FR: “…” he said/asked / dit-il/demanda-t-il - inversion sujet-verbe + temps des incises de dialogue

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by vido, Jul 24, 2005.

  1. vido Senior Member

    Moderator note: multiple threads merged to create this one

    In French books (novels etc.), quotations usually occur in this way:

    -«Voilà, disait-il , j'ai 5 francs.»
    -«Et moi, repondait-elle, j'ai 3 francs.»
    --«Alors, demandait le flic, donnez-moi l'argent!»

    i.e. the inverted subject and verb (disait-il, répondait-elle, etc.) that aren't actually quoted are nontheless placed inside the quotation marks. Is this old French, or Français écrit, or both? Or only in novels etc.? (It's not a good convention, is it?) De plus, does it happen only when using « » and not " "? Appreciate some clarification. Merci d'avance :)

    (p.s. I made up the above conversation, so it could be imperfect ;))
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 18, 2009
  2. Boked Member

    France / french
    Hi Vido,

    you seem to be very active on this forum (lol)

    I do not know wether this is a good convention or not, but this is the way french writes and speaks. This is not at all old french. Read some Newspapers and you will find that form of quotation frequently used. Normally in french you use <<...>> and not "..." for a quotation of a piece of talk.
    And last the tenses in your exemple would have rather been:
    -<< Voilà, dît-il, j'ai 5 francs.>>

    Any contradiction or extra clarification welcome :cool:
  3. KudouShunsaku New Member

    USA, English
    I have looked at old posts on this forum and found some topics regarding this grammar, but something seems to differ in the responses to those from what I'm seeing in this book I have.

    In various parts it will explain of a character's action, "explique-t-il," or "demand-t-il." I'm pretty sure these are just saying "he explains, he asks," but judging by what I've read on this forum, the -t-il/on form is only used for questions. I see no attempts to translate it to just a simple statement, even when the original French doesn't end in a question mark. People just seem to always translate it as a question. It isn't always a question form though, right? What's going on here?
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 18, 2009
  4. JeanDeSponde

    JeanDeSponde Senior Member

    France, Lyon area
    France, Français
    Why is "..., demande-t-il." not a question ?

    English has a similar structure :
    "I am a professional translator", said he.

    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 18, 2009
  5. broglet

    broglet Senior Member

    English - England
    This kind of inversion for a non-question is rather archaic in English, but it seems quite normal in modern French.
    In French, inversion seems not to be used so much for questions, where "est-ce que ..." is used more; or the question uses the same words as the equivalent statement and is indicated merely by tone of voice. Do native French speakers agree?
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 27, 2013
  6. kiwi-di

    kiwi-di Senior Member

    Perth, Western Australia
    New Zealand, English
    When I was living in Brussels many years ago I used to read a lot of novels in French, and your post has stirred something in the back of my mind, that often after direct speech the "he says/said" would be in the inverse form. Is that what you're asking about?

    "Je vais en ville," dit-il (literally, says he)
    "Je viens de rentrée il y a trois minutes," explique-t-elle (explains she)

    When normally (from an English point of view) one would expect to see:
    "Je vais en ville," il dit (he says)
    "Je viens de rentrée il y a trois minutes," elle explique (she explains)

    I can't explain why, but I'm sure it's quite common in novels. And I'm at work at the moment and don't have any French ones here to look up!
  7. geve

    geve Senior Member

    France, Paris
    France, French written language, I should add. :) It is quite rare to hear it in spoken language - as is the inversion in questions, I agree.
  8. KudouShunsaku New Member

    USA, English
    You're correct, it is from a novel. I have this beginners French readings collection from the early 60's that I'm practicing with. I guess like you said this particular inversion after direct speech is only a literary style and I shouldn't expect it in speech(except for in questions). Thanks for the help :)
  9. Polite_Man Member


    I would like, tahnkfully, to know why did the reporter inverteded this term in that context instead of stating it directly:

    La période d'exclusivité avec LVMH porte sur "plusieurs mois", a déclaré à la mi-journée un porte-parole de Pearson, sans plus de précision. "Nous avons une période de négociations exclusives avec LVMH et nous sommes tenus de la respecter", a-t-il déclaré, ajoutant que l'offre de Fimalac était cependant "clairement un nouvel élément d'informations dans ce processus" de vente.

