falar dizer contar

Falar, Dizer, and Contar

This guide will focus on the differences between the Portuguese verbs falar, dizer, and contar.

The meanings of these words are actually very similar because they all relate to speaking or communicating information. In fact, they’re often considered synonyms and can be used interchangeably in certain contexts. However, it’s important to understand the differences as you work toward making your Portuguese sound more correct and more natural.

If you frequently get confused by these verbs, you’re not alone. They are some of the most commonly confused Portuguese words! This guide will hopefully clarify their differences for you. 

Falar

falarLet’s begin with the verb falar paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio to speak, to talk

Falar translated into English is to talk or to speak. This verb is used when someone expresses something orally. In other words, it’s the actual act of opening your mouth, pronouncing, and emitting sounds.

It doesn’t necessarily matter what is being said; it just means that something has been said. The statement could be a whole load of nonsense… but it was still spoken.

Let’s look at some examples:

Eu falo francês Play normal audio I speak French

Ela está a falar comigo Play normal audio She is speaking to me

A minha mãe fala muito Play normal audio My mum talks a lot

Dizer

dizer fechadoNow, let’s discuss the verb dizer paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio to say, to tell

If we translate dizer into English, it typically means to say or to tell. We use the verb dizer when we are trying to express something through words.

Unlike falar, when we use dizer, what we are expressing usually has meaning. We may be trying to convey a specific opinion, a feeling, or a piece of information. What is being said will have logic, will make sense, and is usually useful content.

Look at these examples:

Ele disse-me que chegaria tarde Play normal audio He told me he would arrive late

Ela diz que tem frio Play normal audio She says she feels cold

Diz-me que me amas Play normal audio Tell me you love me

Dizer is not only used for something expressed orally. Just like in English, you can “say” something through writing or through signs.

Este livro diz que devemos comer mais legumes Play normal audio This book says we should eat more vegetables

A placa diz que o parque está fechado Play normal audio The sign says the park is closed

In both of these examples, we are learning something by reading written information.

Falar vs. Dizer

In Portuguese, we have a common saying:

Fala muito e diz pouco Play normal audio He or she speaks a lot and says little

In other words, someone can talk a lot, but it doesn’t mean they are saying anything valuable or of interest. (I’m sure we all know a few of these people!) This should help you to remember the difference between falar and dizer.

Contar

Finally, let’s look at the verb contar paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio to tell, to count, to count(on)

Contar has multiple different meanings. It can mean to tell, to count (numerically), or to count on someone or something.  Right now, we are only going to focus on the “to tell” meaning.

Contar vs. Dizer

Similar to dizer, we use this verb when we are giving someone a new piece of information (i.e. something they didn’t know before). For example, you might tell someone a secret, a joke, or a story. It may help to compare it to the word “recount” in English, as in “recounting” a story or the details of something that happened.

There’s not a very clear distinction in meaning between dizer and contar, but there are contexts in which it is more common to hear each one. Over time, you’ll get used to when each is used as you hear them in context.

Here are some examples of when it is common to use contar:

Conta-me tudo! Play normal audio Tell me everything!

Vou-te contar um segredo Play normal audio I’m going to tell you a secret

O pai contou-me uma história Play normal audio Dad told me a story

Let’s Hear It in Context…

Listen for the verbs falar, dizer, and contar within a short dialogue. With more listening practice, you’ll eventually develop a sense for when and how to use each verb.
🎙 Listen Now: Segredo Desvendado – Secret Revealed

Comments

  • When you give examples as above it would be great if you could include an audio just so I can hear the pronunciation of the phrase.
    Thanks
    K

    • Don’t worry, these are on the list to be recorded! We record in batches, so sometimes we go ahead and publish the example sentences and then add the audio later. Sorry for the delay!

  • What about conversar? How does that fit in with falar, dizer and contar?
    For instance, in my last 2 smart reviews I have had
    ‘Tu falas com o homem’ – You talk with the man
    and
    ‘Tu conversas com o homem’ – Do you talk to the man?
    How do I know which of those 2 to use?
    Obrigada, Paula

    • Olá, Paula. ‘Conversar’ means to converse, so it’s applicable in any context where you’re having an actual conversation with someone. You can also use ‘falar’ in the sense of conversing, in which case the two terms are interchangeable. But when you’re talking to someone in contexts where you probably wouldn’t consider it a conversation (e.g. asking for directions, receiving instructions, asking questions to a teacher), ‘conversar’ doesn’t fit.

  • But from what you have said, I would expect ‘Tu falas com o homem’ to be ‘I talk to the man’, and ‘Tu conversas com o homem’ to be ‘I talk with the man’, which is the opposite of what is in the Smart Review. I think of talking with someone as being more of a conversation than talking to someone. Does that make sense? Obrigada!

    • Olá, Paula. “Falar” works either way, so that one’s fine 🙂 I agree that the one with “conversar” needs an update, just to avoid confusion. Thanks!

    • A menina fala timidamente – The girl speaks timidly
      Com quem estou a falar? – Who am I speaking with?
      Desculpa, podes falar mais devagar? – Sorry, can you speak more slowly?
      Ele quer falar sobre ontem – He wants to talk about yesterday
      Nós falámos ao telefone – We spoke on the phone

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