For examples:

Tom is rambling in his speech

Tom is babbling in his speech

Do both of them mean the same thing if I use them in a sense to mean that someone is talking for a while in a very rapid and disconnected way.

In dictionaries I found babble and rumble hugely similar. Are there any subtle difference that native speakers may take note?


1talk rapidly and continuously in a foolish, excited, or incomprehensible way:


2talk or write at length in a confused or inconsequential way:

3 Answers 3


Babble and ramble are both derogatory when applied to speech or writing; but beyond that they have very little in common.

The primary sense of babble has to do with >sound<: as your dictionary tells you, it characterizes speech as “rapid and continuous”, so much so that no coherent meaning can be discerned. We use babble to speak of babies’ meaningless syllables, of mindless social chatter, of fluent but uninformed speech, and of speech in foreign languages which we do not understand. We also use the term figuratively of rapidly flowing streams: ‘babbling brooks’.

The primary sense of ramble has to do with >direction<. It was used originally of walking or travel: to wander aimlessly, going nowhere in particular. When ramble is used of speech or writing it indicates that a discourse is similarly directionless: it jumps from one point to another, with no apparent connection and no evident point towards which it is driving.

Incidentally, you’re very unlikely to hear or read “He is babbling in his speech.” Since you’re talking about a person, it would be taken for granted that it his speech which is involved; we‘d just say “He’s babbling.”

“He is rambling in his speech” is unlikely, too; more usual expressions are:

“He’s rambling”, to describe what he’s saying now as incoherent
“He rambles”, to describe his customary speaking style as incoherent
“His speech rambled” to describe the lecture or speech he gave on a specific occasion as incoherent
“His speech is/was rambling”, to suggest that his manner of speaking is/was symptomatic of inebriation or disease

  • Solid stuff. If you want to know the different connotations of words that might be used in some given context, where "current" dictionary definitions seem to overlap, the first thing to consider is the etymological (and/or literal) meanings. Jan 10, 2014 at 19:06
  • Very well put answer but I still have some confusion on the meaning of babble. You spoke of when we use babble it has to be something to do with the sound of the speaker, but you also mentioned mindless social chatter and fluent but uninformed speech. Do you mean that that's the sound/tone that the speaker employs makes the social chatter mindless, and speech uninformed? Or is it something to do with the content? If that is about content then it seems it will overlap with the some of the meaning of ramble.
    – user49119
    Jan 11, 2014 at 4:18
  • I think a quick and dirty differentiation would be that when someone babbles, you typically wouldn't be able to catch any words in it (e.g. a baby or a drunk or someone speaking in foreign language), while you typically would still be able to spot words of someone rambling, it just doesn't make much sense when they string them into sentences or paragraphs (e.g. too much logical contradiction, too much jumping around tangential topics, etc)
    – Lie Ryan
    Jan 11, 2014 at 4:54
  • @LieRyan I looked up babbling on and found this. Mother was said to be babbling on by the narrator but he was quite certain about the contents of what she babbled about. Is this a strange case or normal use of the word?
    – user49119
    Jan 11, 2014 at 18:18

Here is the subtle difference I found in the dictionary I use. I use the pro version.

WordWeb explains both the words here -

Ramble (v): Continue talking or writing in a desultory manner. Please note that there's a noun rambliing as well.
Babble (v): To talk foolishly OR utter meaningless sounds, like a baby, or utter in an incoherent way

So, in your examples, some additional information would make it clear that which of these above mentioned fits.


Found a decent answer from an external website.


1 Ramble means to talk at length and boringly without any real organisation or aim : He rambled on for hours about his experiences in the army. It was so boring.

2 It can also be used to describe the type of speech associated with delirium : By the time his temperature had reached 39°C, he was rambling deliriously.


1 Babble is used as a technical term in linguistics to describe babies' pre-speech vocalisations - the goo goo ga ga noises they make.

2 Babble can also be used to describe disjointed, confused speech affected by emotion - eg : He babbled on excitedly

3 It's also often used as a noun to describe speech which is too distant or overlapping to hear clearly : He could hear a babble of voices coming from the kitchen.

4 and in various forms to describe multiple sounds in general : A babbling brook

So according to this answer, babble basically can mean speech that is disjointed and confusing affected by emotion, from which you can still make out the words out of it. Then it can quite explain my question on this usage of babble.

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