In English "to speak" and "to say" typically cannot be used interchangeably. You can speak a language but you cannot say a language. Similarly, you can speak with someone but you cannot say with someone (or rather, it wouldn't carry the same meaning). So speak is usually used to describe the nature of speech (what language is being spoken, who it's being spoken to) while say is describing the message being transmitted.

As far as I can tell, 说(话) seems to serve both of these purposes in Mandarin. My question is, are there any other words in Mandarin that can fulfill one role but not the other?

  • For this specific example maybe: 会? Like, 我会英文.
    – Mou某
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 22:15

1 Answer 1


说 can mean 'speak' or 'say' e.g. 我說不用了(I said there's no need); 我会说英语 (I can speak English)

'道' (to say) is a literary/classical term for '说'(say). e.g. 某某道:「如此这般」= XX said: "So and so", but you cannot use '道' for 'speak', as in "speak Chinese"

'操' (to use; to speak) is another literary term for '说'(speak). e.g. 本人能操流利粤语 (I can speak fluent Cantonese), but you cannot use '操' for 'say', as in "please say something"

'讲' Cantonese dialectical word: say; speak e.g. 讲英文 (speak English); 我讲过 (I had said)

'讲' Mandarin: V: to emphasize, to speak; to talk. e.g. 讲佛经 (talk Buddhist scriptures)


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