Looking on how to improve my essays, I've just come across the idiom 'speaks volumes about'. For example:

The unsightly yard and unpainted house speaks volumes about what kind of people live there.

However, all the examples I've seen use it in kind of informal way. Would it be valid to be included in a formal essay?

PS: One example of a formal use would be writing to your college director to do some proposal to improve building's installations:

The anual asset from the magazine has given an outstanding review of the college, which speaks volumes about it. However...

  • It depends how formal and for what purpose the essay is. Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 23:41
  • Could you add what you would consider a formal use example?
    – user3169
    Commented Jun 25, 2016 at 0:19
  • I've extended my post a bit providing more info. Thanks
    – Aritz
    Commented Jun 25, 2016 at 5:03
  • A volume is a book in a series. We don't tend to use the phrase of written works. We wouldn't say, for example, that a newspaper or magazine article "speaks volumes" about a particular subject. The first example you've given shows how it is used -- we use it of things which cannot communicate, like an untidy yard or an unpainted house.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 25, 2016 at 10:05
  • 2
    In a private communication between yourself and the advisor, such an idiom would be okay (if used properly). No advisor I've ever known would take exception to it in that context.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 25, 2016 at 12:55

1 Answer 1


The idiom speak volumes (about something refers to communication without words, which is why, in your examples, a yard and a house can be said to speak.

If something speaks volumes, it makes an opinion, characteristic, or situation very clear without the use of words:
She said very little but her face spoke volumes.


See also the other definitions and examples given at The Free Dictionary.

Applying the idiom to written communication does not represent natural usage of the idiom.

It does not seem out of place regarding formality in the sentence you wrote. So, yes, the idiom can be used in a formal essay, including "writing to your college director to do some proposal to improve building's installations."


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