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Learn English: speak, talk or chat?


“Speak”, “talk” and “chat” are very similar verbs with subtle differences. This lesson attempts to help you understand when to use them in appropriate contexts. Examples are offered below.


This is a very tricky topic. These are my personal suggestions as a Briton.


Summary of examples

We “speak” languages and formally as one person to a group; we “talk” less formally in conversations and on the phone; we “chat” informally, particularly on the Internet.



“Speak” is the most formal. It is used to describe what languages you “speak”. It can describe when one person is addressing a crowd. (E.g. a lecturer speaks to their class.)

“Speak” examples

“Do you speak English?”

“How many languages can you speak?”

Speak up.” (Imperative: speak louder.)

“We spoke for a couple of minutes.” (Had a short conversation – formal.)



“Talk” can be used more informally and refers to a conversation between more than one person.

“Talk” examples

“What are you talking about?” (What is the topic of the conversation?)

“Sorry, we’re talking.” (We’re having a quite formal discussion. Please don’t interrupt.)

“What do you normally like to talk about?” (What topics interest you generally?)

“Let’s talk on the phone later.”



The least formal, used to describe communication on the Internet. (Can mean typing.)

“Chat” examples

Chat to you later.” (On the Internet.)

“Let’s chat on Skype.” (Type or talk.)

“She’s very chatty.” (She talks a lot.)

“We’re just chatting.” (We’re talking very informally.)

“Let’s chat.” (Let’s talk very informally about no important subject.)

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