Say vs Tell, Speak vs Talk

Number 18 of 85 in B1 - PRE-INTERMEDIATE

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Say or Tell, Speak or Talk?


Both mean ‘Decir’. The difference is grammatical.

  1. Let’s start with the basic and easiest difference:

With ‘SAY’ you do not say the person you are speaking to. With ‘TELL’ you do.

“It’s cold outside” I TOLD him.

“It’s cold outside” I SAID.

“What did you SAY?”

“What did you TELL them?”

  1. This is the basic difference and true when you mean ‘Decir’. There are other situations when this is not true, but the meaning is different.

I’ll SAY something to him when I see him, if you want.

SAY something TO somebody = COMENTAR

He TELLS very good jokes.

TELL  somebody   something = CONTAR (jokes, secrets, stories….)

  1. More comments about TELL

-Depending on the structure of the sentence, TELL can have an idea of ‘Mandar/Obligar’

I TOLD him (that) it was raining = INFORMATION


Did you TELL them TO tidy up afterwards?


-“I’ve been told (that)…….” is the passive form (‘Me han dicho´)

I’ve been told (that) you’ve found work.

Speak vs. Talk

  1. The difference between ‘SPEAK’ and ‘TALK’ is not grammatical. Both mean ‘HABLAR’, but even though they are used in the same way, but there is a difference of tone.

SPEAK is the action of oral communication. TALK is to take part in a conversation. In many cases there is very little difference, but in others it is quite important:

A Brazilian, a Dutchman and a Russian are sitting in a café. The Brazilian speaks Portugese, Spanish and English. The Dutchman speaks Dutch, German, English and French. The Russian speaks Russian and English. What language are they talking?

  1. Remember: TALK always implies a conversation (Hablar/Conversar/Charlar). SPEAK does not (Hablar/Saber Hablar/Dar Discurso).

In their noun form, the same applies:



  1. British people speak TO and talk TO people, Americans speak WITH and talk WITH……

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