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Portuguese language learners often wonder about the difference between the verbs Falar, Dizer, and Contar. While they can sometimes be used interchangeably, certain contexts will call for one of them. Let’s take a closer look.
Falar means ‘talk’ and usually relates to the physical dimension of speech (just like Talk or Speak in English):
Ela fala muito alto.
She speaks very loudly.
Ele não fala de forma clara.
He doesn’t speak clearly.
However, Falar can be used similarly to the verb Tell in English. That being the case, Falar will typically be followed by the prepositions sobre or de:
Fala-me sobre o que tens andado a fazer.
Tell me what you’ve been up to.
Ela falou-me da vida dela em Londres.
She told me about her life in London.
Dizer is closely related to Falar though it is more concerned with semantics than the physicality of speech (just like Say or Tell in English):
O que é que acabaste de dizer?!
What did you just say?!
Diz-me o que achas da minha nova ideia.
Tell me what you think about my new idea.
Depending on the context, Contar can mean either ‘tell’ or ‘count’.
Conta-me uma história.
Tell me a story.
Vamos contar até 20?
Shall we count to 20?
In the sense of telling something, Contar relates to narratives, stories, and personal accounts or anecdotes (as a matter of fact, the Portuguese noun Conto means tale):
Conta-me como foi o teu fim-de-semana.
Tell me how your weekend was.
Ela contou novamente a história da vida dela.
She told us again her life’s story.
Although there are contextual specificities to each of these verbs, keep in mind that they are oftentimes used interchangeably (possibly requiring minor sentence adjustments). Here are a few examples:
Conta-me o que fizeste ontem.
Diz-me o que fizeste ontem.
Fala-me sobre o que fizeste ontem.
Tell me what you did yesterday.
Fala-me da tua viagem.
Conta-me sobre a tua viagem.
Diz-me coisas sobre a tua viagem.
Tell me about your trip.
Ela disse-me um segredo.
Ela contou-me um segredo.
She told me a secret.
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