What is the difference between reden, sprechen & sagen?

A few weeks ago a student asked me what the difference is between the verbs reden, sprechen and sagen.

If you look those words up in the dictionary you’ll find:

  • reden – to talk, to speak, to say
  • sprechen – to talk, to speak, to say
  • sagen – to say, to speak

Hmm, that’s useful, isn’t it?

Actually,  if you think about it, when do you use talk, speak or say? Speak and talk are often interchangeable but speak is more formal than talk. A speaker is somebody who holds a speech whereas a talker probably talks a lot 🙂

Coming back to the German words, it is very similar. All three verbs mean to communicate orally and can also often be interchanged. But, just like in English, sprechen is more like speak, reden is more like talk and sagen is to say.

A child learns to speak – ein Kind lernt zu sprechen, and in the beginning just says random words. Gradually it learns to talk and sometimes doesn’t know when to stop – das Kind redet und redet und redet …. and then it says things to you – es sagt etwas zu dir.

When you speak German, what do you say when you talk to somebody? Click To Tweet

When you speak German, what do you say when you talk to somebody else?
Wenn du deutsch sprichst, was sagts du, wenn du mit jemandem redest?

As you can see, if you know when to use speak, talk or say in English, you’ll know when to use sprechen, reden or sagen …. with one exception:

A German parrot speaks whereas an English parrot talks –  must be because  a German parrot just speaks random words without having a real conversation and an English parrot just talks a lot of rubbish 🙂

Ich spreche!

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2 Responses to What is the difference between reden, sprechen & sagen?

  1. Ah! This brings me back! I took 6 years of German, and actually did quite well when I visited Germany and Austria (and even in northern italy!) many years ago. I should really do a refresher one of these days! Thank you for the great blog posts, and I will look more into your programs!

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