Decir, hablar, contar.

Personas hablando by Juri Gianfrancesco.

Decir, hablar, contar

In English we have to say, to tell, to speak, and to talk. They are confusing to foreign students. The same happens in Spanish.

Let me try to outline the differences:

Decir: to say or to tell.

If the sentence contains an indirect object pronoun, it usually means to tell.

She tells me that she is not in NY Ella me dice que no está en NY. (io pronoun)
He didn’t say anything Él no dijo nada
He didn’t tell me anything Él no me dijo nada (io pronoun)
I always tell the truth Yo siempre digo la verdad
Don’t tell it to me .No me lo digas. (io pronoun)

Hablar: to speak, to talk.

We speak Spanish Nosotros hablamos español
My parrot speaks Mi perico habla
We spoke/talked on the phone this morning Hablamos por teléfono esta mañana
You speak/talk too much Hablas demasiado
Don’t talk to me No me hables


Contar: to tell, to recount, to narrate.

Usually a short story from beginning to end, to tell a secret, to tell a joke, to tell a bit of gossip, to tell a fairy tale, to recount or narrate an event. Contar sounds more intimate than decir.

Yes, this is the same verb we use for to count numbers, money, etc.

Tell me a story (tale) Cuéntame un cuento
the teacher told us what he dreamt El maestro nos contó lo que soñó
Ana is always gossiping Ana siempre está contando chismes
I’m going to tell you a joke/secret Te voy a contar un chiste/secreto
Tell me what happened during the wedding cuéntame lo que pasó en la boda
(it may sound like gossiping).


There are some words related to contar (to communicate, not for to count money.) El cuento is a story, fiction, fairy tale is un cuento de hadas, ser cuentero means a person who tells tall tales.

In México, platicar means to chat, to have a conversation. In some other countries they use charlar.

In México, hablarle a alguien (using an indirect object pronoun) has the same meaning as llamarle a alguien. To call someone on the phone.

Te hablo mañana = Te llamo mañana. I’ll call you tomorrow.


First published on 20110428. Last update on 20210319 ( top

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