How to Use: Say, Tell, Talk, Speak

Are you talking to me? I said are you talking to me? There’s no one else here, you must be talking to me?

How many times have you misused these 4 words? I speak English, I talk to my friends, he told me a secret, you know what I’m saying?

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If you’re having difficulty with using these words, don’t worry, we’re going to resolve that for you guys right now. In this article we are going to show you common prepositions use with each of them, and even teach you some popular expressions typically used in spoken English.

Say Vs Tell


Say means to speak words. The most common use of the word say is in reported speech. Reported speech is when you are repeating what someone has said. When speaking in reported speech, we often make statements and it is not necessary to add the object. The object is what’s receiving the action in the phrase, for example:

  • “He said he was going to be late.”
  • “What did he say?”
  • “When he said he was leaving, we all got really sad.”

In these examples you’ll notice that I haven’t used an object. When we use “say” generally the recipient of the action is not as important as what we have to say.

Prepositions for SAY

To/ That– If we are going to use an object, we always use the preposition “to,” for example:

  • “He said to Steve that that he was going to be late.
  • “I said to him that I couldn’t go.”

We use “to” to show who we are directing our words at and “that” to say the information.

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In comparison to “say,” when we use tell we need to use the object. This is because when using tell, who received the information is more important that the information itself. For example:

  • “I told you about the party.”
  • “Have you told him the news?”
  • “She always tells me that.”

I often hear people saying, “She tell what to do.” This would be incorrect because we need to use the object. The correct form would be, “she tells me what to do.”

Do you have problems with prepositions? Take a look at this awesome guide!

Prepositions for Tell 

To-When we use to with tell we are giving someone an order or making a strong request.

  •   “I told you to buy me a drink,”
  •    “Didn’t I tell you to mind your own business?”

About– To tell someone about something is used to pass information about an event or a series of events which happened to a person.

  • “let me tell you about a girl I know, she had a drink about an hour ago,”
  • “Did I tell you about my party?”

That–  When we use  that we are expressing an action or a more permanent situation. To compare examples, I can’t say, “Did I tell you about she is pregnant,” I would have to say, “Did I tell you about her pregnancy.”

  • “Did she tell you that she was pregnant?”
  • “Did I tell you I changed cell number?”

Talk Vs Speak

Speak and talk are synonyms and in most cases interchangeable. The main difference between the 2 would be that “speak” is used in more formal situations and “talk” is for more informal conversations.

When used as a noun, “to give a speech,” it would be a formal presentation as appose to “give a talk” sounds more casual.


Did you all recognize the famous line from the movie Taxi Driver? “Are you talking to me?” Learn other famous movie quotes

Although this word is not so common in English, talk would be the same as saying converse. No I’m not talking about the sneaker, I mean to converse with another person.

In spoken English, we commonly use the word talk in the continuous form, for example:

  • “I was talking to him about the Real Life English event.”
  • “The movie was really good but people kept talking during the best parts.”
  • “This guy talks forever.”

Prepositions with talk

To/ About– We use “to” to show who we are directing our words at and “about” to give the information.

  • “I need to talk to you about last night.”
  • “Did he talk to you about his trip?”


Speak is also used when we are referring to languages or when conversations are more of a monologue.

  • “How many languages do you speak?”
  • “Can you speak English fluently?”
  • “He was speaking to his employees about the new services.”
  • “I have to speak to you about the next Real Life event.”

As you can see, “speak” sounds more formal than talk. If someone said that they wanted to speak to me I would consider it more important than if they had said they wanted to talk to me.

Prepositions with speak

To… about…– Just like tell, we use “to” and “about” to direct our words and give information.

  • “Did you speak to him about our new project?”

With– We use “with” to say who we are speaking to or how that person speaks, usually in reference to their accent.

  • “Have you ever spoken English with an Australian?”
  • “They speak with a really strange accent.”

Expressions with Say Tell Talk Speak


Anything you say- I won’t argue with you
Easy for you to say-
Fácil é falar
Needless to say-
It’s obvious
Would you say that…-
Você diria que…
She says hi-
Ela mandou um oi


Something tells me that…- Alguma coisa me diz que
Tell me about it– Nem me fale
To tell you the truth– Para falar a verdade
You can tell- Percebe-se


Money talks– O dinheiro fala mais alto
Look who’s talking– You’re guitly of the same thing
Talk shop– to talk about professional things with colleages
He talked me into it– He persuaded me to do something


Actions speak louder than words– Doing means more than talking about it
Speak your mind– Say what you really think
So to speak- Por assim dizer
Can you speak up– Can you speak louder

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  • Amanda

    I love the use of the pictures specially the Elvis one. And we do remember the line from taxi. These four words are really confusing but this article cleared a lot. I like the explanation of talk with, I had no clue about it, although it is something very important. Congratulations on your awesome essay and we appreciate all the examples given. Got home real drunk and managed to read it. Not boring at all.

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  • Xavi Puig

    Chad, good article!!! But there is a little
    mistake. When you are talking about speak just below the title Prepositions
    with Speak, you say that speak goes with to, just like tell. I think you wanted
    to say talk instead of tell.

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