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Published on: Grammar Bites

Differences between HABLAR, DECIR, and CONTAR

Let’s take a closer look at these three Spanish verbs that might look similar at first glance, but they each have their own particular uses and rules.

HABLAR:

We use this verb to indicate an oral communication in a language that we know. This verb also allows to describe the manner in which we speak with the assistance of adverbs:

  • Hablar bien / mal.
  • Hablar poco / mucho.
  • Hablar alto / bajo.

We can also use the verb hablar with the prepositions DE / SOBRE when discussing a particular topic, event, or person.

  • Peter habla español y francés muy bien. Peter speaks French and Spanish very well.
  • Por favor habla alto, no te escucho bien. Please speak up; I can’t hear you properly.
  • Los miembros de la organización hablaron del presupuesto para este año. The members of the institution discussed the budget for the next year.
  • Nos quedamos hablando sobre nuestras películas favoritas toda la noche. We stayed up all night talking about our favorite movies.
DECIR:

We use this verb when we’re expressing something specific, such as saying hello, goodbye, the truth, a lie, etc. We also use the structure ‘decir que’ to repeat / quote something we heard, read or watched:

  • No me gusta decir adiós porque es triste. I don’t like saying goodbye because it’s sad.
  • Camila siempre dice la verdad. Ella es muy honesta. Camila always tells the truth. She’s very honest.
  • Magdalena dijo que el abuelo había mejorado. Magdalena said that grandpa was doing better. 
  • Las noticias dijeron que mañana lloverá. The news said that tomorrow is going to rain.
CONTAR:

We use this verb when we’re recounting a story, anecdote, event or circumstance. In addition to using ‘contar’ when we’re telling jokes or stories, we also use it when counting numbers.

  • A Luis le gusta contar chistes cuando se reúne con sus amigos. Luis likes to tell jokes when he gets together with his friends.
  • Yo les contaba cuentos a mis hijos antes de dormir. I used to tell bedtime stories to my kids.
  • Carlitos puede contar del 1 al 100. Carlitos can count up to 100.

 

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