Spanish verbs: “Decir…”, “contar…”, “hablar…”, “conversar…”

spanish verbs hablar decir contar 1

In Spanish, some verbs like hablar, decir, contar, and conversar can have similar meanings. For that reason, Spanish learners tend to get confused and don’t know when they should use one or another. With this article, you will be able to realize when to use them much better.

These verbs serve to express ideas related to the act of communicating, but they do not have exactly the same meaning. Each of them composes a different action. We have to recognize these nuances and use them in the right way.

In this brief explanation, we will tell you the main differences between “hablar”, “decir”, “contar”, and “conversar”. So, you will expand your vocabulary and stand out when speaking Spanish.

How to use “decir 

“Decir” is a verb that means to express or communicate our beliefs or our thoughts. We can use it as a synonym for holding an opinion. “Decir” is the Spanish equivalent of the English verb “to say”. We can use it in different situations. Therefore, we can either use “decir” to build singular sentences or plural sentences. We can use the verb “decir” as a transitive, intransitive, or pronominal verb.

The general formula we use to build sentences would look like the following:

Subject/ Pronoun + decir + noun + complement.

Let’s see a few examples.

Él dice que tu mamá esta trabajando.

He says your mom is working.

Dime como vamos a comprar una casa nueva.

Tell me how we’re going to buy a new house.

Dijeron muchas cosas pero a su vez no dijeron nada.

They said many things but in turn, they said nothing.

As you may see, just like any other Spanish verb, we can conjugate “decir” in different tenses. In the first example above, we use “que” as a conjunction so the sentence does not lose its meaning. Since we can combine “decir” with other verbs like “querer”, using “decir” in the infinitive form is also possible.

For example:

Quisiera decir tres cosas.

I would like to say three things.

From the example above, we can make a formula like this.

Verb + decir + noun.

Please note that the formula above will only apply when we have auxiliary verbs like “poder”, “querer”, and “deber” which combined with other verbs can help us express our ideas or wishes. Of course, if you are using the present perfect or the pluperfect past tense to express any idea, you’ll need to use “decir” in its past participle form.

Take a look at some examples below.

Yo les he dicho antes que no iba a asistir.

I have told them before that I was not going to attend.

Yo ya te había dicho que me gustabas.

I had already told you that I liked you.

“Decir” is an irregular verb in Spanish. As a result, most of its conjugations will have different roots. To understand it better, here is an example.

“Nosotros le diremos al profesor, puedes descansar.”

“We will tell the teacher, you can rest.”

Remember that “decir”’s root would be “dec-”.

How to use “contar

“Contar” is a single verb that has different meanings in Spanish. First, we can use it when we want to determine the number of anything. Second, we can use it when we can lean on someone or they have our support. And third, we can use it when we want to tell something like, for example, a story.

Don’t be discouraged if you still don’t get it, using “contar” is very simple. We will show you some examples to differentiate the ways of saying it.

Sabes que puedes contar conmigo para lo que sea. 

You know you can count on me for anything.

Contamos los días para irnos de vacaciones.

We count the days to go on vacation.

Cuéntanos cómo te fue en tu primera cita.

Tell us how your first date went.

“Contar” in Spanish is fantastic when we want to express ourselves, it works in many ways as you have seen. Learning how to use “contar” will lead you to keep it on your top 5 most used Spanish verbs.

In countries like Venezuela, people use “contar” frequently during daily conversations as well as expressions like “cuenta con eso” = “count on it”. That common expression may have different meanings depending on the context and speaking tone. Sometimes, Venezuelans use it sarcastically. Consequently, we must be aware of the scenario when we use “contar”.

How to use “hablar” and “conversar

To begin with, we have to know what each verb means and why they differ from each other. When we speak of “hablar”, we refer to the act of articulating words. Although, it doesn’t require to be another person, only the one who is speaking. In this way, we can say that “conversar” refers to the exchange of words and ideas between two or more people. “Conversar” implies an interaction while “hablar” doesn’t demand interaction.

To explain it better, “to speak” is the English word for “hablar”, and “to talk” to “conversar”. But to avoid misunderstandings, here we have some examples to give you a clear idea.

Las abuelas conversaron por horas acerca de sus nietos.

The grandmothers chatted for hours about their grandchildren.

Jorge y su esposa conversaron acerca de sus planes para el retiro.

George and his wife talked about their retirement plans.

Los bebés comienzan a hablar a los 18 meses.

Babies start speaking at around 18 months.

Escucho a alguien hablando, pero no sé de dónde viene.

I can hear someone talking, but I don’t know where it’s coming from.

“Hablar” can be like a monologue, where you can talk to yourself, or have a person in front of you without having to answer. Instead of “conversar”, where there must be an exchange of opinions. It must be reciprocal so that the dialogue can exist with the other person.

Sometimes, “hablar” can involve two people exchanging ideas and opinions but it’s more like in an implicit way. For example, if we say “hablé con tu hermana y me dijo que compraramos los boletos ahora”, we express an opinion exchange between two people.

If we want to make a negative sentence with “hablar” and “conversar”, we only have to put a “no” before the verb.

Here are some other examples.

No quiero conversar más contigo.

I do not want to talk to you anymore.

Jennie no quiere hablar más.

Jennie doesn’t want to speak anymore.

Now that we know all their meanings, we can think of different words associated with these verbs. Remember that to make it easier for you to remember the vocabulary. It is simpler to associate the verbs with other words in which they usually go together. In this way, you will be able to remember the expression and the meaning of its application.

“Digo”, “cuento”, “hablo” o “converso”?

Although there are many differences between the verbs “decir” and “contar”, we can say that “decir” is to express something. It must be real even if it is subjective, while “contar” can be real or fictitious, thus the saying of the matter.

When it’s about “hablar” and “conversar”, you only need to remember that “hablar” doesn’t demand two people in the act since you can “hablar” with yourself. Don’t waste time and start practicing ASAP. That way, empezarás a hablar Spanish like a pro.


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