"say" vs "speak", getting really mixed up

Hey there, I’m still sometimes getting material wrong because apparently “say” 言う and “speak” 話す mean different things. They mean the same in my head so I could elect to add a user synonym, but there has to be some distinction if Wanikani didn’t initially think so. Is there?


Say is the verb you use when you’re specifying what words a person used. Speak almost never specifies anything and just indicates that words are used or the manner in which they are used.

I spoke to the manager
I said “hello” to the manager

I speak German (Indicate what language I use to say words)
I say “German” (Indicates which words are used)

In every language I know this distinction is pretty clear.




@Kiyobi can you see the difference?


I personally think of 話す more like “to discuss” than “to say”. 言う is “to say” or “to tell” (and is used in a trillion grammatical constructions, generally without kanji).

That being said my general advice is not to stress too much about this on Wanikani. This is almost never going to be an issue when reading because you’ll almost always be able to naturally infer what the word means in context and eventually you’ll get a feel for it.

EDIT: also look at the words in context to try and get a feel for them:

Notice that the 話す sentences can almost all be rephrased with “to discuss” or “to speak” (in general, like “I speak English”, not saying a specific thing) and mean basically the same thing, while 言う is generally about a specific piece of information being conveyed from A to B.


But not, apparently, in Elvish, which caused Gandalf a little difficulty at the door to Moria…


Ah yeah, I totally get it now. Thank you @WeebPotato and @TheCodingFox!