Posted by: janecronin | April 8, 2018


“Contar” is a verb with three distinct meanings.  The first is “to count” as in one, two, three, the second contains the idea of “depend” as in the phrase “cuenta conmigo” (count on me) and the third is to “recount” or “relate” something such as a story.  “Contar” is an “o to ue” root changing verb, which means that I count is “cuento” and the command “count!” is “cuenta”.

So, retuning to our three meanings: if you have ever said to your children or grandchildren “I’ll count up to three” to get them to clear up their toys and go upstairs to bed, well in Spanish you would say “cuento hasta tres”.  Irrespective of what might happen should you get to the number four, it is a ploy that works, sometimes.

For the second meaning, imagine that someone is asking for volunteers for a particular activity and you want to assure them that you will help out; you can say “cuenta conmigo” as mentioned above. In fact in some ways this is similar to the first meaning, because another way of translating it could be “count me in”.

The third use of “contar” as “to tell” or “to relate” has a lot of everyday applications.  If someone wanted to tell you something but was hesitating or waiting to be asked, you might want to encourage them by saying “cuéntame” (tell me).  This works in a similar way to “dime” (or the more formal “dígame”) but implies that you are expecting a more lengthy account rather than a short request or statement.  There is a long-running drama series on Spanish television TV1 called “Cuéntame Cómo Pasó” (Tell me How it Happened) which follows the story of a family throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s in Madrid.    The word for a tale is “cuento” and so a fairy story is a “cuento de hadas”.  A children’s story-teller is a “cuentacuentos” and you may come across these at events organised for children by your local town hall.

We have to return to the meaning of number counting for other derivatives of “contar”.  The one that all of us like is the “descuento” (discount) which comes from the same verb “contar” with the prefix “des-“, namely “descontar” (to discount).  A water or electricity meter is a “contador” (literally, a “counter”) and an accountant is a “contable”.  There’s also a famous cyclist called Alberto Contador but I don´t know whether his ancestors were money-counters or story-tellers.

We can use the past participle of “contar”, that is “contado”, which literally means “counted” in the same way we would use “numbered” in English.  In other words it can mean something rare or scarce.  There is a phrase “en contadas ocasiones” (on numbered, i.e. few occasions), and a common phrase is: “tiene los días contados” (his, her or its days are numbered).


  1. Very informative Jane, thanks.

  2. Thank you for this posting. It’s a pleasure (and educational) to read your prose.

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