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What is the difference between “speaking” and “talking”?

I'm often befuddled when I am reading an article and the author uses talked with when referring to a conversation he/she had. I've always used spoke with in such a case and sounds odd to me when used otherwise.

When is it proper to use talked with or spoke with?

  • Though somewhat synonymous, I find that 'speak' and its derivatives are somewhat more formal than 'talk', so that you may feel in the situations where you refer to another conversation, they are more on the formal side. Both are 'proper', just the register may not fit 'talk' with the situations you would use it in.
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 20:37
  • Something I noticed when I moved from California to upstate New York for college was that people from the east coast tended to use "speak" in much less formal contexts than I was used to. So there may be some regional differences in formality level for "speak" vs. "talk".
    – nohat
    Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 16:55

2 Answers 2


Technically there's not much of a difference between those two. You can usually use them interchangeably, just keep in mind that:

1) Speak represents a more formal conversation than talk, examples:


I'm not satisfied with your services and I want to speak to your manager.

The president is going to speak about the war.


I talked to Mary about the party and she said anyone can come.

2) There are phrases that don't work with both words, example:

I speak four languages.

I talk four languages.

Whoever disagrees may speak now or forever hold their peace!

  • That, and dogs. You never ask a dog to "talk".
    – JeffSahol
    Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 21:13

As Rimmer said, there is not much difference. However, there IS a subtle difference in my opinion.

If verbal communication is compared to a layered communication protocol, talk refers to the higher layers of the protocol, where ideas and opinions are articulated and understood. "Speak" signifies communication starting at ,probably, the physical layer- the utterance of words/sounds, hearing, interpreting and up. This is somewhat analogous to the difference between "Hear" and "Listen".

The Oxford dictionary partially bears this theory out when it says:

speak - The power or faculty of speech; &

Talk - The action or practice of conversing; informal oral communication; discussion, conversation.

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