English as a Second Language/CONFUSING PHRASAL VERBS



I'm writing from Goi‚nia- Brazil. I'm an English teacher and while grading a text the following question came up: Can I use SPEAK TO, SPEAK WITH, TALK TO AND TALK WITH interchangeably?
I've already checked some dictionaries and I got some REALLY different explanations. I want to know if in the USA or any other English-speaking countries they use them interchangeably.

Hello Rogerio!

Sorry for the late reply!

Very good question!  These expressions are used very similarly but are not quite the same.  Basically the differences lie in connotation and register.

Connotation is the associations that are implied by a word.  Basically, it is how the word feels.  For example "What's up?" has a friendly, calm connotation but "What's wrong?" has a worried connotation.

Register is the level of formality that an expression holds.  For example, "sir" has a high register: it's VERY formal.

"Speak" has a higher register than "talk".  We might use "speak to" or "speak with" in a formal setting, such as when we call a client or talk to a superior.  We would probably use "talk to" or "talk with" in a less formal setting, like when talking to a co-worker, family member or friend.

In addition, "to" and "with" have different functions, so while they basically mean the same thing when used with "talk" and "speak", they have different connotations: when we say "talk/speak WITH", it sounds more like a mutual exchange, like we are interested in talking/speaking AND listening to the other person.  "To" does not necessarily share this connotation; the speaker doesn't necessarily want to hear the other person talk/speak.  So, for example, if I wanted to ask someone for their advice - which means I want to listen to their advice - I would be more inclined to say "I need to talk/speak with you" but if I wanted to scold someone, I would be more inclined to say "I need to talk/speak to you".

Hope that helps!


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Brian Connelly


I can answer pretty much any question a student might have about English; about grammar, vocabulary, meanings of words, phrases, expressions or idioms, pronunciation, etc. I can answer questions about how to learn or study English better, how to improve certain aspects of communication (listening, writing, speaking, etc), about why we have certain rules.


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