SPEAK OF vs SPEAK ABOUT

‘He cried when she spoke of Oliver.’
In this sentence, what does the preposition ‘of’ mean? Did she speak to Oliver or she spoke about Oliver to someone else?

‘People spoke of their fear as the flood water rose.’ In this sentence,  I also want to know the meaning of ‘of’. Thank you.

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Promoter Asked on 03/09/2014 in English Vocabulary.
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1 Answer(s)

Speak of and speak about mean very similar things, but there’s a slight difference.

 

  • ‘She cried when she spoke of Oliver.’ Yes, it means she was talking about Oliver, but the preposition OF signals that she gave some specific details, not just a general impression.

 

When you speak of something, it’s usually describing something definite that you know/witnessed.

  • People spoke of their fear as the flood water rose.’ means they described in detail how they felt on that particular occasion.

 

When you speak about something, it’s usually a more general discussion.

  • ‘We spoke about fear.’ means that we shared our opinions and experiences regarding fear in general.

 

Let’s see the two uses in one context:

  • ‘Amy Cuddy speaks about body language in her famous TED Talk. She spoke of the importance of first impressions.’ 

It means that the general topic of her talk was body language and that she also mentioned one specific thing: the importance of first impressions.

 

There’s a similar difference you may notice in the use of ‘think of’ vs ‘think about’.

  • What do you think of Tim? meaning: what’s your opinion of him?
  • I keep thinking about Tim. meaning: he’s on my mind, but it’s not a specific thought/opinion

 

*‘Speaking of something’ is an expression you can also use to relate to a subject that’s being discussed:

  • Speaking of TED Talks, have you seen the one about global warming?
  • Speaking of global warming, did you know that the global temperature has increased by over 0.7 degrees Celsius over the last century?

 

Read more:
Difference Between “Talk to me” and “Talk with me”!
How to Speak English Fluently? 2 Unusual Tips
How to THINK in English while Speaking

Promoter Answered on 03/09/2014.
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