a picnic.”

So, don’t say:

  • He said me to close the door.

Say:

  • He told me to close the door.

However, you can use say with an object by using the preposition TO:

  • I’ve got nothing to say to you.
  • What will you say to Mr. Smith when he asks you about the broken window?

Tell often has two objects:

  • Grandma told children the story.
  • Simon told us the news.

SAY vs TELL vs SPEAK vs TALK

SAY vs TELL vs SPEAK vs TALK
SAY vs TELL vs SPEAK vs TALK

SPEAK

The verb speak has to do with talking and it can be used with or without different prepositions. 

  • If you want to learn something, you should speak less and listen more.
  • Hello, may I speak to the school principal?
  • I’d like to speak with you about something.
  • Will you please stop speaking with your mouth full?
  • That’s not the subject I want to speak about.
  • Melanie wanted to speak of the movie she’d watched the previous night.
  • Jared was speaking at the conference. It was a great speech.

TALK

The verb talk refers to communication. It can be used with different prepositions and in all kinds of sentence structures.

  • Everyone needs someone to talk to.
  • Can I talk with you in private?
  • Greg’s parents were talking about buying a house.
  • You can ask Robert; he can talk on herbal medicine.
  • I’m so sad because my friend is talking of leaving the country and living in Australia.
  • Simona and Henry are not talking to each other. They had a big argument.
  • I don’t like to spend an entire evening with Brian and talk sports.

SPEAK vs TALK

The verbs speak and talk are synonymous but talk is less formal than speak. Compare:

  • I’d like to speak to the manager, please.
  • Can I talk to you for a second?

When talking about languages, use speak not talk.

  • Diana can speak some French. (not: Diana can talk some French).

Speak is more focused on the speaker, while talk has to do with the conversation.

  • They invited a famous professor to speak about his research.
  • Michael wants to talk to Debora about their oncoming wedding.
Good vs well

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