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The Verb Contar in Spanish

Are you familiar with the verb contar and its meanings in Spanish? Beyond its most common translations, which we'll be sure to reveal, this extremely useful verb is used in many additional ways. Let's take a look at some of them. 




Contar for Telling 

One of the most common meanings of contar is "to tell." Let's see this in action:


Abuelo, te voy a contar un secreto.

Grandpa, I'm going to tell you a secret.

Caption 9, Guillermina y Candelario Mi Primer Tesoro

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Soy Rosa Chaparro y os voy a contar la historia de Mika.

I'm Rosa Chaparro, and I'm going to tell you the story of Mika.

Caption 2, Rosa La perrita Mika

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Contar for Counting 

We also use the verb contar when we want to quantify, or "count," things:


Y vamos contando cuántas hierbas tenemos, ¿sí?

And we're counting how many herbs we have, right?

Caption 47, Otavalo Proyecto familiar Kawsaymi - Part 7

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That said, we hope it is now clear that it's one thing contar los números (to count numbers) and another, very different thing contar historias (to tell stories). Context, however, should make it perfectly clear which meaning is meant, which we can see in these two clips from our friend Luis Guitarra:


Para contar los números, podemos usar los dedos de nuestras manos.

To count the numbers, we can use the fingers on our hands.

Captions 5-6, Luis Guitarra Aprendiendo a contar

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Con él, yo aprendí a contar historias.

With him, I learned to tell stories.

Caption 71, Luis Guitarra Influencias musicales - Part 1

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Contar con as an Alternative toTener (to Have)

Rafael, the speaker in the following clips, consistently uses the verb contar coupled with the preposition con where we might have expected to hear tener (to have). Let's take a look:


Cuando uno ya cuenta con familia...

When you already have a family...

Caption 11, Rafael T. - Viaje al norte

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Yo cuento con una... con una farmacia, con una mini-farmacia.

I own a... a pharmacy, one mini-pharmacy.

Caption 18, Rafael T. - Viaje al norte

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Although its literal meaning is "to count with," when Rafael uses contar con to talk about a family, he means when one "has" a family, while this same verb has been translated as "own" in the example regarding the pharmacy. Let's check out another clip from our friend Fermín:


Por supuesto, tenemos la suerte de contar con una señora británica que se encarga de controlar que los gatos callejeros que viven aquí

Of course, we are lucky enough to have a British lady who's in charge of making sure that the alley cats who live here

Captions 20-21, Fermín y los gatos Mis gatas vecinas

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So, we see that "to have" or "to own" are both acceptable translations for contar con.  


Contar con in a Different Context

On the other hand, if someone asks "¿Puedo contar contigo?" they don't want to know if they can "have" you, but rather whether they can "count on" you. Let's look at a couple of examples of contar con with this meaning.


cuente con mi apoyo y con la embajada para lo que se le ofrezca.

count on my support and on the embassy for whatever you need.

Caption 42, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa Capítulo 4 - Part 4

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sabes que puedes contar conmigo, ¿sí? -Bueno.

you know that you can count on me, OK? -OK.

Caption 71, Muñeca Brava 36 La pesquisa - Part 6

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Sin Contar con (Something)

And finally, sin contar or sin contar con, which literally mean "without counting (with)," can be utilized to express the idea of "not to mention" or "without taking into account." Let's look at a couple of clips from our series Confidencial: El rey de la estafa:


Eso sin contar los lujos que te debes dar

That's not to mention the luxuries you must give yourself

Caption 21, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa Capítulo 3 - Part 8

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Eso, sin contar con la publicidad que vais a recibir

That, without taking into account the publicity that you're going to get

Captions 52-53, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa Capítulo 5 - Part 5

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That's all for today. We hope you've enjoyed this lesson on some of the many uses of the Spanish verb contar, and don't forget to send us your suggestions and comments