    Many thanks
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 18, 2009
  10. marget Senior Member


    I think inversion is required because the context is in the form of a quotation.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 18, 2009
  11. DearPrudence

    DearPrudence Dépêche Mod (AL mod)

    French (lower Normandy)
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 18, 2009
  12. lydiaforbes11 Member

    Scotland English
    Hiya, I think I am confusing myself here...

    If I wanted to say for example "I like George," thought Sophie...

    would that in French be "J'aime George," pensé a Sophie

    due to having to invert the verb and the subject?


  13. johnp

    johnp Senior Member

    I believe you would say "J'aime Georges, pensait Sophie" and with "she," "J'aime Georges, pensait-elle." Usually with thinking in the past you would use the imperfect.
  14. gliamo Senior Member

    France, French
    In this case, lacking context, I would use the passé simple:

    -"J'aime Georges", pensa-t-elle

    So yes, the verb and subject are inverted. Note the "-t-", added for euphony, as "pensa elle" doesn't sound nice at all.

    When inverting subject and verbe, if the verb ends in a vowel and the subject starts with one, you need to make sure there is a consonant sound between the two:

    e.g. "Allons-y" is pronounced "Allonzy"

    Note also the dash between verbe and subject, due to the inversion.

    Hope this doesn't confuse the issue even more!
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 27, 2013
  15. lydiaforbes11 Member

    Scotland English
    Right, thanks for your replies but I will try and explain what I mean a bit better using other examples. I have been told for this case I should just use passé composé .

    I know that if I want to translate: “Hello,” Joe said then it is “Bonjour,” a dit Joe.

    But if I wanted to say “Hello, “ said Joe would it still be the same even though the words are the other way about? Does it not matter which order the words are in as long as when in french, after direct speech it is the verb then the subject?

    Hope this makes some sense?
  16. gliamo Senior Member

    France, French
    Ah ok, I see what you mean.

    In "Joe a dit", the verb is "a dit", so the inversion gives: "a dit Joe". Does this answer your question?

    As for using the passé composé, I would think that passé simple is more appropriate in most cases. But again, this depends on context.

  17. gliamo Senior Member

    France, French
    Oops, forgot this bit:

    In your specific example, the passé composé is split when inverted: "a-t-elle pensé". This is done when the subject is a pronoun (je tu il elle on nous vous ils elles)
  18. ChrisPa Senior Member

    Français - France
    If I understand your question, you want to know if we translate in the same way : "'Hello', John said" and "'Hello', said John" ?

    I don't think we will say "Bonjour," John dit."

    But, what is the difference in english? is there a different meaning?
  19. sunshine92 Member

    bonsoir! je voudrais savouir pourqui parfois dans les phrases affirmatives nous avons l'inversion du pronom comme ici:
    je crois bien, dit-il, qu'il va géler.
    je pensait que était seul pour les questions. merci beaucoup!
  20. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    Il faut faire l'inversion pour les incises dans les discours directs.

    « La fortune sourit aux audacieux », écrivit-il au tableau.

    « La guerre, prétend-il, est un moindre mal. »

    « La porte, remarqua-t-elle, était pourtant fermée à clef. »
  21. CapnPrep Senior Member

    On en trouve parfois en anglais, pour la même raison:
    "There are some sailors running ahead there, if I see right," said I to Queequeg.
    Never again will we let ourselves be sacrificed.
    Old King Cole was a merry old soul, And a merry old soul was he.
    Le français, comme l'anglais, était une langue V2 avant de devenir une langue SVO. Mais quelques traces de l'ancien ordre des mots subsistent dans les deux langues, par ex. quand on a une citation, un adverbe ou un syntagme interrogatif en tête de phrase.
  22. ck_butterfly3 Senior Member

    Vancouver, BC
    English and Korean
    In written form, what is the proper way of quoting someone (NOT as an in-text source)?


