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Spoke or Spoken? What’s the Past Tense of Speak?

To speak is the present simple tense. Spoke is the simple past tense of speak, and 'have/had/had spoken' is the past participle.

The verb, 'to speak', in context, in text conversation. Image by Gflex on Canva.
The verb, ‘to speak’, in context, in text conversation. By Gflex on Canva.

What’s the past tense of “speak”?

Perhaps one of the most common action states in English, to speak, is an action we, as humans and social creatures, do all the time. If the past tense of speak has not yet spoken to you, then allow this post to speak to the difference.

Forms of the verb “speak”

The verb speak is defined by the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary as to, “[intransitive verb] to talk to somebody about something; to have a conversation with somebody”.  

simpleI speakI spokeI will speak
continuousI am speakingI was speakingI will be speaking
perfectI have spokenI had spokenI will have spoken
perfect continuousI have been speakingI had been speakingI will have been speaking
12 verb tenses of ‘speak

To speak is in the present tense: Can I speak with you for a minute?

Spoke is in the simple past: I spoke at length with him last week.

Spoken is the past participle: I have spoken to the manager about it.

Here’s a helpful chart that illustrates verb forms with 3 forms in the present, past and past participle, (like speak/spoke/spoken).

base verbpast tensepast participle
Irregular verbs (two past tense conjugations).

When to use “spoke” or “spoken”

Past tense: She and I spoke this morning.

Past perfect: I’ve spoken with the manager about it.

Both sentences use a past verb form of speak, but the tenses they create differ. The sentence “I’ve spoken with the manager about it” includes the contraction I’ve = I + have + spoken = present perfect tense. In other words, the auxiliary have/has paired with the past participle verb form creates the present perfect tense (which we use when events from the past relate to the present, or are still ongoing in the present).

To use the past perfect tense, pair the auxiliary had + past participle verb form; e.g., spoken. Since speak is an irregular verb with two past verb conjugations, (i.e., spoke and spoken), it’s easy to tell whether the tense is the simple past or a perfect/progressive tense. That said, with verbs that have the same past tense and past participle form, we can still identify the participle form based on the use of any auxiliary verbs in the same sentence.

Sentences with “speak” (present tense)

‘Can I speak to Susan?’

Can I speak with you for a minute?

The President refused to speak to reporters.

The confidential setting allowed us to speak freely about our concerns.

He never speaks at the meetings.

Examples of the word spoke used in sentences

I spoke at length with him last week.

She and I spoke this morning.

She spoke to me with a smile.

We spoke briefly on the phone.

He spoke on condition of anonymity.


Sentences with “spoken” (past participle)

I’ve spoken to a number of people and they all agreed with me.

I’ve spoken to the manager about it.

They had spoken French.

We’ve spoken about this many times before.

We never spoken about her illness.

Synonyms of speak

  • talk
  • discuss
  • communicate
  • chat
  • consult
  • have a conversation

Origin of the word speak

From etymology online on speak (v.):

Old English specan, variant of sprecan “to speak, utter words; make a speech; hold discourse; from Proto-Germanic *sprekanan.  

Other commonly confused verb tenses

Read more on verbs


  1. Etymology online, origin of speak.
  2. Definition of speak.

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