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“Speak to” vs. “Speak with”
What is the difference between “speaking” and “talking”?

What is the ideal opening line for a phone conversation? In my opinion, 'speak to' would ideally denote a one-sided conversation and 'talk to' sounds more aggressive than the other 2. Is there a particular telephone etiquette which clarifies this? What is the difference between 'talk' and 'speak'? Also, does the rank/designation/seniority of the other person affect the use of 'speak' or 'talk'?

  • No, if it were ideal, it would begin with the forumlaic “May I please ...”
    – tchrist
    Commented May 10, 2012 at 20:26

1 Answer 1


Nice question, +1.

I think you're right even if they are pretty much interchangeable (consider the context!), and this is shown in the dictionary too.

Even though there are some subtle differences:

  • Talk to: This one when used like VERB, has the acception of strong discussions, negotiation, or even "(talk to) reprimand or scold (someone)".
    Plus talk has many familiar uses (according to the OED).

  • Speak: This is inside the entry about the verb "to speak" - To speak to another by means of a telephone; ― speaking (where ― is a speaker on a telephone), phr. used by the speaker to announce his identity.

So, if you are going to phone to someone on the phone, then "May I speak with...?" sounds like the most appropriate one.

  • 3
    Not in UK English. "Talk to" is almost universal, "speak to" a little more formal, and "speak with" is rare.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 11:19

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