    "J'aime mieux faire agir que d'agir", Gide once stated about the creation of characters in his novels.

    « J’aime mieux faire agir que d’agir », Gide a-t-il déclaré une fois de la création des personnages dans ses romans.

    Is this correct? - is the inversion still used?
  23. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    There is no difference between an intext quotation and a quotation from someone.

    « J’aime mieux faire agir que d’agir », Gide a-t-il une fois déclaré au sujet de la création des personnages dans ses romans.
  24. Fred_C

    Fred_C Senior Member

    The inversion is absolutely required.
    You can do it either the way you did, or like this :
    "J'aime mieux faire que d'agir", a déclaré Gide une fois au sujet de la création...
  25. claire1027 Member

    P.R.China & Chinese
    J'ai lu un bon livre. Il y a une phrase que je ne comprends pas.

    Ce dit :"Demain, Nous a dit la maîtresse, nous aurons une leçon de choses tout à fait spéciale;..."

    Pourquoi Nous a dit ? Normalement il faut "Nous avons...". Je pense que cette phrase devrait dire "La maîtresse nous a dit..."

    Comment s'appelle ce genre de phrase en français ?
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2008
  26. ascoltate

    ascoltate Senior Member

    Montréal, QC
    U.S.A. & Canada, English
    c'est une phrase avec inversion -- ce qui est obligatoire dans ce contexte (une phrase interpelée dans une citation)
  27. nat88 Senior Member

    English - New Zealand
    In literature, when you are saying "he said", you put "dit-il".

    But when you are saying, "said the man", do you still invert the subject and verb: "dit l'homme"?
    Or does it change back to "l'homme dit"?

    i.e. Do you only invert if il/elle are used with the verb?
  28. DearPrudence

    DearPrudence Dépêche Mod (AL mod)

    French (lower Normandy)
    I would say that we still invert it generally.

    "Mais qu'est-ce que c'est ?!", s'écria Madame Verdurin.
    "Je ne sais pas", répondit l'homme.

    (as you can see it also works with other verbs than "dire")

  29. camille veillard Member

    Ile de France, France
    French - France
    You can also say
    "Mais qu'est-ce que c'est?", Madame Verdurin s'écria.
    "Je ne sais pas", l'homme répondit.

    "Comment tu vas?", je demandai

    It's more common to see the inversion, that's for sure, but both are correct.
  30. dicost Member

    Tu es sur que les 2 sont corrects? je crois n'avoir jamais entendu le "madame verdun s'écria" pour cette utilisation... ça me semble bizarre...
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 27, 2013
  31. Lezert

    Lezert Senior Member

    french, France
    On peut effectivement trouver la forme non inversée comme ci-dessus, mais pour marquer des tournures volontairement incorrectes ou argotiques, dans le genre roman policier, par exemple.
    La forme correcte est :
    Mais qu'est-ce que c'est?", s'écria madame Verdurin .
    "Je ne sais pas", répondit l'homme .
    "Comment vas-tu?", demandai-je
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 27, 2013
  32. amzylou Senior Member

    England, English

    I think that I have to use inversion after direct speech - could someone tell me if this is correct please:

    "J'ai faim" dit-il
    "J'ai faim" a-t-il dit.

