When browsing through journal entries by various people, I've recently been noticing the words 述{の}べる and 語{かた}る used fairly frequently but I'm not sure when they should be used over 話{はな}す and 言{い}う etc as I think there's a lot of overlap.

Would it be possible for me to ask when the following words should be used?

  • 言{い}う: to say
  • 述{の}べる: to express/state/say
  • 表{あらわ}す: to express (as per @yadokari's comment, I'm not sure how 表す and 述べる differ.)
  • 話{はな}す: to speak/talk
  • 語{かた}る: to talk/tell
  • 伝{つた}える: to convey/tell
  • 告{つ}げる: to inform/tell
  • 教{おし}える: to inform
  • 2
    if you want to go nuts u could add stuff like 表す or 言い表す
    – yadokari
    Nov 30, 2011 at 23:33
  • I believe 表す focuses more on the feeling behind the words, and is also used for expression in the sense of facial expressions. Whereas 述べる is definitely about speaking, and is often translated as "mention".
    – Questioner
    Feb 8, 2012 at 6:09

1 Answer 1


Let me try:

言う: The only thing on your list that I'd actually translate as "to say" or "to tell". This is sort of "neutral" in that it really just means to say. For example:

「彼女がいない」と言ったでしょう? = He doesn't have a girlfriend, I told you so already!

Note that as I am not giving any context you could equivalently translate the sentence as: He said he didn't have a girlfriend, or did he not!

述べる: Can mean "to express" or "to state":

英語で自分の考えを述べるのは難しい。= It is difficult to express one's thoughts in English.

(Example sentence taken from jisho.org)

話す:"to talk", as you wrote above. For example:

今お母さんと話しています。= I'm talking to mum right now.

おしゃべりな人と話したくない。= I don't want to talk to talkative people.

伝える: "to convey" as in "Say hello to X.":

田中さんにこの知らせを伝えて下さい。= Please pass these new onto Mr. Tanaka.

告げる: I've not heard this one before (which doesn't mean much) but it seems to mean "to tell" or "to convey" again. Examples (again taken from jisho.org):

もし私がそれを知っているなら、私はそれをあなたに告げるだろう。= If I knew it, I would tell you.

教える: Can mean "to teach" or "to tell". For example:

あなたの電話番号を教えて下さい。= Can you give me your phone number?

彼は日本語学校で日本語を教えています。= He's teaching Japanese at a Japanese language school.

This answer is incomplete but I hope this helps.

  • Note that I'm not a native speaker. 母国語が日本語な方へ:例に間違いを見つけたら、ぜひ私に教えて下さい。 Nov 30, 2011 at 22:31
  • @cypher: I suggest that you use my answer as a supplement. Leave it unaccepted and wait for an answer by a native speaker. Nov 30, 2011 at 22:33
  • What about 調べる (しらべる)? Doesn't that also mean to talk or to say?
    – dotnetN00b
    Feb 8, 2012 at 3:45
  • 調べる means to research/investigate.
    – oldergod
    Feb 8, 2012 at 4:15
  • 1
    しゃべる, on the other hand, means "to chat".
    – Billy
    Feb 9, 2012 at 4:03

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