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What Dire Has to Say

French verbs tend to be trickier to conjugate than English verbs, and dire (to say) is no exception. For the most part, though, the verb dire presents few difficulties as it doesn’t have many irregularities. And yet, it has a few grammatical quirks worth highlighting, not to mention that this common verb comes with a multitude of interesting expressions in various tenses. So, let’s dissect dire and see what it has to say!


First, let’s look at this verb in its most basic form, the infinitive (dire), which is used in a variety of idiomatic expressions, as in vouloir dire (“to mean," literally "to want to say"):


L'expression "c'est du pipeau" veut dire c'est pas sérieux.

The expression "it's a pipe" means it's not serious.

Captions 12-13, Le saviez-vous? Les expressions inspirées de la musique - Part 3

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Besides "to say," dire can sometimes mean “to think,” but in a negative kind of a way, as in to be unable to "think" or "bear the idea" of something:


Et dire qu'il s'était servi de Nino aussi.

And to think that he'd used Nino as well.

Caption 19, Le Jour où tout a basculé J'ai volé pour nourrir mon fils - Part 9

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Now let’s take a look at dire in the present indicative tense. No big surprises here, but watch out for this one important irregular form, vous dites (you say/you are saying), NOT “vous disez”:


Encore une fois, c'est n'importe quoi ce que vous dites, maître.

Once again, what you're saying is nonsense, sir.

Caption 1, Le Jour où tout a basculé À l'audience - Volé par sa belle-mère ? - Part 8

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Also, don’t be tempted to add a circumflex accent to vous dites, as French speakers sometimes mistakenly do. If you add an accent, you will end up with the passé simple or past historic tense, vous dîtes (you said). Fortunately, this tense is rarely used. Here is an instance of it in an article about COVID tests:


Comme vous le dîtes, plus de 700 000 tests étaient réalisés quotidiennement la semaine dernière, augmentant les détections.

As you said, over 700,000 tests were carried out daily last week, thus increasing detections. 


And don't forget the s in (vous) dites—otherwise you'll have dite, which is the feminine singular past participle of dire (the masculine singular is dit, "said"). In the example below, the singular feminine direct object la raison is placed before the verb, which means the past participle must also be feminine singular:


Mais oui, pour la raison que je vous ai dite.

But yes, for the reason that I told you about.

Caption 76, Le Jour où tout a basculé À l'audience: Mon chirurgien était ivre - Part 2

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Incidentally, dites is also the plural feminine past participle of dire. So if the speaker in the above example were referring to multiple "reasons," the sentence would be:


Mais oui, pour les raisons que je vous ai dites.

But yes, for the reasons that I told you about.


(To learn more about agreement rules for past participles, see our lesson on the subject.)


You may also come across dit/dits/dite/dites in front of a noun or adjective, in which case it means “known” or “so-called”:


C'est la maison Maurice Ravel dite "le Belvédère" de son vrai nom.

It's the Maurice Ravel House, known by its real name "Le Belvédère."

Caption 9, Voyage en France Montfort-l'Amaury - Part 1

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Mais il existe aussi une autre astrologie, l'astrologie dite savante

But there's also another astrology, so-called scholarly astrology

Captions 13-14, Le Monde L’astrologie fonctionne-t-elle ?

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“So-called” in the sense of being inappropriately named is soit-disant in French, injecting some skepticism into the sentence. In the video below, Sophie and Patrice discuss politics and are skeptical about the soit-disant centrist politicians:


Christiane Taubira, Anne Hidalgo. Et puis, dans une zone un peu indéfinie, soi-disant le centre

Christiane Taubira, Anne Hidalgo. And then, in a somewhat undefined zone, the so-called center

Captions 8-10, Sophie et Patrice Les élections présidentielles

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Soi-disant can also mean "supposedly":


Soi-disant qu'à la télé, ils ont dit: pacte pour l'emploi.

Supposedly on TV they said "employment pact."

Caption 52, Le Monde Comment la Marche des Beurs a révélé la crise des banlieues - Part 1

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Finally, in the conditional tense, we have the impersonal expression on dirait ("it looks like," literally "one would say") that you can use anytime you have an impression about something or someone. This handy phrase has a multitude of meanings that you can explore in this lesson. In the video below, Marie gives the impression of being a real artist and gets a compliment from Sandra, her art teacher:


Mais on dirait une vraie artiste.

But you look like a real artist.

Caption 2, Marie et Sandra Atelier d'art - Part 17

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In conclusion, dire means a lot more than "to say”! Feel free to explore the many forms and ways of using dire in our Yabla videos. And stay tuned for another lesson on dire and its “cousins” (derivatives). Thank you for reading!


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