• Justement, réfléchis un peu.
  • Dites donc, réfléchissez un peu.
  • Dis donc, réfléchis un peu.

When these phrases are used at the beginning of a sentence, what function do they serve, exactly?

My guess is, "Dites(Dis) donc" is like "Hey!" for attracting the attention of someone, and "justement" is like "Exactly!" for agreeing with the previous remark of someone.

I'm not certain how they are used any differently from each other.

2 Answers 2


These are conversational markers and tools aka spoken language.

Dis/dites donc is not hey though it might be in a very narrow situation. I say that because until recently /hey/ was not that prevalent in spoken English and dites donc has been around much, much longer in French.

It can be translated in several ways but often what works is: /Now listen here/ or /Now look/ or in more BrE /Now, see here/ followed by the person's opinion on the matter.

It can be used without any preceding comments by another person. For example, by a parent to a child doing something he or she should not be doing, or by a wife to a husband who has just tracked mud through the kitchen. That said, it is not an attention grabber per se. It's more an expression of surprise or anger or strong disagreement (when something has in fact been said).

/Justement/ is always, on the other hand, a response to something someone else has just said.

For example:

Jean: Je n'aime pas cette façon de faire les choses.

Marie: Justement, moi non plus.

Possible ways of saying that in English: That's right, neither do I. Or yes, /Exactly, that's right/. Or just: Right, me neither. Or Right, neither do I.

  • "Now that you mention it, neither do I." seems best.
    – LPH
    May 20, 2019 at 20:34
  • I don't know whether "justement" is really proper as a reply in this case; maybe something like "en parlant de ça" or "maintenant que tu en parles" would keep closer to the context.
    – LPH
    May 20, 2019 at 20:42
  • La chose principale ici c'était la traduction de "justement", qui vient toujours en réponse à quelque chose dite par un autre. Ici, on pourrait me répondre: Justement, je n'ai rien dit. Et la traduction donnée dans ma réponse serait la même.
    – Lambie
    May 20, 2019 at 23:25
  • «Now that you mention it» is definitely not right in such context. It would imply that you would make somebody realise something, whereas it is the other way around. Here «as a matter of fact» suits fine but other similar expressions (depending on the context, obviously), like «rightly so», «duh»...and so forth would be appropriate in different contexts as well. It all depends on what the speaker wanna hint at.
    – Mat
    May 21, 2019 at 19:18
  • @Mat Désolée mais "duh" ne serait jamais "justement". Et "rightly so" est d'un plus haut registre.
    – Lambie
    May 21, 2019 at 19:22

I "Dis donc" is used to attract attention, or rather as a signal to make someone nearby aware that they are being solicited, that someone is going to talk to them. This is the plain use of this interjective locution. However, it seems that people do not use it in this way if they do not know one another (unless "dites donc" has another function, see III).

  • Dis donc, quand tu auras fini ton livre tu peux me conduire au supermarché ?

It seems that "hey" shouldn't be used to translate "dis donc" in this context, but I am not sure of this. A good English equivalent could be "say".

II Another use of it is totally different; the two persons involved have been conversing for a while and there is no need to attract the attention of anyone. Given this context, "dis donc" is used to declare to the other person something that departs from the normal flow of conversation.

— Il n'y aura pas eu beaucoup de neige cet hiver…
— Je ne m'en plains pas, j'aime la chaleur et le soleil.
— Un temps trop chaud n'est pas agréable non plus, je ne le supporte pas.
— Dites donc, vous savez que la prime de vacances d'été va être supprimée ?

"Say" could again be used or "by the way" among others that I don't know of. I don't know about "hey", though it is an interjection used to draw attention.

III A third possibility of use of this locution is to begin a reply in a verbal exchange where the person being talked to has just gone beyond a certain limit in the way of not respecting either a standard of politeness or in the way of putting forth a point of view that is unacceptable, demeaning, based on lies, viciousness and so on. When "dis donc" is used thus, it is more often than not pronounced with more or less force, in a manner that never fails to be curt. A second context is that of the abnormal behaviour of someone that you know or just as well that you don't know at all, but that has just behaved in very uncivil manner (talked rudely to a little boy, threaded on your feet without apologising, dropped intently trash on the floor, etc). In that case people might use "dites donc" in the same way as explained above but possibly in a more angry manner, that being meant both to make it clear to the person misbehaving that someone is adressing them and to reproach them strongly with doing what they just did.

  • — Dites donc, vous ne pouvez pas vous excuser lorsque vous bousculez les gens ?

  • Dites donc ! Si vous ne pouvez pas finir votre sandwich c'est dans la poubelle qu'il faut le jeter, pas sur le plancher.

It seems that "hey" will not do, except in the second example if "you" is added (Hey you !)

IV The dictionary says that in the context considered "justement" is meant to stress a coincidence, but personally I tend to think it should be a coincidence of facts inherent to the subject being discussed (people apparently do not take necessarily that into consideration).

(TLFi) 2. [Marque une coïncidence, une corrélation] Précisément. Synon. juste

— Il semble nécessaire de renouveler cet abonnement, il n'est que de douze mois.
_ Justement, je viens de recevoir un avis du magazine, trente jours de délai.

A translation could be "precisely", "exactly" or even "that's it".

In those cases when the coïncidence is not intrinsic to the subject discussed, I think another choice of locution is more expressive while at the same time it keeps the two ideas well separated.

— Il y a une fête foraine dans ce quartier, j'ai traversé la place où elle a lieu … je crois que je n'irais plus jamais passer du temps dans un de ces endroits, comme lorsque j'étais jeune.
— En parlant de ça, Léone m'a dit qu'elle était minable cette année et qu'elle n'a pas l'intention d'y mettre les pieds.

Instead of "en parlant de ça" could be used "maintenant que tu parle de ça" but it might be colloquial. A little longer but certainly not colloquial would be "maintenant que tu parle de ça, je me souviens que".

In English, I think that "now that you mention that" would be perfect for a translation.

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