Jim: May I ___ to Helen, please? Jack: I'm afraid that you have the wrong number.

(A) talk (B) say (C) speak (D) go

C is correct. Is A also acceptable?
1 2 3
Talk means have a conversation.

In this context it's like asking Jack for permission to have a conversation with Helen. Strange.

In this context, use speak.
This sounded like a dialog from a phone converstaion in which the caller is asking to talk to Helen.

May I speak to / with Helen?

May I talk to Helen

I think both work but speak is more preferred.
Site Hint: Check out our list of pronunciation videos.
The answer to your question according to Longman's Advanced Dictionary is TALK!!! NOT SPEAK.

And here is the words usage guidline as found in the dictionary:

speak, talk

When one person is saying things, you can use talk or speak, but talk is more usual and speak slightly literary

• She talked about her job.

• He spoke longingly of his home country.

• Don't interrupt me when I'm talking/speaking.

If people are having a conversation, always use talk

• We talked about our relationship.

• They talked for hours.

If you say that two people are not speaking, you mean they are not willing to talk to each other

• They've had a row and they're not speaking.

Someone who can talk has learned to use language (used only of a child)

• She (child) could talk before she was two.

If you can speak, you are able to say something on a particular occasion

• I was too scared to speak.!!

When you mention what language someone uses, always use speak

• She speaks (=knows how to use) French and Spanish.

• We spoke in German at first, then English.!! When you ask for someone on the telephone, use speak

• Can I speak to Clare?!!

You can speak words. Do not use talk

• I spoke the words as clearly as I could.!!

You can talk sense or talk nonsense. Do not use speak

• I think she talks a lot of sense.

My summary:


1- On the phone: use ONLY talk

2- Conversation: use ONLY talk

3- with sense/nonsnese: use ONLY talk

4- The first time children speak thier mother language: use ONLY talk


1- On a particular occasion (conference for example): use ONLY speak

2- Learning a second language: use ONLY speak

3. Of people who had a fight and now dont talk to each other:

YOU CAN SAY: a. They don't talk to each other OR b. They don't speak NOT they dont talk.

AND FINALLY: TALK AND SPEAK (either or = both correct = used interchangably)

When one person is saying things, you can use talk or speak, but talk is more usual and speak slightly literary

• She talked about her job.

• He spoke longingly of his home country.

• Don't interrupt me when I'm talking/speaking.

I hope this has helped. And I hope I have not overflooded you (boggled your mind) with too much information. But your question is a very good one for those who do not only want to be understood, but also want to be very accurate.
Your child should ask for the person he wishes to speak with by
saying, "May I speak with Kurt, please?" rather than "Is Kurt there?"

Manners Made Easy For Your 3- to 5-Year-Old
Ask, "May I speak to Tommy?" not "Is Tommy home!"

Telephone Manners

· Use a three-point introduction: "May I speak to Jason Johns? This is
Lisa Lane of IBM, and I want to talk with him about software."

Etiquette 12: Telephone Manners
"May I speak to Rachel Smith, please?"

[/url]http://china.englishtown.com/sp/article.aspx?Otag=O00297&articleName=91-phone&Ctag=91-phone [/url]
Is A also acceptable?
Yes, but it's less formal.

May I? is more formal.
Can I? is less formal.

May I speak is consistent in the level of formality.
So is Can I talk ...

May I talk and Can I speak are less consistent, perhaps, but not grammatically wrong.

For these reasons, C is the best answer.

Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?

Did I miss understand the dictionary distinction between talk and speak???

Or maybe it is only true in British English since Longman is probably pro-British???

Hi Magic,

Book references sometimes are misinterpreted. In some instances, they may even be questionable. From my own experience, I feel the most difficult part for the learners is to learn to distinguish what looks and sounds correct, aside from being grammatically correct. Secondly, it is the fact that they lack the constant exposure to practical English, and I am putting emphasis on “practical”.

It’s not realistic to apply set rules because the context and dynamic (of the conversation) may change which dictate the application of word choices.

That said, here are more examples for you reference.

1-He spoke fondly of you when I saw him yesterday – not talk.

2-He talks about his father a lot- not speak.

3-The president is about to speak to the press– although Emotion: talkative may also be used, but to me

[speak] is more appropriate with this context.

4 -May I speak with Mr. Thomson please?

5 –I am sorry but Mr. Thomson is talking to a client. Can you hold?

Hope they help!

IMO, for the purposes of this discussion, a telephone connection is established on several levels:

1.) Sensory level.

You must establish first verbal and auditive contact, thus speak and hear each other first. This is why

May I speak with Mr. Jones?

(and not talk) should be at the beginning, as shown in those pages I listed in the above.

2). Intelligent/rational level.

When the sensory contact at 1 is completed, you can start a conversation, and this where we're using: talk and listen.
Teachers: We supply a list of EFL job vacancies
Show more