I’m trying to say some colloquial English sentences in French, and I’m stuck on how to express the idea of "who said it was illegal".

X : Mais, accepter une opération illégale... De quoi y réfléchir à deux fois avant de s’y prendre.

Y : Mais, qui a dit que c'était illégal ?

I opted for the past tense instead of the present:

Y : Mais, qui dit que c'est illégal ?

Given the ongoing nature of its illegality, part of me is tempted to use the present tense. After all, they are discussing whether the operation is illegal or not for the present. At the same time, though, I wonder if sticking to the past tense sounds more idiomatic, despite the apparent mismatch of tenses.

  • Both sound correct but the past tense sounds wayyy more idiomatic.
    – Destal
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 15:37
  • Who said it was illegal? vs Who says it is illegal? Can't both be used in English? Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 12:54
  • @AnnieCHABOT Yes, absolutely! I was wondering how it would work in French. Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 12:55
  • Who said it was illegal? Who says it is illegal? I think the difference between the two is the same in both languages. Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 13:00

2 Answers 2


For me both are equally possible. The past tense assumes that the illegality could have been pronounced outside the present conversation, while the present includes current participants to the conversation.

In light of the above, illegality being normally pronounced by some external authority, the past tense could be a better fit. But for other judgements ("immoral", "malsain", "dangereux") the present could make more sense.

  • Pensez-vous que l'une ou l'autre corresponde à l'est-ce vraiment ? Merci !
    – user3177
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 19:00

For me, the first one "Qui a dit que c'était illégal", below the tense, is more indirect and maybe implies that the locutor knows that it's a risky action and pretend to not knowing it (among others things, but it's more expressive), whereas the second one "Qui dit que c'est illégal" is maybe more platonic and implies that the speaker has a strong assuption that it's legal. But I think it's a bit personal and the two are corrects.

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