What’s the Difference Between a Speech and an Address?

By Maeve Maddox

Nabil Bayouk asks:

What is the difference between speech and address (noun)

Used as a noun, address is not the first word one would choose in ordinary circumstances. The more common choice is speech:

The candidate gave a speech.
The principal’s speech went on too long.
I’ve been asked to give a speech to the garden club.

Speeches given on formal occasions are more likely to be called “addresses.”

I’ve been asked to give the graduation address.
The President’s inaugural address was heard by millions.
American children memorize Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

As a verb, address suits any occasion:

The principal addressed the assembled students.
The candidate addressed the crowd.

English offers several other nouns that have much the same meaning as speech and address, each with its own nuances and uses.

Writers looking for just the right shade of meaning may choose from:

discourse [dĭs’kôrs’, -kōrs’] A formal, lengthy discussion of a subject (A discourse can also be written.)

disquisition [dĭs’kwĭ-zĭsh’ən] A formal discourse on a subject (A disquisition can also be written.)

harangue [hə-răng’] A long pompous speech, especially one delivered before a gathering.

homily [hŏm’ə-lē] a commentary, without formal introduction, division, or conclusion, that interprets some part of scripture.

lecture [lĕk’chər] An exposition of a given subject delivered before an audience or a class for the purpose of instruction.

monologue  [mŏn’ə-lôg’, -lŏg’] Literally, a monologue is a speech spoken by one person. Browning’s “My Last Duchess” is a poem written entirely as a monologue as the Duke of Ferrara reveals himself to an appalled listener. In contemporary usage, the word is often applied to a continuous series of jokes delivered by one comedian.

oration [ô-rā’shən] A formal speech, especially one given on a ceremonial occasion.

peroration [pe‐rŏ‐ray‐shŭn] The concluding part of an oration; especially, a final summing up and enforcement of an argument. Law and Order episodes often show the perorations of the opposing lawyers.

sermon [sûr’mən] A religious discourse delivered as part of a church service.

soliloquy sə-lĭl’ə-kwē) In a discussion of literature, a soliloquy is a speech spoken by a character alone on the stage, or alone in his thoughts. The most famous dramatic soliloquy is probably Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” speech.

spiel [spēl, shpēl] lengthy speech intended to persuade. Used informally. Ex. The vacuum salesman gave me his spiel.

All or most of these words may be used in an ironic or negative sense to describe any long, boring, or unwanted verbal expression.

Lecture, discourse, and harangue can also be used as verbs:

Don’t you lecture me on my driving!
She loves to discourse on gardening.
The Hyde Park speaker harangued the crowd about the government.

Sermonize is a verb derived from sermon, but it has a negative connotation.

If you’re going to sermonize about my faults again, I’m leaving!

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4 Responses to “What’s the Difference Between a Speech and an Address?”

  • Brad K.

    OMG! Rant! I didn’t see Rant in your list!

  • Maeve

    Brad,
    How could I! And it can be used as either a noun or a verb. Sorry. Wonder what else I forgot.

  • Brad K.

    oh, oh. A challenge.

    Actually, rant does stray from the topic – a prepared statement, presented to an expectant audience. You know, like a play, or a recital, or performance art. A concert.

    No, rant pulls away from the list, and tends more towards the curse. The verbs brow-beat, nag, chew out I can think of, but the nouns? What is the message that a brow-beating delivers? A chewing out? These are examples of ‘scolding’. I scold also a noun, a message intended to instruct in correction of an error, delivered in a manner intended to inflict punishment or at least an unpleasant manner intended to cause the listener to desire to avoid future recurrences.

    Message and statement. These aren’t exclusively spoken, as speech and message are, and sometimes are only inferred. An audience is implied, though may not be physically present at the moment of delivery, and may be unknown or inaccessible to the author/speaker. Statement might not imply a connection between audience and speaker/author, but message implies that the identity of the speaker is part of the value to the intended recipient.

    Telegram, text message, email, web page, document, chapter, section – these are all firmly written and remotely delivered statements and message, so they wouldn’t go on your initial list. But what about voice mail? Voice mail would be a message, somewhat closer connection between intended listener and speaker. Except for those annoying unsolicited political blurbs and endorsements. Blurbs and endorsements, like other advertising messages, are only seldom welcome or expected by the recipient/audience/resident.

    An anecdote or shaggy dog story would usually be a part of a speaking engagement or event. There are verbal illustraions, points of an argument, summaries and introductions, too.

    Just as a sermon is usually part of a larger event or worship service, so are prayers and eulogies. We witnessed one form of dialogue this past week, an oath. There are pledges, vows, and dedications, each with a unique relationship between speaker and audience.

    A wedding vow typically has three distinct audiences. This oath is performed before an official, to enact and perfect the application for license. The vow is made to the intended spouse, a pledge to them. The vow is also performed before witnesses to fulfill legal and is a means of making the ceremony public – I believe this practice dates back before written records overcame oral traditions in establishing identity and place in the community.

    A song is a message, delivered by voice to an audience. “Three Revolutionary Marches” by Frederic Smetana, was considered so revolutionary that it was a capital crime, at one time, to perform it in Czechoslovakia . “The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls”, Thomas Moore in Ireland was a reasonably effective “rabble rouser” in it’s day, though I found it in a student’s “Beginning Recorder” book.

    An audio book, by it’s nature, separates speaker from audience. A poetry, dramatic, or scripture reading, however, would deliver an author’s words second hand to an audience. Would that be a message that the speaker delivered, or would that be a message from the author to a remote audience? Would it matter if the selection of the piece were the message and the content being read merely used to illustrate points of the selected topic? What if the reader made the selection of material – or the material was selected, then the reader to perform the presentation?

    Oops. The cats want fed. I can tell, because they show up at the door in studied “cat-casual” poses only to announce that I am late for feeding time. You know. Something like a brief, eloquent, non-verbal speech.

    Or is “Myaou” actually an expression of language? “Late for lunch” is distinct sound, different in tone, in eye contact, in body posture from other, similar expressions. Gotta go!

  • Manivannan

    Hey… it was of great help. Thanks for sharing. I’m finding your website very useful to hone my writing skills. Good! Keep it up.

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