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Direct vs. Indirect Speech

Direct vs. Indirect Speech

What is direct vs. indirect speech in French?

In French there are two kinds of speech: direct speech (le discours direct) and indirect speech (le discours indirect). When using direct speech you quote what another person says with quotation marks. The French use the following quotation marks: « ». Also, note that some textbooks refer to this as direct and indirect discourse.

French direct vs. indirect speech

par example:

  • Paul dit: «J’ai faim». Paul says, “I’m hungry.”
  • Marie demande: «Où sont les toilettes?». Marie asks, “Where’s the restroom?”

In indirect speech (le discours indirect) you’re referring to what another person said without using any quotation marks. Indirect speech can become a bit complicated because several grammatical elements such as personal pronouns and possessive adjectives can change.

  • Paul dit qu’il a faim. Paul says he’s hungry.
  • Marie demande ou sont les toilettes. Marie asks where’s the rest room.

Agreement of tenses – la concordance des temps

When switching from direct speech to indirect speech the present tense and passé composé are maintained. This doesn’t apply to the imperative, which we’ll look at further below.

In the examples below we’ll look at specific elements of speech which change between the direct and indirect speech.

Example 1 – Le présent

In this first example there’s no change in tense (présent), but the possessive adjective (mes amis -> ses amis) changes as well as the indirect object pronoun (me -> lui).

Marie dit: «Mes amis sont en retard et il me rendront visite demain.»
Marie dit que ses amis sont en retard et qu'ils lui rendront visite demain.
Marie says: "My friends are late and they'll visit me tomorrow."Marie says that her friends are late and that they'll visit her tomorrow.

Example 2 – Le passé composé

In this second example there’s no change in tense (passé composé), but the possessive adjective changes (mon mari -> son mari) as well as the personal pronoun (moi -> elle).

Marie dit: «Mon mari et moi, nous sommes partis en vacances, l'année dernière. »Marie a dit que son mari et elle sont partis en vacances, l'année dernière.
Marie says, "My husband and I went on vacation last year."Marie said that she and her husband went on vacation last year.

Example 3 – L’impératif

When dealing with the imperative, the imperative in the direct speech becomes the infinitive in the indirect speech. In the indirect speech, the personal pronoun (il) and indirect object pronouns (me) come into play. Additionally, moi becomes lui.

«Assieds-toi!», «Ne parle pas!», «Donne-moi l'argent!»Il m'a dit de m'assoir, de ne pas parler, de lui donner l'argent.
"Sit! Don't speak! Give me the money!"He told me to sit, not speak and to give him the money.

Example 4 – Indirect question

When dealing with an indirect question the word “si” (if) is used in the indirect speech. The personal pronoun tu becomes je.

«Tu travailles? Est-ce que tu travailles?»Il me demande si je travaille.
"You working? Are you working?"He asks me if I'm working.

Example 5 – Qu’est-ce qui

Qu’est-ce qui in a question becomes ce qui.

«Qu'est-ce qui est difficile?»Il me demande ce qui est difficile.
"What's difficult?""He asks me what's difficult?"

Example 6 – Qu’est-ce que

Qu’est-ce que becomes ce que.

«Qu'est-ce que tu manges?»Il me demande ce que je mange.
"What are you eating?He asks me what I'm eating.

Example 7 – Information questions

For questions seeking information using «Ou est-ce que?», «Quand est-ce que?», «Comment est-ce que» etc., the est-ce que is disappears in the indirect speech.

«A quelle heure est-ce que tu t'en vas? Où est-ce que tu vas? Quand est-ce que tu retournes?»Je me demande à quelle heure il s'en vas, où il va et quand il retourne.
"What time are you leaving? Where are you going? When are you coming back?"I wonder when he's leaving, where he's going and when he's coming back.

Verbs which can be used with indirect speech

The following is a list of words that can be used in indirect speech. In the main clause (beginning of the sentence) they can be followed by que (that), si (if), où (where) etc.

  • affirmer to say, claim
  • annoncer to announce
  • assurer to ensure, maintain
  • avouer to admit, confess
  • confier to confide
  • constater to note, notice
  • crier to shout
  • délarer to state
  • dire to say
  • expliquer to explain
  • insister to insist
  • observer to observe, notice
  • prétendre to claim
  • proclamer to proclaim
  • promettre to promise
  • remarquer to notice
  • répondre to answer
  • réléver to reveal
  • s’apercevoir to realize
  • savoir to know
  • se rendre compte to realize
  • soutenir to maintain

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David Issokson

David Issokson is a lifelong language enthusiast. His head is swimming with words and sounds as he speaks over six languages. Of all the languages he speaks, he's the most passionate about French! David has helped hundreds of students to improve their French in his private online lessons. When procrastinating working on FrenchLearner, David enjoys his time skiing and hiking in Teton Valley, Idaho.

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