Use of Talk, Speak and Tell - Confusing Words in English

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This lesson will help you learn the correct usage of ‘Talk’, ‘Speak’ and ‘Tell’.


Betsy: Hello Carol! In today’s lesson, we are going to discuss how to use ‘Talk’, ‘Speak’ and ‘Tell’.

Carol: Good idea, Betsy! People often get confused with these.

Betsy: Let me tell you: they do! ‘Tell’ is used when one is giving information or instructions to someone. It is followed by the person to whom the information or instruction is given to.

Carol: So when you said “tell you”, I would be the person you gave the information to. Now, tell me about ‘Talk’ and ‘Speak’.

Betsy: Sure Carol! ‘Talk’ is used to denote general communication between two people. When you say you are going to talk to someone, it means you are going to have a conversation with this person.

Carol: You can’t say ‘Tell to someone’. That’s wrong. But you can say ‘Speak to someone’. It means the same thing as ‘Talk to’ but it’s considered a bit more formal.

Betsy: That’s right. ‘Tell’ suggests passing on some information, it does not suggest a conversation.

Carol: ‘Speak’ is also used to mean delivering a speech, isn’t it?

Betsy: That’s right. When someone ‘speaks to’ a gathering, it means he gives a speech. ‘Give a talk’ also means giving a speech, but ‘talking to’ does not.

Carol: ‘Speak’ is also used to say that you know a language: I speak English and Spanish.

Betsy: Perfect! It means the same thing as ‘I know English and Spanish’.

Carol: I will feel a lot more confident when I use ‘Talk’, ‘Tell’ and ‘Speak’ now. What about listening to some conversations for contextualized examples?

Betsy: Good idea, Carol.

Stubborn Kid.

Ruth: Jake, how many times should I tell you to wash hands before eating?

Jake: But my hands are clean!

Ruth: That doesn’t mean there are no germs. Remember, you can’t see germs.

Jake: You’re right. I should have taken care. I will wash my hands.

An Angry Friend.

Jason: Did you tell John I wanted to see him?

Beth: Yes, but he is mad at you for not coming to his birthday party.

Jason: Oh God, I have apologised to him twice. Will you talk to him, please?

Beth: Okay, I will try.

The Silent Treatment.

Jason: Hey Jake! May I talk to you for a moment?

Jake: Sure. You look upset... Tell me what's wrong.

Jason: Marcy is barely speaking to me. It's annoying!

Jake: You should insist on talking to her. Don't let her give you the silent treatment.

Jason: Perhaps you could tell her that. Maybe she'll listen.

Jake: I'll talk to her!

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