In an answer to a question I posted, it was pointed out that in that example, using "vouloir dire" to mean "to want to say" could be confusing because people might see it as an expression meaning "to mean". Is this true in general? Should "vouloir dire" be avoided if we want the meaning of vouloir + dire?

You want to say something?

Vous voulez dire quelque chose?


I want to say thank you to everyone who came today.

Je veux dire merci à tout le monde qui est venu aujourd'hui.

  • 1
    No, you don't need to avoid vouloir dire to say want to say. Both your examples are correct. You can use conditionnel if you want (je voudrais dire merci à tout le monde), it's probably what I would do, but conditionnel can be used for mean too (il n'est pas encore là, ça voudrait dire qu'il est mort ?).
    – Destal
    Oct 17, 2016 at 9:23

2 Answers 2


It is correct.

Usually, the disambiguation is made by the punctuation and/or the context (I used the English notation for French dialogues since I don't know how to properly do it):

Vous voulez dire quelque chose ? -> Do you want to say something ?

'Je cherche quelqu'un.' 'Vous voulez dire "quelque chose" ?' -> 'I am looking for someone.' 'You mean "something"?'

Je veux dire merci à tout le monde. -> I want to say thanks to everybody.

'Merci à Max !' 'Et les autres ?' 'Je veux dire, merci à tout le monde !' -> 'Thanks Max!' 'What about the others?' 'I mean, thanks to everybody !'

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    In English, when I’m trying to clarify (or even correct) something that I’ve said in the past (whether the immediate or a more distant one), I tend to use “I meanT so say” or "What I was trying to say" for the sake of tense consistency. Can/should “je VOULAIS dire” be used in French to clarify/correct a past statement or would that lead to ambiguity (eg,“Je voulais dire Oui mais maintenant je ne veux plus le dire”= not just clarify/correcting, but actually changing one’s mind) &/or perhaps it's just that tense consistency when using “je veux dire” in French is unimportant?Thanks!
    – Papa Poule
    Oct 17, 2016 at 15:09
  • Généralement pour clarifier, dans le sens "I mean", on utilise vouloir au passé. 'Je cherche quelqu'un.' 'Vous vouliez dire "quelque chose" ?' Et : 'Merci à Max !' 'Et les autres ?' 'Je voulais dire, merci à tout le monde !'
    – Xenofexs
    Oct 17, 2016 at 15:27
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    While past is used too, if it's something you just said, and you want to say you meant that, it's common in French to emphasis on the fact you actually still mean that by using the present. The typical case in when you realize while saying something that it's not actually what you want to say, and you just correct yourself. For example, if you just came back from Spain but are already thinking about your next trip to England, you might say: "Je suis là ! Je regrette déjà l'Angleterre... euh, pardon, je veux dire l'Espagne." Oct 17, 2016 at 15:34

In my experience, je veux dire tends toward "mean" and je voudrais dire is used for "I want to say."

  • Permettez-moi vous expliquer ce que je veux dire.
  • Je voudrais dire deux choses à propos des pays pauvres.

Of course, they are both vouloir + dire

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