French Direct & Indirect Speech: 5 Things You Should Know
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French Direct and Indirect Speech: 5 Things You Should Know

Are you ready to learn about French direct and indirect speech?

Here in this lesson, we've simplified the rules to make learning about French direct and indirect speech a breeze for you. 

So sit back and let's enjoy this short lesson, starting with this little gem from Henri le Chat Noir, a cat  quite famous on the internet for being too French for his own good.

Henri le chat noir

Henri says, "Only an idiot would surrender his dignity to this folly." ...This is what direct speech looks like.

or

Henri says that only an idiot would surrender his dignity to this folly. ...This is indirect speech.

Notice the difference? Of course you would. The first one uses exactly the same words Henri said: verbatim and using quotes. In the second one, the speech was reported with no quotations, with the help of a subordinate clause.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the direct and indirect speech for you. (Thank you, Henri for the help)

The good news is, it works the same way in French as in English.

Here are other things about French direct and indirect speech that you should know about.

1. Direct speech is a piece of cake.

Seriously, it’s a no-brainer. Here, take a look at this example.

Corey says, “I like burgers”. In French, it’s: Corey dit: “j'aime les hamburgers”.

See? It’s about as easy as crossing the street for this pigeon.

even pigeon don't do jay walking

Which leads us to number 2.

2. Indirect speech is made up of a main clause, followed by a subordinate clause introduced by the relative pronoun ‘que’.

Or qu’ beside words that begin with a vowel or mute h just like il or elle.

Example: Corey dit qu’il aime les hamburgers. (Corey says he likes hamburgers.)

3.  Direct speech may be pretty straightforward, but indirect speech sure is not.

You know how it is when you think everything’s going smoothly and then life suddenly doubles back and hits you in the gut for no reason? This is one of those times, unfortunately. Just when you thought you had it easy with direct speech, here comes indirect speech which is a lot more complicated and tedious.

Indirect speech requires some grammatical changes, in French just like in English. So expect some changes in the following parts of speech:

  • The personal pronouns and possessive pronouns/adjectives. When changing the sentence from direct to indirect speech, these things need to be changed to comply with the new point of view. For example, je (or I in English) will become il or elle (he/she), and possessives like ma or mon (or my) will become sa or son(his/hers).

Example:

Corey dit: “j'aime mon hamburger”. Corey says,“I like my burger”. (direct)

Corey dit qu'il aime son  hamburger. Corey says that he likes his burger”. (indirect)

  • The conjugations of the verbs. There’s a new kind of subject with the pronoun being changed from first person to third person and all that, so expect changes in the verb forms as well.  See this example below.

Corey dit: “je veux manger mon hamburger”. Corey says,“I want to eat my burger.” (direct)

Corey dit qu'il veut manger son hamburger. Corey says he wants to eat his burger. (indirect)

Easy enough, but wait til it gets better. The example is in the present tense with the main clause ‘Corey says’ or ‘Corey’ dit stating a present event. But if it is in the past tense, you have to change the tense of the verb in the subordinate clause too.

Example:

Corey a dit: “je veux manger mon hamburger”. Corey said,“I want to eat my burger.” (direct)

Corey a dit qu'il voulait manger son hamburger. Corey said he wanted to eat his burger. (indirect)

  • Remember that when the main verb is in the present tense, no change is necessary in the tense of the subordinate verb. But when the main verb is in the past tense, there are a awful lot of changes in tenses to be taken into consideration for the subordinate verb.

Take a look at the list below.

  • If the verb in the direct speech is in the present or imperfect tense, it must be in the imperfect tense in the indirect speech. (present/ imperfect à imperfect)
  • If the verb in the direct speech is in the perfect (passé composé) or pluperfect tense, it must be in the pluperfect tense when changed to indirect speech. (perfect/pluperfect à pluperfect)
  • If the verb is in the future or conditional tense in the direct speech, it will be in the conditional tense in the indirect speech. (future/conditional à conditional)
  • check
    If the verb in direct speech is in the future perfect tense, it will be in conditional perfect (or also called past conditional) tense in the indirect speech. (future perfect à conditional perfect)
  • check
    If the verb in the direct speech is in the imperative, it would normally change to the infinitive in indirect speech. (imperative à infinitive)
  • check
    If the verb is subjunctive in the direct speech, it will still remain the same in the subjunctive in indirect speech. (subjunctive à subjunctive)


so hard

Okay, now quit screaming. This will be over soon, I promise.

4. Reporting verbs are the ones which usually appear in indirect speech. Here is the list of the most common ones.

affirmer (to affirm or assert)
ajouter (to add),
annoncer (to announce)
crier (to shout)
declarer (to declare)
dire (to say)
expliquer (to explain)
insister (to insist)
prétendre (to claim)
proclamer (to proclaim)
répondre (to answer or reply)
soutenir (to maintain)

5. Indirect speech for questions.

You didn’t think we’d end this article without talking about questions, did you? Of course not. When it comes to changing a directly stated question into a reported one, the main rule is very simple: it becomes a statement (obviously!)

Here is another rule: If there is no question word in the sentence, the word si which corresponds to if or whether is used instead of que.

Example:

Claire a demandé, “Est-ce que je peux manger le burger?” Claire asked, “ Can I eat the burger ? “ (Direct speech)

Claire a demandé si elle pouvait manger le burger. Claire asked if she could eat the burger. (indirect speech)

Conclusion

So with that, we end our discussion. Questions? Need clarifications? Contact us in the comment section, we will reply as soon as possible.

For more simplified grammar lessons, grab a copy of my French grammar e-books. For at least 15 minutes a day, you can learn French grammar with ease!


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About the Author Frederic Bibard

Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Twitter and Google +

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