This morning I spoke to my mother. Or, did I speak with my mother? Is there even a difference? Today, we’ll take a look at some of the key differences between talking with someone or talking to someone.
However, be warned, this is one of those parts of English that only English teachers and scholars really care about. Still, it might be quite interesting to learn about.
Talk with or talk to
Whether you talk with or talk to someone, the two can be used interchangeably. However, some people say that talking to someone is when one person talks and the other listens. Talking with someone on the other hand is when both people get to talk.
Talk to has a speaker and listener
You can say, “I talk with my friend”, and that means that both of you take it in turns talking, so the two of you end up having a conversation. However, often, when someone talks to us, what happens is that one person does all the talking and everyone else just listens.
Unless a group is talking to another group. Then one group talks, and the other listens.
But the important thing is that there are clear speakers and listeners. Unlike in a conversation, there is little interchange of who plays what role.
Who might you talk to?
Generally, when we talk “to” someone, we are talking to someone who is below us. This could be if you’re a boss, you might have to talk to your employees. If you’re a policeman, you may have to talk to the criminals.
You can also talk to someone higher than you, like when you report a crime to the police. Or when you make a complaint to your boss.
But when X talks TO Y, X does the talking and Y listens. Y can ask questions, which X can answer, but talking TO someone is not a conversation.
Talk with is when the speaker is also the listener
The alternative to talking to someone is talking with someone. This is where two people are engaged in a conversation. Each person in the conversation should play equal parts listening as they do talking. This way, everybody gets to say what they have to say.
Most of the time when you talk to people, you’re probably talking with them not to them. In most office jobs, it’s more common to talk with someone than it is to talk to them.
Outside of work, unless you’re a parent, it’s rare for there to be a conversation where one person talks to someone instead of with.
Who might you talk with?
You tend to talk with almost everyone. If you’re having a chat with your work colleagues whilst you’re on your lunch break, you’re talking with your colleagues.
If you chat with your wife about your day, and she tells you about hers. You’re talking with her.
When you and your friends are at the pub, chatting about how your families are, you are talking with each other.
And the reason why you’re talking “with”, not “to” is because you are all learning from each other. This isn’t a case of speakers and listeners. Everyone is both.
6 examples of “talk with”
“I was talking with my mother about our school days. I thought we had it tough, turns out, when she was 12, she got beatings when she spoke in class”
“I often talk with my friend about the weather. We might be young men, that doesn’t mean that we can’t appreciate a gentle breeze, or a beautiful sunshine.”
“I talk with my colleagues during my lunch break. I always thought I lived quite a normal life, but it turns out, I am the only one who seems to be obsessed with Godzilla movies. Never mind, he’s still a cool dinosaur”
“I want to talk with a right wing politician. I never understood why they don’t want to spend money. But I need to talk with someone so I can fully understand what their views are and why they have it.”
“I have a friend who I often talk with. She’s from Alabama, and she always gets surprised when I tell her that I can go from my house, to the gym, to the shop without getting in my car. Talking with her makes me realise how great living in a big city is”
“I talk with him on a weekly basis. He always tells me how great it is to be working in the finance industry. I pretend to agree but really I hate it”
5 examples of “talk to”
“He came to talk to the university. He gave an interesting speech all about mathematics and why it’s important for us to not stop learning about it just because we have left school. I never realised how amazing math can actually be. It’s truly incredible”
“The prime minister talks to the nation on a weekly basis. Usually, it’s just him talking about how terrible the virus is, and how the government is doing everything it can to stop the spread, and how hospitals need us to all stay at home”
“I like talking to my friends, they always have something interesting to say. I love having average friends from all around the world. I have an Italian friend who told me that he is somehow related to Julias Caesar. What a small world we live in!”
“My boss made sure to talk to us when we first started. There are so many things that could go wrong in his industry, he had to make sure that none of us got hurt.”
“The mayor wanted to talk to the town so he called a meeting. He told us that the power had been cut through reasons beyond his control. But he assured us that he was working hard to be able to get it working again”
In the real world, it doesn’t really matter if you say “talk with” or “talk to”. People will know what you mean.
But if you’re the kind of person who likes to always follow the rules of languages, it helps if you understand the difference. Talking with someone is when you both talk and you also both listen. But talking to someone is when one person talks and the other person listens.