How To Use the Spanish ‘Decir’

Verb typically means ‘to say’ or ‘to tell’

Two women chatting and looking at phone
¿Que dijeron? (What did they say? Photo taken in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.).

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Decir is the is one of the most commonly used verbs in Spanish; it typically is the equivalent of "to say" or "to tell" in English.

Examples of Using Decir

Usage of decir is straightforward for English speakers. Context will tell you whether "say" or "tell" is the better translation.

  • ¿Qué dices? (What do you say?)
  • Ella me dijo que iba a volver. (She told me she was going to return.)
  • El presidente dice que su misión central es relanzar la economía. (The president says his prime mission is to relaunch the economy.)
  • Yo digo que nuestro sistema de justicia es un cachondeo. (I say that our justice system is a joke.)
  • A decir verdad no me gusta. (To tell the truth, I don't like it.)
  • Nos decimos que nos amamos. (We're telling ourselves we love each other.)
  • ¿Cómo se dice "airport" en español? (How do you say "airport" in Spanish?)
  • ¿Por qué decimos sí cuando queremos decir no? (Why do we say yes when we want to say no?)

Grammar Involving Decir

When someone is told something, the person to whom something is told is represented by an indirect-object pronoun. The logic behind this is that the thing being said is the direct object, while an indirect object represents the person affected by what is said.

  • Le dije adiós. (I told him goodbye.)
  • ¿Qué le vamos a decir a la gente? (What are we going to tell the people?)
  • Les decimos que no están solos. (We're telling them that they are not alone.)

In general, decir que (to say that) is followed by a verb in the indicative mood, but no decir que is followed by a verb in the subjunctive.

  • Dije que somos amigos. (I said that we are friends.)
  • No dije que seamos amigos. (I did not say that we are friends.)
  • Decimos que nuestro país tiene futuro. (We are saying that our country has a future.)
  • No decimos que nuestro país tenga futuro. (We aren't saying that our country has a future.)

Common Expressions Using Decir

Se dice que or dicen que can be used for the equivalent of "it is said that" or "they say that":

  • Dicen que nadie es perfecto. (They say nobody's perfect.)
  • ¿Por qué se dice que el mezcal es una bebida mágica? (Why do they say that mezcal is a magic drink?)
  • Se dice que hay hadas en este bosque. (It is said that there are fairies in this forest.)

Es decir can translate phrases such as "in other words," "that is to say," and "meaning."

  • Los espacios blancos dan la perspectiva de mas espacio es decir dan la sensación de ampliacion de los espacios. (The white spaces give the perspective of more space. In other words, they give the feeling of the spaces being expanded.)
  • Hay muchos usuarios de Linux, es decir Ubuntu, Fedora, etc. (There are many users of Linux, that is to say Ubuntu, Fedora, and so on.)
  • Machu Picchu recibió a 1'419,507 visitantes en 2016, es decir 3889 por día. (Machu Picchu hosted 1,419,507 visitors in 2016, meaning 3,878 daily.)

Conjugation of Decir

The conjugation of decir is highly irregular; it is irregular in every tense except for the imperfect. Changes are made to both the stem and the ending. Also, the present participle and past participles are diciendo and dicho, respectively. Here are the conjugations in the present, preterite, and future indicative tenses:

Present: Yo digo, tú dices, usted/él/ella dice, nosotros/nosotras decimos, vosotros decís, ustedes/ellos/ellas dicen (I say, you say, you/he/she says, etc.)

Preterite: Yo dije, tú dijiste, usted/él/ella dijo, nosotros/nosotras dijimos, vosotros dijisteis, ustedes/ellos/ellas dijeron (I said, you said, you/he/she said, etc.)

Future: Yo diré, tú dirás, usted/él/ella dirá, nosotros/nosotras diremos, vosotros diréis, ustedes/ellos/ellas dirán (I will say, you will say, you/he/she will say, etc.)

Spanish has several verbs based on decir that are conjugated in the same way. Among the most common are contradecir (to contract) and bendecir (to bless).

Key Takeaways

  • Decir is a common verb that means "to do" or "to say."
  • Decir is conjugated irregularly in most of its forms.
  • Se dice que is a popular way of saying "they say that."