Language: Old English
Origin: sprecan, specan


speak S1 W1 past tense spoke past participle spoken

in conversation

[intransitive always + adverb/preposition] to talk to someone about something
speak to
I spoke to her last Wednesday.
'Hello, may I speak to Jim Smith?' 'Yes, speaking' (=used on the telephone).
I know her by sight, but not to speak to (=not well enough to talk to her).
speak to somebody about something
I haven't spoken to Steve about all this.
speak with especially American English
They did not want to speak with reporters.
speak of
It was the first time she had ever spoken of marriage.

say words

[intransitive] to use your voice to produce words:
I was so shocked I couldn't speak.
He spoke very softly (=quietly).


[transitive not in progressive]SLL to be able to talk in a particular language:
Do you speak English?
I don't speak a word of French (=do not speak any French at all).
can/can't speak something
Several children in the class cannot speak English.
French-speaking/Italian-speaking etc
a German-speaking secretary

formal speech

[intransitive] to make a formal speech
speak at
Jones spoke at the teachers' annual convention.
speak to
She asked me to speak to her students about my work in marketing.
speak in favour of/against
Only one MP spoke against the bill.
speaker (1)

express ideas/opinions

[intransitive always + adverb/preposition] to say something that expresses your ideas or opinions
speak as a parent/teacher/democrat etc
He emphasized that he was speaking as a private citizen, not in any official capacity.
speak well/highly/ill of somebody (=say good or bad things about someone)
Her co-workers spoke highly of her.
It's wrong to speak ill of the dead.
strictly/generally/roughly speaking (=used when expressing an idea that you think is exactly true, generally true etc)
Strictly speaking, it's my money, not yours. I earned it.

so to speak

used when you are saying something in words that do not have their usual meaning:
We have to pull down the barriers, so to speak, of poverty.

speak your mind

to tell people exactly what you think, even if it offends them:
He was a tough politician who wasn't afraid to speak his mind.

be not speaking/not be on speaking terms

if two people are not speaking, they do not talk to each other, usually because they have argued:
He was not on speaking terms with his brother or sisters.

speak volumes (about/for something)

if something speaks volumes, it clearly shows the nature of something or the feelings of a person:
What you wear speaks volumes about you.

speak with one voice

if a group of people speak with one voice, they all express the same opinion:
On this issue, the 12 organizations spoke with one voice.

speak the same language

if two people or groups speak the same language, they have similar attitudes and opinions

speak out of turn

to say something when you do not have the right or authority to say it

➔ actions speak louder than words

at action1 (13)

➔ the facts speak for themselves

at fact (8)

➔ in a manner of speaking

at manner (5)

speak for somebody/something

phrasal verb
1 to express the feelings, thoughts, or beliefs of a person or group of people:
Dan, speaking for the students, started the meeting.

speak for yourself

spoken used to tell someone that you do not have the same opinion as they do, or that something that is true for them is not true for you:
'We don't want to go.' 'Speak for yourself!'

be spoken for

if something or someone is spoken for, they have already been promised to someone else:
They're all either married or spoken for.

speak for itself/themselves

to show something very clearly:
The results speak for themselves.

speak of something

phrasal verb
1 literary to show clearly that something happened or exists:
Her skin spoke of warm summer days spent in the sun.

no ... to speak of

also none/nothing to speak of very little of something or a very small thing:
There's been no rain to speak of for several months.
The house had no garden to speak of.

speak out

phrasal verb
to publicly speak in protest about something, especially when protesting could be dangerous
speak out about/against
Five students who had spoken out against the regime were arrested.

speak to somebody/something

phrasal verb
1 to talk to someone who has done something wrong and tell them not to do it again:
Joe was late again today. You'll have to speak to him.
2 if something such as a poem, painting, or piece of music speaks to you, you like it because it expresses a particular meaning, quality, or feeling to you:
Modern art just doesn't speak to me.

speak up

phrasal verb
1 used to ask someone to speak louder:
Could you speak up, please?
2 to say something, especially to express your opinion:
There was a brief silence, then Gerald spoke up.

speak up for somebody

to speak in support of someone:
He is willing to speak up for the rights of women.

speak, talk
When one person is saying things, you can use talk or speak, but talk is more usual and speak slightly literary She talked about her job. He spoke longingly of his home country. Don't interrupt me when I'm talking/speaking. If people are having a conversation, always use talk We talked about our relationship. They talked for hours. If you say that two people are not speaking, you mean they are not willing to talk to each other They've had a row and they're not speaking. Someone who can talk has learned to use language She could talk before she was two. If you can speak, you are able to say something on a particular occasion I was too scared to speak.!! When you mention what language someone uses, always use speak She speaks (=knows how to use) French and Spanish. We spoke in German at first, then English.!! When you ask for someone on the telephone, use speak Can I speak to Clare?!! You can speak words. Do not use talk I spoke the words as clearly as I could.!! You can talk sense or talk nonsense. Do not use speak I think she talks a lot of sense.

Explore LANGUAGES Topic