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Say It Ain’t So: How to Use the “Dire” Conjugation in French

The verb “dire” means to say or to tell. We use the dire conjugation in French to express or transmit words, ideas, thoughts or information, either verbally or in writing, or even through gestures.

As a rule of thumb, the translation of dire is “say” when there is no indirect object of the sentence, and “tell” when there is an indirect object pronoun, in other words, when a person is being spoken to. Let’s look at two almost identical French sentences to understand the difference…

  • Elle a dit qu’elle était fatiguée – She said she was tired
  • Elle m’a dit qu’elle était fatiguée – She told me she was tired

Dire pronunciation

The English word “dire”, like Dire Straits, is nothing like the French verb “dire”. Not only are they completely different in meaning, they also differ in pronunciation.

Dire is pronounced \diʁ\, which is more like the English “deer” but with a guttural “r” sound. Musicians from every generation have used the dire conjugation in French in their song titles, so you can use these songs to hear how the dire pronunciation sounds in context. One good example is the song Allez leur dire by Silvàn Areg.

The difference between parler, dire and raconter

Native English speakers often confuse the words “dire”, “parler” and “raconter” as they are all used for communication and speech, but they have slightly different meanings and uses.

“Dire” primarily means to express ideas or convey information, either verbally or in writing. “Parler”, on the other hand, is used for verbal communication, including speaking out loud or having a conversation with other people. Finally, “raconter” is used for narrating, telling a story, or sharing detailed information about a series of events or experiences. Here are some examples of the verbs in context:

  • Il a dit qu’il reviendrait la semaine prochaine – He said he would come back next week
  • Nous avons parlé de nos projets d’avenir – We talked about (or we spoke about) our future projects
  • Hier soir, il nous a raconté son voyage épique à travers l’Europe – Last night, he told us about his epic journey across Europe

Dire Conjugation Present Tense

The present tense is used for things that are happening right now, as well as things that are true in general at this moment in time. The present tense can translate to both the English simple present and the present continuous tense with the auxiliary “be” plus a verb ending in -ing.

Je dis

I say

Tu dis

You say

Il/elle/on dit

He/she/it says

Nous disons

We say

Vous dites

You say (formal/plural)

Ils/elles disent

They say

  • Il dit bonjour au chat tous les matins – He says hello to the cat every morning
  • Nous ne disons pas d’accélérer, nous disons simplement de ne pas ralentir – We’re not saying speed up, we’re simply saying don’t slow down
  • Je te dis arrête maintenant ! – I’m telling you to stop now!

Dire Conjugation in French Imparfait

The imperfect tense is used to describe continuous past actions, habits or to put a past situation into context. Whether you use le passé composé or l’imparfait depends on the nature of the past action. For example, the imperfect is suited to descriptions of the past and actions that were in the process of happening.

Je disais

I used to say/was saying

Tu disais

You used to say/were saying

Il/elle/on disait

He/she/it used to say/was saying

Nous disions

We used to say/were saying

Vous disiez

You used to say/were saying (formal/plural)

Ils/elles disaient

They used to say/were saying

  • Madame Alvarez me disait que sa fille est à l’hôpital – Mrs Alvarez was telling me that her daughter is in the hospital
  • Nous disions souvent des blagues quand nous étions ensemble – We often used to tell jokes when we were together
  • Vous disiez toujours “s’il vous plaît” et “merci” quand vous étiez petits – You always used to say “please” and “thank you” when you were little

Dire Conjugation French Passé Composé

The French passé composé tense is generally used to describe specific past actions, or things that took place at a specific time in the past that are over now. Like the majority of French verbs, dire uses the auxiliary “avoir” in compound tenses, and its past participle is short and sweet: dit.

J’ai dit

I said

Tu as dit

You said

Il/elle a dit

He/she said

Nous avons dit

We said

Vous avez dit

You said (formal/plural)

Ils/elles ont dit

They said

  • J’ai dit la vérité à mes parents – I told my parents the truth
  • Elle a dit qu’elle viendrait nous rendre visite demain – She said she would come to visit us tomorrow
  • Ils ont dit que le film était incroyable – They said the movie was incredible

Dire Conjugation Simple Future (le futur simple)

The simple future tense is used to describe actions that will happen at a later moment, generally without specifying exactly when. It is only used for sentences in the distant future, rather than things that will take place imminently. We form this tense by adding the future endings to the stem “dir-”.

