Spotting the Differences Between Говорить, Разговаривать, and Сказать

Russian has multiple verbs that can be translated as “to speak” or “to talk” in English. At first glance, words like говорить, разговаривать and сказать seem interchangeable. However, there are subtle but important differences in how each verb is used.

In this post, we will compare these verbs and look at when to use each one properly. Understanding the distinctions between these similar speech verbs can help Russian learners avoid mistakes and speak more naturally.

Говорить

Говорить is the most general verb for indicating the process of speaking in Russian. It is suitable for describing any speech act, whether a monologue, dialogue, or group communication.

Unlike other similar verbs, говорить does not have a strict directionality. It simply means to utter words, to convey information verbally.

For example:

Вчера Иван долго говорил по телефону. – Yesterday Ivan spoke on the phone for a long time.

Мы говорили о планах на выходные. – We spoke about plans for the weekend.

Я плохо говорю по-французски. – I speak French poorly.

Когда она волнуется, она говорит без остановки. – When she is worried, she talks without pauses.

Ты много говоришь, но мало делаешь. – You talk a lot but do little.

Не говори с ней об этом, ты можешь её расстроить. – Don’t talk to her about this, you might upset her.

Давайте поговорим об этом позже. – Let’s talk about this later.

Говори громче, я тебя плохо слышу. – Speak louder, I can barely hear you.

Наш учитель часто говорит: “Как я уже сказал…” – Our teacher often says: “As I already said…”

Мой дедушка любил говорить о своей юности. – My grandfather enjoyed talking about his youth.

As you can see from the examples, говорить can be used in different contexts. It is the most neutral and broad speech verb in Russian. It is suitable for describing any speech situation.

Difference between говорить, разговаривать and сказать

Разговаривать

Unlike the verb говорить, разговаривать usually implies a dialogue or conversation between two or more people. This verb emphasizes having a conversation partner.

For example:

Вчера я долго разговаривал по скайпу с сестрой. – Yesterday I spoke via Skype with my sister for a long time.

Они разговаривают (=общаются) на испанском. – They speak Spanish (to each other).

Они разговаривают друг с другом каждый день. – They talk to each other every day.

Разговаривайте тише, пожалуйста. Это библиотека. – Please talk more quietly. This is a library. (addressing to two or more people)

Разговаривай со мной уважительно. – Speak to me respectfully.

As you can see from the examples, разговаривать highlights the process of two-way communication. This verb is best used when you want to say that a dialogue or conversation took place, as opposed to one-sided speech.

Говорить и разговаривать are often interchangeable in informal Russian.

See Also: 25 Most Common Russian Verbs

Сказать

Unlike говорить and разговаривать, сказать is used when referring to a single phrase or statement, rather than an ongoing process of speaking.

For example:

Она ничего не сказала. – She didn’t say anything.

Он сказал, что не сможет прийти. – He said that he would not be able to come.

Врач сказал, что мне нужно больше отдыхать. – The doctor told me I need to rest more.

Она сказала это таким тоном, что все расстроились. – She said it in such a tone that everyone was upset.

Если бы я знал, я бы сказал тебе об этом раньше. – If I had known, I would have told you about it earlier.

Я не слышал, что сказал докладчик. – I didn’t hear what the speaker said.

Лучше промолчать, чем сказать глупость. – It’s better to stay silent than say something stupid.

Скажи мне правду, я готов её услышать. – Tell me the truth, I’m ready to hear it.

Скажите ему, чтобы перезвонил мне, как только сможет. – Tell him to call me back as soon as he can.

As you can see from these examples, сказать refers to a specific, one-time utterance. It does not imply an extended dialogue or monologue. This verb is best used when you want to convey that a single phrase or sentence was stated.

Summary

Although говорить, разговаривать and сказать can all mean “to speak” or “to talk”, they have distinct uses. Говорить is the most general, applying to any speech or dialogue. Разговаривать implies a mutual conversation between two or more people. Сказать refers to a single phrase or statement rather than an ongoing process. By mastering these fine differences, Russian learners can become more adept at conveying exactly what they mean to say. With practice, the appropriate usages will become second nature.

I hope this overview has provided a helpful introduction to when to use each of these “speaking” verbs correctly.

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