Imagine this situation: four girls are sitting on a log in the middle of the river, communicating about boys in their lives, philosophy, parents getting on their cases for not doing their chores, teachers’ pets and the like. They sit there for hours on end, letting time fly until one of the girls’ parents hollar their names. Turning around, they see a rather irritated person whose first but most important sentence reads:
“We need to talk, young lady!”
One could also interpret this as:
I need to speak with you.
I have something to tell you.
I have to chat with you about this.
I have something to say to you.
But is there an underlying difference between say, tell, speak, chat or even talk?
Believe it or not, there is and here’s how:
- Tell is used to convey a message directly to the person, both in written as well as orally.
- Here, we use a person as an object and requires no preposition
- I have something to tell you.
- Did David tell Cara about the news?
- Sheila told the teacher that she was late because of a traffic jam.
- Talk is used to exchange information or have a conversation between two or even more people. It can range from light-hearted conversatio to something serious.
- When using a person as a direct object, the preposition of to is needed. Otherwise, as an outsider looking in, with or between is commonly used when looking at two people discussing something. If it involves a theme and not between two people, about is used.
- Eileen, I want to talk to you about this.
- Frank had a talk with Ben about this project
- The talk between Dorothea and Carrie bore no fruit.
- Stephanie, we need to talk.
- Speak is used in two ways. In the first one, it deals with one-way communication and focuses on serious matters. As the person(s) is the object, the preposition of to is used here. With is also used when talking about what two or more persons spoke about, also in a direct form.
- Speak can be used to look at the person’s ability to speak languages. Here, no preposition is needed.
- Jeremiah, I need to speak to you after class.
- The chancellor spoke to the audience about the plan. (Here you can replace speak with address but minus the preposition)
- Corrina can speak six languages fluently and is working on her seventh!
- The professor spoke with the dean of academic affairs about the complaint today.
- Say is used to convey an announcement and/or fact and does not address someone directly. Therefore a preposition is not necessary.
- If using say directly to a person, the preposition of to is a necessity.
- When using say + that, it refers to something being addressed indirectly, although one can forego the luxury if addressing it directly to the person in a form of a command is needed.
- Matt had something to say to the proposal but didn’t have a chance to say it.
- My junior officer has something he wants to say to you.
- Mike said that Sara would cover for you while you were away.
- I said get that remote control!
- Chat can be used as an informal way of discussing a topic- similar to a talk, but most of the time more light-heartedly.
- When addressing a person directly, a preposition of with is needed. A topic, it’s about.
- I hate it when those two chat about nonesense during breaks.
- How about a chat over coffee?
- You love to chat! I don’t!- When a German says this to you, this is the cue to end the conversation and move on without delay.
Any questions at this point? 🙂
Exercise 1: Complete each sentece with either talk, speak, chat, tell, or say. Please keep in mind that a preposition may be needed in some of them. Also pay attention to the verb tenses, as they are written in either present, past or future (will) tenses.
- Chuck __________ Jasmine about the car being sold.
- The teacher _________ something about the field trip yesterday.
- How about a ________ over a beer at a pub down the street?
- I want to _________ you about your grades. I’m worried about you.
- The ________ between Crystal and Anna helped solve some key problems.
- Martin _________ that the golf course would be hosting the tournament this year.
- Why didn’t you __________ me about this? I could have helped you there!
- You wanted to __________ to me, Mr. Stone?
- Ian ________ you sent the letter off, yesterday. Is that true?
- Bridget ____________ you about the project next week.
- Dad and Paul _________ the whole night about everything.
- Stacey ____________ Marcus about the wedding proposal.
- Carolyn ___________the incident on the school bus this morning.
- The reporter __________ that the train wreck happened outside of town last night.
- I __________ don’t do it, but you did it anyway! Why?
Exercise 2: Use the set of words below and conjugate the sentences using speak, talk, say, and tell. Some words need to be added, some omitted.
2. Holly/Brad/new car/ buy
3. Albert/Charles/becoming a new doctor
4. Conductor/ passengers/ train/ delay (or arrive late)
5. Teacher/ students/ dance/ Saturday night/ take place
Exercise 3: In each sentence, there is one error. Find that error and correct it.
- I want to say you something, Papa.
- I chatted to you to clean your room! Why didn’t you do that?
- Patrick spoke at the council about the proposal being bad.
- The two gentleman had a great say at the get-together
- Mama had a speak with her daughter about the birds and bees.