Confusing English Verbs: SAY | TELL | TALK | SPEAK


Hello, I'm Emma from mmmEnglish

Do these verbs sometimes confuse you?

They're so similar that it can be difficult to know which

one is the right one to use.

Don't worry! You're not alone!

I get asked the difference between

tell and say and talk and speak

all the time by my students.

So I've made this video to help you understand.

Let's start with 'say' and 'tell'.

Now, this is the verb form in the present tense but

they're both irregular verbs so in the

past tense the form changes. It becomes

'said' and 'told'. These verbs are slightly

different in their definitions. 'Say' means

to express something with words and 'tell'

means to give information to a person

and that's the most important difference

between these two words. When you use

'tell' you must have a person following

the verb. It could be a name or a pronoun

but there must be a person following.

So, to help you understand I want to use

some examples. So, feel free to practice

out loud with me while I'm saying these

sentences. You'll get some extra speaking

practice too, as well as a grammar lesson

One of the most important differences about

using these verbs is that 'tell' must have

a person following. Now, what about speak

and talk? Just like 'say' and 'tell', 'speak' is

an irregular verb. So, in the past tense the

form is 'spoke'. But 'talk' is a regular verb

so all you need to do to change the verb

to the past tense is add -ed.

The pronunciation of that -ed is just a /t/

sound, added to the end of the verb:

talked, talked, talked. Now, 'speak' and 'talk'

are synonyms and most of the time you can

use either one of these verbs

interchangeably, which means it doesn't

matter, you can choose either. There are a

few slight differences in the way that

they're used. 'Speak' tends to be a bit

more formal. It also refers to more

general topics than 'talk'. Usually when

you use talk you might add it with the

proposition 'about', talk about something

so, it's a little more specific.

'Speak' you can use quite generally for

example: 'Can I speak with you?' Now this is

quite general we're not being specific

about what we want to speak about. But it

also sounds a bit more formal, it sounds

important. 'Can I talk with you?' So, this is

a little more casual a little informal.

It doesn't sound as important. And if we

add 'about' we can add some more detail

Can we talk about your brother? So, let's

talk about prepositions quickly. Which

words can you use with these verbs?

Most importantly, you can only use 'speak' when you're

talking about languages.

Though, you might hear people say 'They talk in


That's the most important thing

to remember about these two verbs

but remember that they're synonyms so

you can usually use either of them. The

difference is very slight (or small).

They are interchangeable. Well, that's it! I hope

that you enjoyed that lesson and if you

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Looking forward to our next lesson. See you next time.