#297: English Phrasal Verb Speak To | 4 Ways to Use It

Dec 13, 2023 | Advanced Vocabulary, Phrasal Verbs

Is ‘speaks to’ really a phrasal verb? Aren’t phrasal verbs idiomatic?

Good questions! 

If someone says, “You should speak to Laura about this issue,” or “Daniela is speaking to customer service about the power outage,” then ‘speak to’ is NOT a  phrasal verb.

Those sentences are simply using the verb “speak” with the preposition “to” to mean that someone is saying something to another person or entity. 


But what about:

  • This painting really speaks to me.
  • Your hard work speaks to your overall determination to succeed.
  • The chaos in this office right now speaks to the need to make some changes in our workflow.
  • I’d like to speak to this issue.

      Of course, paintings, hard work, and chaos don’t talk. And I can’t speak directly to an issue like I can speak directly to a person.

      So, in those examples, ‘speaks to’ is a phrasal verb with idiomatic meaning. And the phrasal verb conveys a completely different message.

      In this Confident English lesson, you’ll learn exactly how to use this one common English phrasal verb in 4 different ways to 

      • Express a personal connection with something
      • Highlight a truth or fact
      • Indicate the connection between 2 things

      How to Use the English Phrasal Verb ‘Speak To’

      Use #1: To Address Specific Issues

      First, English speakers use ‘speak to’ when intentionally discussing or mentioning a particular topic or issue. 

      • Ex. “Could you speak to how the conference benefits from shifting to an online platform?”
      • Ex. “I’d like to speak to the expected timelines for implementing the changes.
      • Ex. “Sheila wants to speak to the concerns parents expressed about last week’s school event.”

      In each of these sentences, ‘speak to’ indicates that someone would like to address or discuss an issue.

      Scenario #1: Imagine you’re setting the agenda for the next community meeting and safety is on your mind.

      You might say, “In the next meeting, I’d like to speak to the matter of updating our neighborhood safety measures.”

      Note: when ‘speak to’ is used in this way, it is immediately followed by the topic or subject someone would like to address.

      Think for a moment about a challenging situation at work. Or a concerning issue you’re having at home. And imagine you’d like to add some comments on the topic. 

      In doing so, you could structure your sentence like this:

      “I’d like to speak to [insert the issue/topic].”

      Use #2: To Express A Sense of Personal Connection

      Second, we use ‘speak to’ to express a personal feeling or connection with something.

      In other words, there’s a special meaning or importance you associate with something. 

      Like Use #1, when ‘speak to’ is used in this way, it’s followed by the subject, object, or idea with which you feel that connection.

      • Ex. “The song’s bittersweet lyrics spoke to me after the break-up.”
      • Ex. “This painting speaks to my love for the natural environment of this area.”
      • Ex. “The book ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain really spoke to me. I felt like she wrote the book for me.”

      Scenario #2: For example, you’re at your monthly book club meeting and everyone is sharing their thoughts on the book.

      When it’s your turn, you might share, “The author’s message about family strongly speaks to my own beliefs about familial relationships.”

      Use #3: To Unveil/Indicate Truths 

      Next, we use ‘speak to’ to highlight a truth, fact, or indication.

      This is especially true when we are referring to someone’s actions or efforts. 

      • Ex. “Your hard work speaks to your deep commitment to our mission.” 
      • Ex. “The chaos in this office right now speaks to the need to make some changes in our workflow.”

      In other words, your hard work indicates or suggests that you have a deep commitment to the mission.

      In the second example, the chaos indicates there is a need for change. Or it highlights a truth: things are not going well; it’s time to change.

      Scenario #3: Imagine you’re providing feedback to a colleague or team member.

      To highlight their positive performance, you might say, “Your consistent effort speaks to your determination and motivation.”

      Before we move on to Use 4, here are a few more examples of how to use ‘speak to’ to highlight that a situation exists and is especially true. 

      • Ex. “The empty streets and low traffic speak to the slow decline of small businesses in this part of the city.”
      • Ex. “The recent rise in car thefts speaks to the strong need for more surveillance in the neighborhood.
      • Ex.The feedback I receive from women speaks to the desire for women-only programs and communities.

      Use #4: To Relate to (or not relate to)

      The fourth purpose is to indicate the relevance, or lack of relevance, of something to a particular subject. Or how things might be connected/not connected.

      • Ex. For instance, you might hear journalists on the news tell someone, “That information doesn’t speak to the question at hand.”
      • Ex.Recent world events speak to the dip in the stock market.

      Scenario #4: Imagine the marketing team pitches a campaign for a new service your team is offering. The campaign is confusing and vague.

      When asked for your thoughts, you might share, 

      • Ex. “The ads don’t speak to client concerns or the question of why our clients need this service.”

      Scenario #5: Imagine you’re at a parent-teacher meeting for your child. 

      Your child’s teacher might share information about an upcoming test and say, “Your child’s results will speak to her candidacy for the new science program at our school.”

      Note: In the sentence, ‘speak to’ is immediately followed by the situation or factor that will be impacted.

      Practice What You Learned

      Consider these scenarios and try to create 1-2 sentences for each, using ‘speak to.’.

      1. Talk about your favorite hobby. Why do you enjoy it?
      2. Share what contributes to the strength of your relationship with your best friend.
      3. You’re at a meeting. Address a growing concern in your workplace.
      4. Highlight a business strategy or change your company confirmed it would implement next month.

      As always, you can share your comments and questions with me below.

      ~ Annemarie

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