French Equivalent to Speak and Say : Parler vs Dire

parler dire french verbs

Many French learners don’t see the difference between the verbs parler and dire, and who’s to blame them.

But, like there’s a difference in English between the verbs say” and “speak”, the same difference applies in French.

Hop on our learning journey.

What’s the difference between parler and dire?

Both verbs revolve around speaking, with a small nuance in the meaning and sometimes a different usage. To make it simple, the difference is pretty much the same or at least similar to English verbs (say and speak).

Let’s see their meaning one by one.

Parler – refers to the act of using a language and communicating with someone or expressing feelings and ideas

Nous avons parlé du temps, entre autres choses.

We talked about the weather, among other things.

Dire – refers to phrasing something on your mind

Il a souri et maditqu‘il me fournirait bientôt un dictionnaire.

He smiled and said I’ll soon provide you with the dictionary.

Learn more about similar French verbs, voir and regarder.

Parler vs Dire : Intransitive vs Transitive

Apart from the meaning differences, there’s also a difference in terms of grammar.

The main difference is that “parler” is intransitive, whereas “dire” is transitive verb.

Parler – intransitive verb, never takes a direct object

Il a commencé à parler à l’âge de quatre ans.

He began to speak at the age of four.

Dire – transitive verb, can be used with a direct object

Mes parents m’ont dit de ranger ma chambre.

My parents told me to tidy my room.

Proper Usage of Parler and Dire


“Il a parlé au revoir”

“He spoke goodbye”.


“Il a dit au revoir.”

He SAID goodbye.”

When to Use Parler

The verb parler is used in the following contexts:

  • referring to the language itself

La petite Emma apprend à parler.

Little Emma learns to speak.

  • in a construction parler de quelque chose (avec quelqu’un)

Parle-moi de lui.

Tell me about him.

Emilie parle avec le serveur.

Emilie talks with the waiter.

On a parlé des heures.

We talked for hours.

  • to talk about knowledge of a foreign language

Mes amies parlent chinois et anglais.

My friends speak Chinese and English.

Est-ce que tu parles français ?

Do you speak French?

  • Se parler is commonly used for phone call.

Lana et Isabelle se sont parlé au téléphone toute la soirée.

Lana and Isabelle talked on the phone all evening.

When to Use Dire

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

We use dire in the following contexts:

  • saying something to someone: dire quelque chose à quelqu’un

L’instituter dit bonjour à Louis.

The teacher said Good Day to Louis.

  • telling someone to do something: dire de + infinitif

Mes parents m’ont dit de ranger ma chambre.

My parents told me to tidy my room.

  • in reported speech: dire à

Le serveur dit à Louise qu’il y a de plus en plus de touristes dans le quartier.

The waiter told Louis there were more and more tourists in the neighborhood.

  • as a reporting verb in direct speech

« Je travaille dans une école », dit-elle.

“l work in a school.” she said.

Je Parle Tu Dis Il Racconte

Not only there’s parler and dire in French, there are even more French verbs to express the act of speaking. To discover more about speaking French verbs, take a look at the video.

We invite you to continue your study and learn about the 200 Most Common Verbs in French.

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