Are 「言う」「話す」「喋る」「語る」 interchangeable in the following sentences? Why or why not?

  1. 「ああ」と言って、田中は友達の顔を眺めた…
  1. 学校にあったことを父に話す。
  1. 自分の考えを友達に話した。
  1. 人と話すのが好きです。
  1. ああ!カエルが喋った!
  1. 彼は皆の前で、将来の大きな夢を語りました。
  1. 彼は私に子供のところの思い出を語った。
  1. あの人は実によく喋る。
  1. 誰もいないところでいうのは構わない…

In my opinion, sentence 1, 2, 3, and 4 are not interchangeable because:

  1. 「ああ」と言って、田中は友達の顔を眺めた…

Because「ああ」 is a short sentence, only 「言う」can be used.

  1. 学校にあったことを父に話す。

Because, I'm talking with my dad, so 「話す」 is used. The same for sentence 3 and 4.

But I cannot figure out under what cases 「喋る」「語る」 can be used only.

Do 「喋る」 add a feeling that what is being talked unimportant?

And how to say "to tell a story (to a child)"?

Thanks for your help in advance!

  • 2
    Do you understand the definitions of all these words?
    – istrasci
    Oct 21, 2020 at 17:36
  • 1
    @istrasci Yes, I looked them up in the dictionary, so I guess I understand their definitions. Oct 22, 2020 at 2:05

1 Answer 1


If you read a lot of sentences with those verbs you will start to feel that they are used in slightly different cases. Thanks for adding all those examples in your question, it is helpful to see the distinction.

Inspired by their usage in those examples (and my experience), I would say that to me the nuances sound like this:

  • 言う feels more like it refers to "the act of uttering sounds that can be expressed as words with meaning", in the sense that it can be used when the locutor is speaking alone. It makes it look more like "say".

  • 話す is used more often when a conversation happens between someone and someone else. So in that sense I would say it is closer to "talk". However it can also be used to express if someone masters a language. In those cases it is closer to "speak".

  • 語る is often used when the content uttered has the quality of a story or a tale. I would place its meaning close to that of "tell". It has a bit of a formal connotation (to me at least).

  • 喋る feels to me like a more informal version covering the meanings of 話す and 言う. It can refer to conversations, the act of speaking itself, as well as to the mastering of languages.

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