3

I have been coming across this phrase more and more recently as I broaden the variety of materials I am reading in French.

Usually occurring at the beginning of a sentence (but sometimes also at the end), I have seen translations that range from "Oh my God" to "Goodness" or "Wow". Yet, there are instances where these expressions don't seem to fit, so I'm just looking for a clear explanation, some supporting examples and perhaps a single word or phrase that can be used to consistently translate "Dis donc".

7

Dis donc's a discourse marker, and as such not really translatable by a single word.

It's used as way to signal to one's interlocutor that the sentence it's attached to has left a strong impression on the speaker or that they're impressed (in a good or a bad way) by it. That's why you see the translations you cited.

T'es costaud, toi, dis donc ("You're pretty strong, aren't you" with the nuance they don't quite look it -it's often used for kids)

Y'en a de la foule par ici, dis donc ("Wow, There sure are a lot of people around here")

Ça a dû coûter bonbon, dites donc ("Man, it must have costed a leg and half)

Faut pas vous gêner, dites donc ! ("Don't you have any shame about what you just did?" An euphemistic expression literally meaning "It's not necessary to shame yourself")

With this meaning, I have a very strong tendency to put dis donc at the end of the sentence.

Another usage is to catch the attention of someone as you initiate a conversation, particularly if it's to scold them or speak to them aggressively (The related "dis / dites" discourse marker merely signal that what will follow is a question). Then it's often at the start of sentence, quite logically since it prefigures its tone:

Dites donc, vous ne feriez se taire vos enfants ? (Hey you, could you keep your kids quiet ?)

Dites donc, là, qu'est-ce que vous faites ici ? (You there, what are you doing here?)

Discourse markers often show important regional variation, so it's possible other speakers use it differently.

  • Thank you for this excellent response. My initial impression was that "dis donc" is an impersonal expression, because it is spoken toward one other person ("aren't you?" or "you there") or towards oneself ("Wow", "Man" or "My God", etc.). Obviously, the plural is grammatically possible, but it doesn't seem to appear as frequently in writing as the singular form. Would you agree? Also I was surprised to see that, as a euphemistic expression, "Faut pas vous gêner, dites donc!" actually means the opposite ("It's not necessary to feel ashamed, you know...") of how it reads. – user913304 Aug 16 '16 at 1:29
  • @user913304 "Dîtes donc" towards one person is because of the French vouvoiement which implies to use "vous" instead of "tu" (with the "vous" conjugation of course). If you are not familiar with this, this should be another question. In short: if you are talking to someone you don't really know or is important, you want to use "vous" instead of "tu", as a sign of respect (to your teacher if you are a pupil, to someone you don't know, to your boss most of the time, etc.). A funny diagram which is kinda accurate: frenchmorning.com/times-explique-vouvoiement-ses-lecteurs – Destal Aug 16 '16 at 12:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.