Never Confuse Say, Tell, Talk, and Speak Again

Have you ever confused the words say, tell, talk, and speak?

If you answered “yes” then welcome to the club! These four words are commonly confused by English learners from all over the world.

In this episode of RealLife TV you are going to discover the subtle difference between these similar words and never confuse them again. (See transcript below)

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What’s up, RealLifers, welcome to another episode of RealLife TV. I’m Chad and today I’m going to teach you the difference between say, tell, talk and speak. Aww yeah!

Is this RealLife?

All right, guys, let’s start off with the difference between say and tell. Most of my students and a lot of people I know continuously make mistakes with these two words.

When to use “say”

So, first of all, the verb to say. Say is often used with reported speech. So, that case, when you want to tell someone what another person said, that’s when I use say. For example, he said he wasn’t going to class today. He said that he wasn’t going to class today. I’m reporting what that person said.

And, if you noticed, I’m just giving this as general information, as what he said. I’m not really directing it to anyone. “He says a lot of things,” “he said that he was going to go traveling.” Ok?

How to use “tell”

But when I use the verb to tell, it’s generally more directed at someone. That’s why I’ll always use an object after the verb to tell.

So, using the same examples, “he told me that he wasn’t going to class today.” He told me, he told that guy, he told his teacher.

So, that’s one of the biggest mistakes people have with say and tell. So, just remember, say is generally for reported speech, you don’t necessarily need, you don’t need the object after the verb. “He said…” whatever it is that person said. If I use the verb to tell, “he told me,” “he told you,” “he told us,” “he told everyone,” ok?

Using “say” to ask someone to repeat something

Another way we use the verb to say is often when we’re asking a question, or when we’re asking someone to repeat what they’ve just said. So you often, you’re going to find yourself saying “sorry, what did you say?,” or “what did he say?,” or, as a survival phrase, “how do you say…?” when you want someone to repeat a word.

Using “tell” to order someone

Another common way to use tell, which is much different to say, is when you’re going to order someone, or tell someone what to do. You could make a request, for example, “Hey, tell him to meet me at the cafe.” It’s like to pass on that message. “Can you tell him to meet me after class at the cafe?” So I’m kind of giving someone an order, asking them to pass on a message for me.

Talk and Speak

The next big problem that a lot of people have is distinguishing the difference between talk and speak. So, talk generally means to converse, to have a conversation. “I was talking with my friend.” So, when you use the “talk” with the preposition “with,” it means you’re just having a general conversation, ok? “I was talking with my friend.”

Or, I could say, “I need to talk to you about…” So, this case is usually more specific, it’s about a specific situation. So, you’re often going to use talk with someone about something.

Speak a language

Ok, and the verb to speak is generally referencing a language. I speak English, I speak whatever language. Portuguese, Spanish, French. But, the way that speak is very similar to the verb to talk is when you speak to someone and you talk to someone. The difference there is that, generally, when I say “I need to speak to you about something” it sounds a little more serious than if I have to talk to you about something.

Like I said, talk is more about just having a general conversation, but if I want to speak to you about something, it sounds a little more serious. Maybe I have some problems to resolve.


All right, guys, that brings us to the end of this lesson. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel so you get all of our newest videos, and also, in the box below, there’s a link to an article which will explain everything I’m talking about right now with a little bit more detail and it’d be a good resource for you to study as well.

So, thanks a lot for joining us today, hope to see you next time on RealLife TV.


  1. Laerte Weismann C. Oliveira on March 24, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    I liked that so much thanks ched

  2. Janet Abedi on March 24, 2014 at 9:17 pm

    wow, thanks Chad, for this representation…You are right, we did not know it specifically….

  3. Pamela on March 25, 2014 at 12:12 am

    Thank you and great job!!!

  4. Zulmira Andrade Rabelo on March 25, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    Great job, love it, Thank you Chad

  5. Said Omari on March 26, 2014 at 1:09 am

    thank you chad

  6. Sei Savitri on March 26, 2014 at 3:24 am

    Legit! I love this lesson as I love my cups of coffee 😀 thanks, Chad

  7. Anonymous on March 27, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    Hey teacher Chad thanks a million for sharing with us this awesome video which helps to clear up the confusion we have got ourselves into.congrats brother.

  8. ALHNOUF on March 28, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    Well done. Thanks a lot.

  9. Fernando Echeverry on March 28, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    It's very interesting this information; I'm going to use it in my english classes. Thank you

  10. Catherine on March 29, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Thanks for sharing “say, tell, talk, speak”. I am not confused now. It’s a great help.
    Thanks a lot.

  11. Milton Raimundo dos Santos on March 29, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    Dir teacher How are you today?
    I`m sorry, when I say a phrase ” She wants to say to me something about her life” is it wrog?

  12. Michelle Badua on March 29, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    Wow!Thank you so much teacher Chad.Thats a very clear and simple representation that made me understand the subject easily.Now,I'm not confused anymore:)
    I'm looking forward to learn more from your English lessons!Great job sir and God bless!:)

  13. Maria Teresa Sivira on March 29, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    thanks a lot Chad. Very nice videos, great explanations. 😀

  14. Mahabad Boskani on March 29, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    Thank's Chad for your nice vid

  15. Mahabad Boskani on March 29, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    Video it is amazing

  16. Luz Mery on March 31, 2014 at 2:21 am

    thank you so much for the information chad

  17. Laerte Weismann C. Oliveira on March 31, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    This is very important to learn

  18. Pamela on April 2, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    Thank you Chad for this type of video in which you clarify us the Eglish, EXCELLENT!!!

  19. Marjan MN on April 5, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    Thank you so much teacher

  20. María Dácil Fumero Frías on July 30, 2014 at 10:49 am

    HI, could you do something similar with see, look and watch?
    Thank you

  21. Elaine Mattos on January 20, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    nice vídeo, Chad. great explanation,.thank you

  22. Anonymous on September 29, 2015 at 5:29 am

    que te calles

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