Bob didn't say a word.

Discussion in 'English Only' started by keeley_h, Jun 4, 2010.

  1. keeley_h Senior Member

    Hi, everybody

    What's the difference between the following sentences?

    Bob didn't say a word.
    Bob didn't speak a word.
  2. Greyfriar

    Greyfriar Senior Member

    They have the same meaning. 'Bob didn't say a word' is a more common usage.
  3. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Isn't it so that 'speak' does not take a direct object? You speak about something.
  4. 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.
  5. Spira Banned

    South of France
    UK English
    So what is the real difference between SPEAK and SAY?
  6. keeley_h Senior Member

    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.
  7. Nunty

    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?"
  8. boozer Senior Member

    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.
  9. Nunty

    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.
  10. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Are there many other words than 'a word' that can follow 'speak', as an object?
  11. keeley_h Senior Member

    Oh, what a nice explanation!
    I got it!

  12. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    English English
    Please open a new thread to talk about that question, Ben, as this one's specifically about the expression say a word:)

  13. Spira Banned

    South of France
    UK English
    Very precise, Nunty. Thank you. I had been struggling to explain this to non-English speakers for ages.
  14. Full Metal Anorak New Member

    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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