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Sprechen, Reden, Sagen – What’s The Difference? Posted by on Nov 18, 2020 in Language

Guten Tag! Recently I wrote a post recapping the verb sprechen – to speak, talk, or say. Like in English, there are several words in German with similar meanings to the word sprechen. I thought it might be useful as a follow-up post to go through some of these words and give some example sentences of each in use. Let’s go!

Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

Sprechen – to speak

This is probably the most common verb out of this list, and the one you learn first at school or in German lessons. After all, you learn very early on how to say, “Ich spreche Deutsch” (“I speak German”)! Sprechen is more formal than its counterparts sagen and reden, and does not necessarily indicate a conversation is taking place.

Ich spreche Deutsch – I speak German.

Sie kann kaum sprechen – She can hardly speak.

There are several, other verbs that contain the verb sprechen, such as ansprechen (to address someone) and besprechen (to discuss something).

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Sagen – to say, to tell

Sagen is used when reporting speech, either past or present; discussing abstract meanings (‘what does that say to you?’); and suggests a speaker-listener relationship.

Ich sage die Wahrheit – I’m telling the truth.

Was hast du getan? Sag es mir – What did you do? Tell me.

Sagt dir das etwas? – Does that say anything to you?

Was sagst du dazu? – What do you have to say about that?

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Reden – to talk, to chat

Reden is a more informal way of talking. It also suggests that some sort of conversation is taking place:

Wir haben viel geredet – We chatted/talked a lot.

Sie reden nur über ihre Probleme – They only talk about their problems.

Ich rede mit mir selbst – I talk to myself.

Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

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Erzählen – to tell, to narrate

Erzählen is used when telling stories- not necessarily just in fiction, but when one person tells another something, including lies:

Erzähl mir etwas über dich – Tell me something about yourself.

Ich habe ihm alles erzählt – I told him everything.

Das muss ich dir unbedingt erzählen – I absolutely must tell you about this.

Erzähl mir keine Märchen! – Don’t tell me any lies (Märchen: fairytales)!

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Erklären – to explain

Quite a straight-forward one, but worth including, as explaining is a big part of speech, too!

Das habe ich schon erklärt – I already explained that.

Ich kann alles erklären – I can explain everything.

Kannst du mir das bitte erklären? – Can you explain that to me, please?

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Plaudern – to chat

Plaudern is a very informal, casual way of chatting, sometimes – but not always – meaning that the chat isn’t of very high quality (eg. gossip, small talk). It would not be used in a formal setting.

Sie plaudern wie alte Freunde – They chat like old friends

Aus dem Nähkästchen plaudern – (Saying) To gossip about someone’s private matters

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Ratschen (ratschn) – to chat

This word is used in southern Germany and Austria. It is informal, and basically means the same as ‘plaudern’ and ‘reden’.

Wir haben viel geratscht – We chatted a lot.

Sie ratscht über alles – She talks/gossips about everything.

Photo by Courtney Nuss on Unsplash

 

I hope this has helped clarify the difference between some of the ‘speaking words’ used in German. Are there any more you can think of?

Bis bald!
Constanze

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About the Author: Constanze

Servus! I'm Constanze and I live in the UK. I'm half English and half German, and have been writing about German language and culture on this blog since 2014. I am also a fitness instructor & personal trainer.


Comments:

  1. Volker Zinser:

    As much as I enjoy your German language column, I need to correct a recent mistake. When you did the declination for sprechen, you indicated the ‘Ihr’ case as ‘spricht’. This wrong and shouldbe followed up with a correction. The plural form of ‘Sprechen’ is always ‘ Wir sprechen’, Ihr ‘sprecht’ and Sie ‘ sprechen’. Only the singular female ‘sie’ uses spricht.
    If you need more info on this, please let me know.
    Volker Zinser, at volker.zinser@gmail.com

    • Constanze:

      @Volker Zinser Thanks for spotting the mistake! The post has been updated.

  2. Alison Ellis:

    Very useful. My German has reached the stage when knowing the subtle differences is great.

  3. Adam S Weaver:

    In our so called PA Dutch we say “schweatza”. I have heard that its is akin to gossip in Germany. True?


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