Speak vs. Talk

The two words ‘speak’ and ‘talk’ are synonyms and can very often used interchangeably. However there are some grammatical structures where only one of the two can be used. Let’s explore these today:

The first thing to remember: Speak is often used in a more formal setting. 

For example, in a work environment:

“I would like to make an appointment to speak with Mr Jacobson.”
“Mr Jacobson would like to speak with you, please.”
“Today, Professor Andrews will speak to the class about genetics.”

When talking on the phone:

“Can I speak with/to Elizabeth please?”
“Who is speaking?”  Not “Who is talking?”

When referring to languages:

“I speak four languages.”
“Excuse me, do you speak English?”

When describing how someone speaks or requesting something in relation to their speaking style:

“Japanese people have a reputation for speaking very quickly.”
“Can you please speak more quietly in the library?”

However one exception here is when you want to say that someone talks a lot, you can describe him as very “talkative“.

The word talk is used in more informal contexts between familiar people, and often when referring to a dialogue between people.

“The children talked about their families in class today.”
“Maria, I need to talk to you about something that happened at work today.”
“Mum wants to talk to you when she gets home.”

Talk is also used as a noun to describe an event where someone speaks to a group:

“There will be a talk in the auditorium today at 2pm for all students. Dr Evans will speak about the topic of exams and how to prepare for exam week.”

The Cookie Chef

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