Do verbal English, oral English, and spoken English mean the same? For example, "My ... English is not good".

I use them interchangeably, but I might be wrong. Thanks!


The most common terms for these concepts are spoken English and written English.

Let's see how common each of your three choices is. I searched the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) for each term and wrote down how many results there were:

  search term         results
  ---------------     -----------
  spoken english      54
  oral english        20
  verbal english      0

These results confirm my intuition, which tell me that spoken English is the most common form, and that oral English is still acceptable but is somewhat less common.

Verbal is sometimes used to mean "spoken rather than written", but it's not always used that way, and in this context I'm not sure it'd be understood. (When I was younger, I took a standardized test with a "verbal" section. It tested my written English skills, not my spoken English skills!) I'd avoid saying verbal English.

| improve this answer | |
  • +1. Verbal is widely used to mean "oral" or "spoken". I had a friend who worked for a large corporation where the rule was "NVO" - "No Verbal Orders", meaning don't do anything unless you're told in writing to do it. But this is asking for trouble: "verbal" should be used to mean "having to do with words" or, in linguistics, "having to do with verbs". – StoneyB on hiatus Jan 19 '14 at 0:35
  • Once upon a time there were "oral examiners" of English, only recently they've been renamed "speaking examiners"!:) – Mari-Lou A Jan 19 '14 at 1:45
  • Thanks! "spoken English" or "speaking English"? – Tim Jan 19 '14 at 4:49
  • 1
    @Tim "Speaking English" is an activity. "Spoken English" is a kind of English. – snailplane Jan 19 '14 at 4:50
  • I always avoid "oral", because it can be used in sexual context. Does that make sense? – Tim Jan 19 '14 at 4:50

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