The Spanish verb Contar is very frequently used, and it means more than one thing. Let’s learn how to talk about counting, and about telling stories, in Spanish.
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Today we’re going to explore the verb Contar, which means “to count”. For example:
He’s very young and doesn’t know how to count.
Es muy joven y no sabe contar.
This verb can be used with direct objects. For example:
Could you count the boxes?
¿Podrías contar las cajas?
Remember that when the named direct object is a person or a group of people, you’ll put an extra a before the named person. For example:
I didn’t count the people at the party.
No conté a las personas en la fiesta.
And then note that sometimes in English, we use the verb “count” when what we mean is that something or someone is included in a group. For example:
No, those two houses don’t count.
Spanish does the exact same thing. So this would be:
No, esas dos casas no cuentan.
Notice that instead of “contan”, the conjugation is cuentan. That’s because Contar has a stem change; whenever the O syllable is stressed, it turns into “ue”, just like Poder or Recordar. So here’s another example:
He said that I don’t count.
Dijo que yo no cuento.
So we have cuento, cuenta, cuentas, cuentan, and then contamos, which is regular.
Let’s go ahead and practice the present-tense forms of Contar, along with the unconjugated forms contar, contado, and contando.
In this first example, counting “to ten” is counting hasta diez, literally “until ten”. When Contar refers to counting numbers, it’s very often accompanied by the prepositions desde and hasta. Try to predict the Spanish.
Do you count to ten?
¿Cuentas hasta diez?
She was counting that when he arrived.
Estaba contando eso cuando él llegó.
I haven’t counted all my personal things.
No he contado todas mis cosas personales.
I always count my money, but she doesn’t count it.
Siempre cuento mi dinero, pero ella no lo cuenta.
They’re counting their things the same way we count them.
Cuentan sus cosas igual que nosotros las contamos.
All right, now we’re going to continue quizzing with this verb, but I’m going to throw a few more forms at you, including some preterites and subjunctives. This verb is conjugated exactly like Hablar except for the stem change whenever the stem is stressed. So try to predict the Spanish.
Count all those chairs!
¡Cuenta todas esas sillas!
I didn’t count them, but I think there are ten.
No los conté, pero creo que hay diez.
He counted it, but you didn’t count it.
Él lo contó, pero tú no lo contaste.
I don’t think he counts his own things.
No creo que cuente sus propias cosas.
We didn’t count the money yesterday, but I’ll count it tomorrow.
No contamos el dinero ayer, pero lo contaré mañana.
(Formal) Count all the people, please, this can’t be true.
Cuente a todas las personas, por favor, esto no puede ser cierto.
She wants me to count all the different animals.
Ella quiere que yo cuente todos los animales diferentes.
All right, now for a twist. The reason that the verb Contar is so common in Spanish is not because people talk about counting a lot; it’s actually because it has an entire other meaning. Contar can mean “to tell” or “to recount”, specifically when you’re talking about a story. For example:
She told me the story.
Me contó la historia.
Now, we’ve already learned that Decir can be used for telling information. But you can’t use Decir to talk about telling an entire story. In English, we use the verb “to tell” both for small pieces of information and for long stories. But in Spanish, there’s a different verb for each one. So let’s compare two sentences:
She told me what she did.
Me dijo lo que hizo.
That one uses Decir, because “what he did” is a small and simple fact; it’s considered one piece of information. But then how about this one:
She told me everything she did last year.
Ella me contó todo lo que hizo el año pasado.
So this one uses Contar because it’s clear that she’s telling an entire narrative about what happened last year.
There’s a bit of a fuzzy line between these two. For example, “she told me what she did” could actually use either Decir or Contar, although the meaning would be different in each case; if you use Decir, we’re expecting just one piece of information, not a sequence of events. But if you use Contar, the implication is that there’s a series of things described in order.
Incidentally, there are some imperative contractions that are very common for when you’re asking someone to tell a story. For example:
Tell me everything about that year!
¡Cuéntame todo sobre ese año!
Tell him the story about your dog.
