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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.


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.

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.

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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