What is the difference between 語{かた}る and 話{はな}す?

I know that I can say #1, but it's correct to say #2? If it's ok, sentence 1 and 2 have the same meaning?



  • 1
    I don't think sentence #2 is appropriate, 語る is closer to "narrate", while 話す is "to speak" in general. So, in my opinion, 2 should be 私は日本語で◯を語る
    – meriororen
    Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 14:44
  • 4
    Easy cheat to remember is the word 物語. Kataru is more akin to telling a tale... not speaking words of a language. Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 16:08
  • Like meriororen and kiss-o-matic said. 日本語【にほんご】を[語る]{かたる} sounds like "telling the tale of the Japanese language", as if someone is talking about how the language itself developed over time, or something like that. Commented Apr 21, 2021 at 23:51

1 Answer 1


私は日本語を話す。 I speak Japanese.

私は日本語を語る。 I talk about Japanese.

Since 語る has no special meaning associated with languages, it only means that you are talking what you know or how you feel about Japanese. It's quite popular in Japan to give the title ~を語る to books that celebrities reveal something or specialists express their thoughts.

Though I translated 日本語を話す into "speak Japanese", the verb doesn't have "be able to speak" sense, so every time you have to explicitly use potential form when you question about ability.

日本語が話せますか? Do you speak Japanese?

compared to:

日本語を話しますか? Are you going to speak Japanese?

A Japanese thesaurus has a neat summary including the difference of 話す and 語る:

...loudly ...a perceptive comment ... English ... one's past ...oh! (a yell of surprise)
言う × ×
しゃべる ×
語る × ×
話す ×
述べる × × ×
  • 3
    On this site, many users write for "OK", × for "NG", for "sometimes correct", and for "questionable". See this post on meta for details. It would probably be more helpful to edit your table to use these symbols -- I'd do it myself, but I'm not sure exactly what your :( is supposed to mean.
    – istrasci
    Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 22:30
  • Oh, I didn't notice that. I just thought those symbols must have been not familiar to readers. I'm going to edit the table myself, thank you. Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 22:41

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