For example:

"She's upstairs," said Tom.

What if spoke is put in the place of said? Meaning:

"She's upstairs," spoke Tom.

I haven't seen anything like that in books or anywhere really, but is that correct, grammar-wise? If said was replaced with thought or wrote, it'd still be correct, but I'm uncertain regarding spoke.

Google ngrams show barely any usage for spoke, and Google itself doesn't show particularly any reliable sources.

1 Answer 1


No, they aren't directly interchangeable.

Say/said is (usually) a transitive verb; that is, it takes an object. Tom said "Hello" or said "Goodbye" or said "She's upstairs", but he never just said.

On the other hand, speak/spoke can be intransitive or transitive. It often doesn't need an object - it is entirely acceptable to say 'Tom spoke' without elaborating on what was spoken - and when it does take one, it is usually an abstract description, not a direct quote. Tom might speak English, or speak the truth or speak volumes, but he is unlikely to ever speak "go away" or speak "what are you doing?".

  • Thanks. And perhaps it should be "transitive" instead of "transative"?
    – john2546
    Dec 29, 2015 at 2:56
  • Quick followup question: would it be right to put "mocked Tom" or "taunted Tom"?
    – john2546
    Dec 29, 2015 at 18:35
  • No. The object for mock or taunt is generally the target, not the thing being said: Tom mocked Sally, rather than Tom mocked "Ha Ha". (And the most common word order is subject-verb-object, so 'mocked Tom' risks implying that he is being mocked rather than doing the mocking)
    – Toby Y.
    Dec 29, 2015 at 21:13

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