Bob didn't say a word.

keeley_h

Senior Member
Bulgarian
Hi, everybody

What's the difference between the following sentences?

Bob didn't say a word.
Bob didn't speak a word.
 
  • Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    We use speak with a direct object.
    She didn't speak a word.
    It is especially common in constructions such as "I can't speak a word of Polish".

    I agree with Greyfyiar that in the original context, "say a word" is more common.
     

    keeley_h

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    I'd like to know why say a word is a more common usage.
    How does it sound?
    I think that's the difference.

    So sorry to ask again.
     

    Nunty

    Modified
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    As far as I can articulate it, speak refers more to the physical act of producing words and say refers more to the content. (This is very general, of course.) "I speak Hebrew" not "I say Hebrew"; "What did you say to him?" and not "What did you speak to him?"
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    As Nunty says, speaking has to do with the physical act of uttering words. In the examples given in post #1, the meaning is probably the same, really, if the sentences are left as they are.

    However, I would normally expect something more coming after "say":
    He didn't say a word about his intention to get married. It's like he was actually expected to say something but never did so. And I think this has to do with the "content" distinction made by Nunty.

    All "He didn't speak a word" tells me is that he kept silent all the time.

    Then, again, I would never really stop to think or analyse if I heard either of those sentences.
     

    Nunty

    Modified
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    We can also say "He spoke for about an hour, but didn't actually say anything", which is different from "He didn't speak a word", which I would understand the same way boozer does.
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    We use speak with a direct object.
    She didn't speak a word.
    It is especially common in constructions such as "I can't speak a word of Polish".

    I agree with Greyfyiar that in the original context, "say a word" is more common.
    Are there many other words than 'a word' that can follow 'speak', as an object?
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    As far as I can articulate it, speak refers more to the physical act of producing words and say refers more to the content. (This is very general, of course.) "I speak Hebrew" not "I say Hebrew"; "What did you say to him?" and not "What did you speak to him?"
    Very precise, Nunty. Thank you. I had been struggling to explain this to non-English speakers for ages.
     

    Full Metal Anorak

    New Member
    Hiberno-English
    Don't know if this will help anyone, but here's a quick story:

    I was walking with Bob and we were held up by Mexican bandits. I negotiated with them.

    Bob didn't say a word.

    I asked him why he didn't say anything.

    He said, "I didn't say a word because I don't speak a word of Spanish".
     
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