Cuéntale la historia de tu perro.
Let’s get some practice with Contar to mean “to tell”.
Tell her the official story he told you.
Cuéntale la historia oficial que él te contó.
(Formal) Tell me about your time in school.
Cuénteme sobre su tiempo en la escuela.
You don’t have to tell him the whole story.
No tienes que contarle toda la historia.
I want to tell you about my weekend.
Quiero contarte sobre mi fin de semana.
Tell me everything you did this weekend.
Cuéntame todo lo que hiciste este fin de semana.
Don’t tell him the story, tell us the story.
No le cuentes la historia, cuéntanos la historia a nosotros.
You don’t have to tell me the story, tell him the story.
No tienes que contarme la historia, cuéntale la historia a él.
Before we go on to our final quiz, there’s one idiom to learn with this verb. Sometimes in English, we say that you can “count on” someone or something, meaning you can depend on them. For example:
You can count on me!
Spanish has this idiom too, but you don’t count on someone, you actually count with them. So here’s the Spanish:
¡Puedes contar conmigo!
And yes, this sometimes leads to some amusing misunderstandings; if you translate this literally into English, it sounds like Sesame Street (you can count with me!). Just remember that although the English idiom for dependability uses “count on”, the Spanish idiom always uses “count with”, or contar con. Try it yourself in this next example, where everyone is masculine:
Are you sure(m) you can count on your friend(m)?
¿Estás seguro de que puedes contar con tu amigo?
For more practice with any of this, feel free to dig deeper at LCSPodcast.com/191. Or if you’re ready, let’s go on to today’s final quiz.
You can count on him like you have always counted.
Puedes contar con él como siempre has contado.
Tell me what happened; that doesn’t seem normal.
Cuéntame qué pasó; eso no parece normal.
Don’t count all the weight.
No cuentes todo el peso.
She didn’t tell me everything she did that day, so tell me!
No me contó todo lo que hizo ese día, así que ¡cuéntame!
You can have most of the salt.
Puedes tener la mayor parte de la sal.
The gold is on the rear bench.
El oro está en el banco trasero.
We counted all the cash we had.
Contamos todo el efectivo que teníamos.
The stories you tell aren’t always genuine.
Las historias que cuentas no son siempre verdaderas.
If they don’t tell the whole story, I will tell it.
Si no cuentan toda la historia, yo la contaré.
Don’t let him tell you those stories.
No dejes que te cuente esas historias.
Next time he wants me to tell him the story about the king and the queen.
La próxima vez quiere que le cuente la historia del rey y la reina.
I don’t have to tell him the news.
No tengo que contarle las noticias.
I’m counting the money so I can give you the change.
Estoy contando el dinero para poder darte el vuelto.
I always count my things.
Siempre cuento mis cosas.
Take a seat and tell me a story.
Toma asiento y cuéntame una historia.
There was a suit in a box in the trash.
Había un traje en una caja en la basura.
Tell her the story that I had to tell you.
Cuéntale la historia que tuve que contarte.
She’s going to tell me a story next week and the following one I’m going to tell it.
Va a contarme una historia la próxima semana y la siguiente yo voy a contarla.
She never tells me anything of what happens in her life.
Nunca me cuenta nada de lo que pasa en su vida.
You can count on me, I already told you everything I know.
Puedes contar conmigo, ya te conté todo lo que sé.
Her dog(f) doesn’t like change.
A su perra no le gusta el cambio.
(Formal) Count the money, please.
Cuente el dinero, por favor.
She doesn’t want you to count again, because you already counted.
No quiere que cuentes otra vez, porque ya contaste.
For more practice with all of this, go to LCSPodcast.com/191.
This show is brought to you by LearnCraftSpanish.com. The Spanish voice in this episode was our coach Michael Agudelo. Our music was performed by the Seattle Marimba Quartet, and I’m Timothy, encouraging you to do the hard work of learning Spanish. Acquiring a second language is one of the most fulfilling things you can do, so start your fluency journey today at LCSPodcast.com.