Je dirai

I will say

Tu diras

You will say

Il/elle dira

He/she/it will say

Nous dirons

We will say

Vous direz

You will say (formal/plural)

Ils/elles diront

They will say

  • Je lui dirai ce qu’il veut entendre – I will tell him what he wants to hear
  • Elles diront bientôt qu’elles sont les meilleures amies du monde – They’ll soon say they’re the best of friends
  • Elle dira à son ami qu’elle l’aime – She will tell her friend that she loves him

Dire Conjugation in French Near Future (le futur proche)

The near future is employed for actions that are about to happen. It is formed using the verb “aller” in the present tense, followed by the infinitive form of a verb. We use le futur proche rather than the simple future if the action is imminent.

Je vais dire

I’m going to say

Tu vas dire

You’re going to say

Il/elle va dire

He/she/it is going to say

Nous allons dire

We’re going to say

Vous allez dire

You’re going to say (formal/plural)

Ils/elles vont dire

They’re going to say

  • Tu vas dire à ton prof que tu arrêtes l’école – You’re going to tell your teacher you’re dropping out of school
  • Elle va dire le secret à tout le monde – She’s going to tell everyone the secret
  • Nous allons dire qui est l’employé du mois lors de la réunion de ce soir – We’re going to say who the employee of the month is at tonight’s meeting

Dire Conjugation Conditional Mood (le conditionnel présent)

We use the conditional tense to talk about hypothetical or unlikely situations, for example winning the lottery. The French present conditional takes the future stem of a verb, ending in “r”, and adds the same endings as the imperfect tense.

Je dirais

I would say

Tu dirais

You would say

Il/elle/on dirait

He/she/it would say

Nous dirions

We would say

Vous diriez

You would say (formal/plural)

Ils/elles diraient

They would say

  • Si tu tombais amoureux de moi, me le dirais-tu ? – If you fell in love with me, would you tell me?
  • Si j’étais toi, je serais honnête et je lui dirais tout – If I were you I’d be honest and tell him everything
  • Si nous gagnions à la loterie, nous dirions à notre patron que nous ne le reverrons plus jamais – If we won the lottery we would tell our boss we’re never going to see him again

Books and Reported Speech

We come across the dire conjugation in French quite often in reported speech, also known in French as “le discours indirect”. This is a way of conveying what someone else has said without quoting their exact words. For example:

  • Direct speech: Il a dit, “Je vais bien.” – He said, “I am well.”
  • Reported speech: Il a dit qu’il allait bien. – He said that he was well.
  • Direct speech (Simon is speaking): “Je suis là.” – “I am here.”
  • Reported speech: Simon a dit qu’il était là. – Simon said that he was there.

What’s more, it is often used with speech in novels. Here’s an excerpt from Le Petit Chaperon Rouge by Charles Perrault so that you can see the dire conjugation in the context of a book:

– Demeure-t-elle bien loin ?, lui dit le loup.

– Oh ! oui, dit le petit chaperon rouge, c’est par delà le moulin que vous voyez tout là-bas, à la première maison du village.

And here is the same part of the English version of the story:

“Does she live far off?” said the wolf

“Oh I say,” answered Little Red Riding Hood; “it is beyond that mill you see there, at the first house in the village.”

Expressions with the Dire Conjugation in French

There are many expressions that add a touch of humor to the French language. Here are 5 funny phrases that contain the dire conjugation in French:

Je dis ça, je dis rien – I’m just saying (usually following something offensive)

Literal translation: I say that, I say nothing

  • Ce n’est pas comme si tu chantais bien. Je dis ça, je dis rien. – It’s not like you sing well. I’m just saying.

Dire ses quatre vérités – To tell someone a few home truths

Literal translation: To say one’s four truths

  • Il lui a dit ses quatre vérités, elle l’a mal pris et ils ne se sont plus parlés depuis – He told her a few home truths, she took it badly and they haven’t spoken to each other since

Soit dit entre nous – Between you and me

Literal translation: Be it said between us

  • Soit dit entre nous, je pense que Lilie va quitter son mari – Between you and me, I think Lilie’s going to leave her husband

Dire amen à tout – Agree to anything

Literal translation: To say amen to everything

  • Pour que vos employés soient satisfaits, il faut parfois dire amen à tout – To keep your employees happy, sometimes you just have to agree to anything

Dire des bêtises – Talk nonsense

Literal translation: To say silly things

  • Il ne faut pas écouter mon frère, il dit toujours des bêtises – You mustn’t listen to my brother, he’s always talking nonsense

Challenge yourself with Clozemaster

Learning the dire conjugation might seem daunting at first, but don’t worry, it comes naturally with practice.

Test your skills and see what you’ve learned from this article by playing a selection of sentences with forms of the French verb dire.

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