What’s The Difference Between A Monologue And A Dialogue?

At first glance it’s a simple concept, but there are some subtleties we’ll dig into here.
Monologue and dialogue represented by a young black man giving a monologue in the front of a dimly lit room.

At first glance, the difference between monologues and dialogues is pretty straightforward. A monologue is a speech given by one person, while a dialogue is a verbal interaction between two or more people. If we take a closer look at all the linguistic, symbolic and cultural aspects of these concepts, there are bigger distinctions.

How Monologues And Dialogues Differ

The main difference between a monologue and dialogue is the number of people involved and the nature of the interaction.

What’s A Monologue?

A monologue is a form of speech where only one person is speaking. Monologues can address oneself or an audience. In the second case, there’s no real exchange and no interaction is expected. Monologues are often used to express thoughts, feelings or opinions. You can technically monologue in any situation — whether you’re talking to a friend or giving a presentation — but the term most commonly comes up in the context of performances.

What’s A Dialogue?

Unlike monologues, dialogues are conversations between two or more people. Naturally, it involves an exchange of information, ideas and perspectives between the participants. Unlike monologues, dialogues involve two-way communication. Like monologues, dialogues can take place under different circumstances, whether it’s an everyday conversation, a play or a scene in a movie.

Dialogue And Monologue Word Origins

This may be surprising, but the term dialogue came before monologue. This may be surprising for etymology buffs, but it’s true. The word dialogue was first recorded in the Middle Ages. In French, the word evolved from the Latin term dialogus which is derived from the ancient Greek διάλογος (dialogos), meaning discussions. The word dialogue led to the creation of other French terms such as the verb ‘dialoguer’ meaning to dialogue and to put something in the form of a dialogue.

The term monologue first appeared in the early 16th century, approximately three centuries after the word dialogue. The Renaissance, which fueled a revival of cultures from Classical Antiquity, led to the word’s creation. The word combined the prefix mono- (meaning alone in ancient Greek) with the suffix -logue (speech) thereby taking the same form as the term dialogue. The verb monologuer is also French.

Other Good Terms To Know

Monologues are often associated with theater. In theater, monologues refer to two closely related terms:

1. A tirade, meaning series of sentences rattled off uninterrupted.
2. A soliloquy, which is a monologue given when someone is thinking out loud. Unlike monologue which is derived from Greek, soliloquy is comes from Latin. The Latin terms solus, meaning “alone,” and loqui, meaning  “to speak,” are found in the word.

Another famous example of a theatrical monologue is the one in Act 3, Scene 1 of Hamlet, which begins with the famous sentence, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” Sometimes something resembling monologues can be found in and outside of theater contexts. In French, this is called a quasi-monologue. When monologues are silent, they’re called internal monologues. In other words, they’re an introspective reflection that isn’t externalized. These are often used in literature. Virginia Woolf and James Joyce used internal monologues in their writing by using the “stream of consciousness” literary technique.

Like dialogues, streams of consciousness can take on an abstract quality to discuss broader communication without alluding to a particular conversation. They’re often found in politics with expressions for example “the dialogue between Europe and Africa” or “resuming talks.” In this case, it’s a manner of speaking about an open and respectful exchange between two parties as opposed to hostile, aggressive confrontations or silence. If monologues can be considered a broken form of dialogue, silence is the absence of both.

Babbel helps you improve your dialogue: speak German, English, Italian or Spanish at the level that you’ve always wanted to! When it comes to language learning, there’s one rule to follow: monologues precede dialogues. Don’t be afraid to talk to yourself alone today so you can engage in conversation with other speakers tomorrow!

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