parler/dire

What’s the difference between parler and dire?

It’s not always easy to know when to use parler and when to use dire, because both verbs are connected to speaking. We can compare them to the English verbs talk/speak and say respectively. The main difference is that parler is intransitive, and never takes a direct object, while dire is transitive, and can be used with a direct object.

Read on to learn the differences between parler and dire, then put your knowledge to the test in the exercises.

Example

Louise est assise à la terrasse d’un café. Elle parle avec le serveur. Il lui dit qu’il y a de plus en plus de touristes dans le quartier. Ils viennent s’asseoir à la terrasse et parlent plein de langues différentes. Louise dit au serveur qu’elle travaille dans un musée et qu’elle voit plein de touristes, elle aussi.

parler

The verb parler loosely translates to the English speak or talk. Like speak, parler is also an intransitive verb: it is never accompanied by a direct object. This means we cannot say parler quelque chose the same way we cannot say speak something (apart from a language, of course).

The verb parler is used in the following contexts:

  • to refer to the use of words or language
    Examples:
    La petite Camille apprend à parler.Little Camille is learning to talk.
    Ce présentateur de télévision m’énerve, je trouve qu’il parle beaucoup trop.That TV presenter annoys me, I think he talks too much.
  • to talk about a conversation, usually in the construction parler de quelque chose (avec quelqu’un)
    Examples:
    Louise et le serveur ont parlé des touristes.Louise and the waiter talked about the tourists.
    Parle-moi de toi.Tell me about yourself.
    Louise parle avec le serveur.Louise is talking to the waiter.
    Nous avons parlé pendant des heures !We talked for hours!
  • to talk about knowledge of a foreign language
    Examples:
    Les touristes parlent chinois, allemand, anglais, et encore plein d’autres langues.The tourists speak Chinese, German, English and many other languages.
    Est-ce que tu parles italien ?Do you speak Italian?

The reflexive form se parler is commonly used, especially for phone calls

Examples:
Lucas et Isabelle se sont parlé au téléphone toute la soirée.Lucas and Isabelle spoke on the phone all night.
Cela fait 10 ans que Florian et moi ne nous sommes pas parlé.It’s been 10 years since Florian and I last spoke.

dire

The verb dire can be compared to the English verb say. Dire is also a transitive verb, which means that it is always accompanied by a direct object. We can say dire quelque chose (say something).

We use dire in the following contexts:

  • to say something to someone: dire quelque chose à quelqu’un
    Example:
    Le serveur dit bonjour à Louise.The waiter said hello to Louise.
  • to tell someone to do something: dire de + infinitif
    Example:
    Mes parents m’ont dit de ranger ma chambre.My parents told me to tidy my room.
  • in reported speech: dire que …
    Example:
    Le serveur dit à Louise qu’il y a de plus en plus de touristes dans le quartier.The waiter told Louise that there are more and more tourists in the neighbourhood.
  • as a reporting verb in direct speech
    Example :
    « Je travaille dans un musée », dit-elle.“I work in a museum”, she said.
  • in the constructions dire si…, pourquoi…, quand…, comment…
    Examples:
    Dis-moi pourquoi tu n’es pas venu.Tell me why you didn’t come.
    Est-ce qu’elle t’a dit comment elle a gagné la compétition ?Did she tell you how she won the competition?
    Le plombier ne m’a pas dit quand est-ce qu’il allait passer.The plumber didn’t tell me when he was going to come.

vouloir dire

Remember: the expression vouloir dire is the same as signifier; they both mean mean.

Examples:
Onéreux ? Mais qu’est-ce que ça veut dire ?Pricey? But what does this mean?
Guten Tag veut dire bonjour en allemand.Guten Tag means hello in German.

To see the conjugations of parler and dire, go to our French Verb Conjugator. To learn about some more confusing verb pairs, check out our pages on écouter/entendre and voir/regarder.