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speak, talk

The difference between speak and talk is very subtle, and in many contexts they can be used interchangeably. For example, Miriam spoke to David and Miriam talked to David mean the same thing. As a result, there is no simple or easy rule to follow in distinguishing between these two verbs. However, the guidelines below may be helpful.

Speak tends to be used for one-sided communications:

  • The Division Chief spoke to her employees about the crisis.

Talk implies a conversation or discussion between two or more people:

  • Everyone was talking when he walked into the room.

You should also keep in mind that speak is more formal than talk.

Finally, there are certain fixed expressions that require the use of one verb or the other.

Fixed expressions with speak

Always use speak in the following fixed expressions:

  • speak a language (e.g. French, English, etc.)
  • speak for someone (voice what another person thinks)
  • Speak now or forever hold your peace. (This is your last chance to say something.)
  • speak one’s mind (say what one really thinks)
  • speak out about something (voice one’s opinion on a subject)
  • speak up (raise one’s voice)
  • speak up for someone (voice support for a person)
  • speak volumes (convey lots of information)
  • speak well of someone (say only positive things about that person)
  • This speaks for itself. (This requires no explanation.)

Fixed expressions with talk

Always use talk in the following fixed expressions:

  • Money talks. (Money can get things done.)
  • talk away (talk a great deal)
  • talk back (answer rudely or disrespectfully)
  • talk down to someone (be condescending towards a person)
  • talk shop (talk about your job, using jargon)
  • talk the talk (say things and make promises to please others)
  • talk things over (discuss something)
  • talk tough (speak in a brash or threatening manner)
  • talk through one’s hat; talk nonsense (say things that make no sense)
  • talk turkey (speak frankly)