Posted by: janecronin | October 15, 2017


The verb “decir” is one of the most useful words in the whole language.   It is the equivalent of both “to say” and “to tell” in English, and it would be hard to imagine surviving for more than a few hours without using these words.  We spend a lot of our time telling other people things, listening to other people telling us things, and then telling people what other people have said, or would say or are going to say about things.  “Saying” and “telling” are a basic part of our everyday social existence.

When Spanish people speak English they sometimes find it hard to distinguish between “to say” and “to tell” so it´s not unusual to hear mistakes like “He said me” or “She told that…”.   At least we don´t have that problem in Spanish as everything is covered by “decir”, but it is a verb that has a lot of different forms and irregularities.

A phrase you will have heard many times in restaurants and shops is the ubiquitous “dígame”.  This is a polite imperative, or command, form of “decir” which literally translates as “tell me”.  Of course this sounds appallingly blunt as a conversation opener in English, but is perfectly correct in Spanish.  The more familiar form of the same command is “dime” and you will hear both of these versions when people answer the phone: “dígame” usually meaning that the caller is unknown and “dime” usually implying the opposite.

A sentence using “decir” in the present tense is “Cómo se dice en español” (How do you say (it) in Spanish?).  This is a good way of showing a willingness to communicate in Spanish whilst learning new words at the same time.   Another present tense form is in the phrase “¿Qué dices?” which literally means “What do you say?” but is more accurately translated as “What are you talking about!” so has to be said in a surprised tone.

There are several irregularities in the past tenses of “decir”.  “Dicho” is the past participle meaning “said” or “told” when following the appropriate form of “haber”.  For example: “he dicho” means “I have said” and ¿Qué han dicho?”  is “What have they said?”   The preterite (or past historic tense) gets even more irregular, but it is so worthwhile learning because it is basic tense needed for all those conversations about who said what to whom.  Here are the six preterite forms of “decir”:  “dije” (I said) “dijiste” (you said) “dijo” (he or she said) “dijimos” (we said) “dijisteis” (plural you said) “dijeron” (they said).   Those six variations of “decir” can get you such a long way that I really recommend that you commit them to memory.  And finally one more exclamation, this time using “decir” as a negative command: “¡No me digas!” which is literally “don´t tell me” but actually meaning something like “You must be joking!”

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