Is 'give a speech' idiomatic in English?

An instance I can think of would be “When that happened, my teacher gave a speech, and then said, "Now everybody wish Elbe a merry Christmas!"'

As a bonus question, can anyone suggest an alternative expression which renders the same emphasis?

2 Answers 2


Although verbs have often been called 'doing words' when the part of speech has been introduced to young children, this is a crude, partial, definition which can cause problems later on.

One set of verbs that need special explanation are link verbs, which show a property of (or redefine) the referent of a sentence's subject (though some may also indicate a transformation – from or to the said state, say):

Mr Cameron is the Prime Minister.

John is a vet.

Jill grew tired.

(Imagine a young child naively saying 'Mr Cameron - Prime Minister.' or 'John - vet.' to see the linking function that adult grammar demands.)

Another set is delexical verbs, where the verb is usually used to describe an action, but is really bleached of any particular meaning:

John had / took a bath.

Sally made a good suggestion.

My teacher gave / delivered a surprisingly interesting speech.

I'm including this rather long intro because one needs to consider what the terms 'idiomatic' and 'idiom' usually mean (and there is a large difference between the usual senses) before one can sensibly respond to OP's question.

To summarise:

(1) 'Give a speech' is a very common expression – it is 'idiomatic English.'

(2) 'Give' is not used in its primary (donate, cede etc) sense here; this is a delexical usage.

(3) We wouldn't say 'give a story' or 'give a tale', but we would say 'give a sermon' or 'give a lecture' – so the usage is rather idiosyncratic. This probably qualifies the expression as an 'idiom' in the usual sense.

  • +1, but how does the answer answer to the question I posed? Commented Dec 27, 2013 at 22:19
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    Well, "delivered a speech" is an alternative. As to whether or not "to give a speech" is idiomatic, that depends on how other languages/cultures phrase the same thing (unless you are thinking strictly in terms of whether the meaning is literal or not. In this case, you could be said to be "giving" the speech to someone).
    – nxx
    Commented Dec 27, 2013 at 22:26
  • @nxx, interesting comment that finally gives a definition of what idiomaticity is ('how other languages/cultures phrase the same thing'), +1. Commented Dec 27, 2013 at 22:33
  • Edwin, if I may suggest, I think you should add that comment into the answer. Commented Dec 27, 2013 at 22:36
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    I'd say that the primary sense of 'idiomatic' (in common and accepted use) and that of 'idiom' (an expression in some way unpredictable, either grammatically or semantically, from the sum of its parts) confusingly do not correspond. Commented Dec 27, 2013 at 22:46

Rather than asking whether "give a speech" is idiomatic, the OP should be asking if "give" can be collocated with speech. The answer is yes, give, is often collocated as are the following verbs: make, deliver and hold a speech.

Adjectives which are often collocated with speech are:

brief, little, short | interminable, long, long-winded, rambling, major | eloquent, excellent, emotional, impassioned, rousing, stirring, impromptu, opening, and after-dinner.

Any of the ones suggested above would fit in nicely with the OP's example text.

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