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 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 francêsI speak French
Ela está a falar comigoShe is speaking to me
A minha mãe fala muitoMy mum talks a lot
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 tardeHe told me he would arrive late
Ela diz que tem frioShe says she feels cold
Diz-me que me amasTell 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 legumesThis book says we should eat more vegetables
A placa diz que o parque está fechadoThe 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 poucoHe 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 has multiple different meanings. It can mean to tell, to count (numerically), or to count on someone or something. Today 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!Tell me everything!
Vou-te contar um segredoI’m going to tell you a secret
O pai contou-me uma históriaDad told me a story