How to Conjugate the French Verb 'Dire' (to Say)

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Dire means "to say" or "to tell" and it is one of the 10 most common verbs in the French language. It is also an irregular verb, which can pose a challenge to French students. However, in this lesson, we'll go through the most basic conjugations of dire and learn its various meanings. We'll also give you plenty of practice using it in common French expressions.

Dire As an Irregular "-re" Verb

There are regular -er verbs and irregular -er verbs; dire is an irregular -re verb. The irregular group can be organized into five patterns around the verbs prendre, battre, mettre, rompre and those ending in -craindre.

The problem is that dire does not fit into these patterns at all. It belongs to the remaining irregular -re verbs, which have such unusual or unwieldy conjugations that you have to memorize each one separately. These are very common and important verbs, so you really do have to learn them in order to communicate effectively in French. Try working on one verb a day until you've mastered them all.

Beyond dire, the list includes boire (to drink), conclure (to conclude), conduire (to drive), connaître (to know), coudre (to sew), croire (to believe), écrire (to write), faire (to make), inscrire (to write down), lire (to read), naître (to be born), plaire (to please), rire (to laugh), suivre (to follow), and vivre (to live).

Verbs Ending in "-dire" Are Conjugated Like Dire

Dire is the root of a family of French irregular verbs ending in -dire. All French verbs that have this ending are conjugated in the same way, so that makes each a little easier to learn. There is one exception, though. In the vous form of the indicative and imperative, dire and redire end in -ites, while the other verbs end in -isez.

A few of the verbs ending in -dire are:

  • redire - to repeat, say again
  • contredire  - to contradict
  • se dédire - to go back on one's word
  • interdire - to forbid
  • médire - to malign
  • prédire - to predict

Simple Conjugations of Dire

Dire is an important verb to learn and its most important conjugations are in the indicative mood. These state the action of "saying" as a fact. Make these a priority and memorize them, using short sentences to practice each.

The indicative mood of dire includes the basic present, future, and imperfect past tenses. To use the chart, simply pair the subject pronoun with the appropriate tense. For example, "I say" is je dis and "we will tell" is nous disons.

Present Future Imperfect
je dis dirai disais
tu dis diras disais
il dit dira disait
nous disons dirons disions
vous dites direz disiez
ils disent diront disaient

The present participle of dire is disant.

The passé composé of dire is formed using the auxiliary verb avoir and the past participle dit. To construct the phrase, combine these two elements with the correct subject pronoun. For instance, "we told" is nous avons dit.

You may not use the following verb conjugations as often as the others, but they are useful to know. For example, when you want to give the action of "saying" a little uncertainty, either the subjunctive or the conditional may be appropriate. It's most likely that you'll encounter the passè simple and the imperfect subjunctive in writing.

Subjunctive Conditional Passé Simple Imperfect Subjunctive
je dise dirais dis disse
tu dises dirais dis disses
il dise dirait dit dît
nous disions dirions dîmes dissions
vous disiez diriez dîtes dissiez
ils disent diraient dirent dissent

When you want to use dire as a command or short request, you can use the imperative form. In this case, there's no need to include the subject pronoun: use dis instead of tu dis.

(tu) dis
(nous) disons
(vous) dites

The Many Meanings of Dire

In practice, dire generally means "to say" or "to tell":

  • Je n'ai rien dit. - I didn't say anything.
  • Dis-moi la vérité. - Tell me the truth.
  • Comment dit-on "furthermore" en français ? - How do you say "furthermore" in French?

Dire que means "to say that":

  • J'ai dit que j'avais froid. - I said that I was cold.
  • Je vais lui dire qu'il doit nous aider. - I'm going to tell him that he has to help us.

Dire de can mean "to think" or "to have an opinion on" or "to feel like":

  • Qu'est-ce que tu dis de mon idée ? - What do you think of my idea?
  • Que dites-vous de la maison ? - What do you think about the house?
  • Ça te dit de sortir ? - Do you feel like going out?
  • Ça ne me dit rien. - I don't feel like it at all. That doesn't do anything for me.

Using Se Dire

Se dire can be either a pronominal or passive voice construction. In the pronominaldire can be reflexive ("to say to oneself") or reciprocal ("to say to each other")

Reflexive - to say to oneself

  • Je me suis dit de ne pas pleurer. - I told myself not to cry.
  • Il s'est dit, bon, il faut essayer encore une fois. - He said to himself, "Well, I have to try again."

Figuratively, the reflexive dire means "to claim (to be)":

  • Il se dit avocat. - He claims to be a lawyer.
  • Elle se dit prête. - She claims she's ready.

Reciprocal - to say to each other

  • Nous devons nous dire au revoir. - We have to say goodbye (to each other).
  • Ils se sont enfin dit qu'ils s'aiment. - They finally told each other that they love each other. 

In the passive constructionse dire means "to be said":

  • Ça ne se dit pas. - That isn't said.
  • Ça ne se dit plus. - That isn't said anymore. People don't say that anymore.
  • Comment ça se dit en espagnol? - How is that said in Spanish?

French Expressions With Dire

Because it is such a useful verb, there are several colorful, opinionated idiomatic expressions that use dire. Among those are phrases such as:

  • ceci/cela dit - (with) that said
  • cela va sans dire - that goes without saying
  • c'est-à-dire - that is (to say)
  • comme on dit - so to speak, as they say
  • autrement dit - in other words
  • vouloir dire - to mean
  • entendre dire - to hear (it said that)
  • à ce qu'il dit - according to him
  • J'ai entendu dire qu'il va... - I heard that he's going to...
  • on se dirait - you would think, you can almost imagine
  • Ça ne me dit pas grand-chose. - I don't think much of that.

You can also use it to say that someone expressed frustration:

  • dire à quelqu'un ses quatre vérités - to give someone a piece of one's mind
  • dire à quelqu'un son fait, dire son fait à quelqu'un - to tell someone off
  • dire ce qu'on a sur le cœur  to get something off one's chest
  • dire des sottises / bêtises - to talk nonsense

Then, there are a handful of common English phrases that can be translated into French:

  • dire toujours amen - to be a yes-man
  • À qui le dis-tu ? - You're telling me!
  • à vrai dire - to tell you the truth
  • aussitôt dit, aussitôt fait - no sooner said than done
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Team, ThoughtCo. "How to Conjugate the French Verb 'Dire' (to Say)." ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, Team, ThoughtCo. (2021, December 6). How to Conjugate the French Verb 'Dire' (to Say). Retrieved from Team, ThoughtCo. "How to Conjugate the French Verb 'Dire' (to Say)." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).