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In the spoken language, verbs "falar" and "dizer" are often interchangeable. There are situations when they are not, though. Is there any rule of thumb about this to help those who are learning portuguese?

e.g. In ptBR there isn't much difference, if any, between:

  • fale a verdade, diga a verdade

  • falou que vinha, disse que vinha

  • fale o motivo, diga o motivo

  • falando asneiras, dizendo asneiras

Then again, we can only use one of them in sentences like: "Ela fala Alemão", "Os senhores estão falando muito alto", "O padre estava a dizer a missa".

Of course there are several fixed-phrases and idioms with both words, but these are not the subject of this question: e.g.

  • "falou!" (ok, brother),
  • "falar grosso" (not to look or sound afraid), -
  • "falar mais alto" (speak louder),
  • "por assim dizer" (so to speak),

  • "não dizer ao que veio" (not to show what he/she/it is here for)

EDIT - EM PORTUGUÊS "dizer" e "falar" frequentemente tem o mesmo significado no português falado e podem ser usados indistintamente. "falar ou dizer a verdade", "falar ou dizer o que pensa", etc. Existe alguma regra ou dica a respeito de quando apenas um deles pode ser usado?

EDIT 2 - I've just read in a comment that such interchangeability does not occur in ptPT. If that is the case, this question refers to ptBR only.

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    Isto devia estar marcado pt-BR, porque em Portugal a diferença é muito mais marcada: em geral, "dizer" usa-se nas circunstâncias em que em inglês se usa "say" e "tell" e "falar" naquelas em que se usa "talk" e "speak" (nos usos mais comuns). "falou que vinha", "fale o motivo" e "falando asneiras" muito dificilmente se usariam em Portugal. A única admissível será "fale a verdade" e isso talvez porque "falar verdade" parece uma expressão fixa. – Artefacto Sep 6 '15 at 17:13
  • @Artefacto OK, Está marcado. Coloquei em negrito para chamar mais a atenção de quem lê. – Centaurus Sep 6 '15 at 17:14
  • @Centaurus I have the same impression as Artefacto does, that only falar a verdade works for me, but I don't know if I'm just calqing from Spanish or even English in so doing. Priberam and Ciberdúvidas are not as completely clear on this as I would like, which is why this is just a comment not an answer. – tchrist Sep 6 '15 at 18:21
  • @tchrist Talvez a gente deva culpar o Garret: pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falar_Verdade_a_Mentir :p – Artefacto Sep 6 '15 at 18:43
  • Será que é a mesma coisa com ouvir/escutar... (?) – brasofilo Sep 8 '15 at 5:53
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I would say that, as a general rule of thumb in European Portuguese, say and tell coalesce to dizer whereas talk and speak to falar.

Thus tell the truth becomes dizer a verdade, she said hello becomes ela disse olá, I speak Portuguese becomes eu falo português, and talk to me becomes fala comigo.

| improve this answer | |
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    Would you say that in general, in Portugal it is normally dizer-lhe uma coisa and not falar-lhe uma coisa? I ask because Centaurus’s example from Brazil of falar o motivo sounds odd to my non-native ear. It doesn’t seem to be a match for falar a verdade, but I do not know why not. – tchrist Sep 6 '15 at 18:50
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    In Portugal it would sound strange to say falar o motivo. We would undoubtedly always say dizer o motivo. – Nuno D. Mendes Sep 6 '15 at 18:53
  • And talk to me becomes fala comigo. Podes acrescentar. Talk generally becomes falar. – Jacinto Sep 6 '15 at 20:26
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    That's absolutely right, I'll correct the answer – Nuno D. Mendes Sep 6 '15 at 20:27
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    The distinctions referred to here are the same both for the spoken and written language. – Nuno D. Mendes Sep 7 '15 at 1:03

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