  33. brian

    brian Senior Member

    AmE (New Orleans)
    I think you are more likely to see the former in writing, dit-il, the passé simple.
  34. amzylou Senior Member

    England, English
    even if the sentence ends with "he SAID" ?? Thanks for your help!
  35. brian

    brian Senior Member

    AmE (New Orleans)
    What do you mean "even if"? :confused:
  36. amzylou Senior Member

    England, English
    my phrase is "j'ai faim" he SAID (i.e. the past tense), not he says = dit-il (present tense)
  37. brian

    brian Senior Member

    AmE (New Orleans)
    Oh, sorry, that's why I made sure to mention that it's passé simple in that case. In fact, "he says" (present) and "he said" (passé simple) are both il dit. They are identical: see here.
  38. jaffylizzle New Member

    Hi, I'm trying to write a story in passe compose and am confused about the rules for inversion with dialogue. For example, I know for third person I should use: "a-t-il dit" but what if I want to keep the person's name. Can I say "a Olivier dit" or do I just use "Olivier a dit"? Thanks so much.
  39. Stefan Ivanovich Senior Member

    Paris, France
    There is no special rule for passé composé:

    -Quand viendras-tu?, demanda Alice.
    -Dès que possible, répondit aussitôt Olivier, qui l'admirait en secret.


    -Quand viendras-tu?, a demandé Alice.
    -Dès que possible, a aussitôt répondu Olivier, qui l'admirait en secret.


    -Quand viendras-tu?, demande alors Alice.
    -Dès que possible, répond aussitôt Olivier, qui l'admire en secret.

    Hope it helps...
  40. jipax

    jipax Member

    Here, the correct "passé composé" is the following:
    "a-t-il dit" is correct, and "a Olivier dit" is wrong. "a dit Olivier" is correct.
  41. swollib New Member

    Hi everyone

    I know that to say "Hello" he said, one would say in French "Bonjour" a-t-il dit

    But, how would I say "Hello" said my friend?
    Would it be "Bonjour" a-t-il dit mon ami or something else ?

    Thanks a lot :)
  42. Lacuzon

    Lacuzon Senior Member

    French - France

    You can say "Bonjour" a-t-il dit ou "Bonjour" dit-il

    But for "Hello" said my friend you only can say "Bonjour" dit mon ami ou "Bonjour" a-t-il dit a dit mon ami.
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2009
  43. itka Senior Member

    Nice, France
    Although "said" is a past tense, I think in French we would say : "Bonjour, dit-il" "Bonjour, dit mon ami" using present tense.
    Passé Composé seems weird here. It could be fine only if you mean "Saying bonjour,that's what he has done."
  44. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    I agree, although it's not a present but a passé simple… ;)
  45. swollib New Member

    I agree too, unfortunately this was for a direct prose translation for school, and generally you have to translate everything directly - not much scope for your own interpretation of the text.
  46. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    If you want a direct/literal translation, then you should write:

    « Bonjour ! » dit-il. (and not a-t-il dit !)
    « Bonjour ! » dit mon ami.
  47. itka Senior Member

    Nice, France
    Why not a present ? That's the same as a passé simple for the verb "dire" !
    If you choose another verb, you can see both are possible :
    "Bonjour, s'écrie-t-il !"
    "Bonjour, s'écria-t-il !"

    N'est-ce pas, Cher Maître ? ;):) Je ne voulais que souligner que le passé composé ajoute une connotation qui, me semble-t-il est absente du verbe anglais...
    swollib, for school, I understand you should not change the tense !
  48. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    The original sentence is using a simple past (said), not a present (says)…

    Maybe your mistake comes from the position of the quotes:

    “Hello” he said

    not: “Hello he said”
  49. milly1992 Senior Member


    I am having trouble translating this sentence, because I am unsure how the second part works grammatically.

    My attempt is:

    'Est-ce que tu aimes l'art?' Miriam a dit à son amie Annie.

    However, I am sure it's more complicated than this...?

    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 27, 2013
  50. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    In French we use the subject-verb inversion in such a case:

    « Est-ce que tu aimes l'art ? » demanda-t-elle à son amie Annie.

    (Note that since the quotation is a question, it is better to use the verb demander rather than dire. Moreover, we usually use the passé simple instead of the passé composé for main verbs describing a quotation.)

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