LINGUIST List 25.3111
Thu Jul 31 2014
Sum: Query Voir 'to see' in imperative utterances
Editor for this issue: Anna White
Catherine Leger uvic.ca>
Subject: Query Voir 'to see' in imperative utterances
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First, I would like to thank the members who responded to my query on the
use of “voir” ‘to see’ in imperative utterances. The responses were very
helpful. Here is a summary of the comments I have received.
Louisiana French has a similar use of “voir”, which is not surprising since
it is an Acadian French variety. Examples are provided in the Dictionary of
Louisiana French as Spoken in Cajun, Creole, and American Indian
Communities as well as in the Dictionary of the Cajun Language (Daigle).
The form “voir” is translated as “please”, “then”, “so”, “indeed”.
Dis-moi voir “Please tell me”
Arrête voir “So stop”
This use of “voir” is also attested in Le Petit Robert (where it is
considered as part of informal speech), so it is present in Metropolitan
French, as in the examples below.
Regardez voir sur la table s’il y est.
Attendez un peu voir, me dit Françoise. (Proust).
It was reported by members that this use of “voir” exists in Normandy and
Lorraine, but it has still yet to be determined if this use is present in
other areas of France. It might be the case that “donc” has replaced or is
replacing “voir” in these contexts (future studies might shed some light on
A few native Metropolitan French speakers replied that it seems that
utterances such as “Ferme voir la porte” could be glossed as “Ferme la
porte pour voir” (meaning, to see if it solves a problem, like the room
being too cold) in their dialects. In Acadian French, according to my
judgments, the form “voir” following directly the imperative has a
different meaning, as shown by the fact that two occurrences of “voir” are
possible: the first one having an insistence function and the other one
having loosely the meaning “to see if…”, so with an elliptical “pour”.
Ferme voir la porte (pour) voir.
There are also similar cases in which there seems to be an elliptical
“pour” with a different interpretation.
Goûte ça voir!
Prends la mienne voir!
In these utterances, the speaker challenges someone to do something (that
he/she is not supposed to do), and negative consequences are expected.
These examples could be loosely translated in English as “Taste that and
you will see what’s coming to you” and “Take mine and you will see what’s
coming to you”. Crucially, these occurrences of “voir” are different that
the ones in the query, which are not associated with some type of challenge
or a threat (or negative consequences).
The use of voir in imperative utterances reminded one member of the phrase
“to see to it that” in English. However, in my view, this expression in
English corresponds more closely to French expressions such as
“s’assurer/veiller à ce que…” which involve real verbs (for instance, the
verbs “to see”, “s’assurer”, “veiller” can be conjugated), which is not the
case for “voir” in imperative utterances, that can only appear in its
infinitival form. Another member mentions that spoken English uses “you
see” as a form of insistence, as in: A- the book goes here. B- No, you see,
the title needs to be shelved in alphabetical order that is “g” not “z”. In
French, in these contexts, the equivalent would be “tu vois” (subject and
conjugated verb), which is different that the use of “voir” in imperative
Some members suggested that this use might be related to “voire” instead of
“voir”, such as in the legal expression “voir dire” (to say what is true).
This use of “voir” (or “voire”) comes from Old French and derives from
Latin “verum”, in contrast to “voir” (“to see”) which derives from Latin
“vidēre”. By false etymology, the expression “voir dire” is today
interpreted (wrongly) as “to see say”. It might be possible that the use of
“voir” in imperative utterances has its origin in “voire” (Latin: “verum”),
but this cannot be ascertained until diachronic studies are conducted.
It was only reported that Brazilian Portuguese has an imperative
construction with the verb “ver” “to see”. The verb “ver” is in the
imperative form (which contrasts with the Acadian French data), but it is
the other verb in the construction which receives the imperative meaning.
The interpretation of the construction was not provided so it is not
possible to determine if the use of the conjugated “ver” is the same as in
Vê se fecha a porta.
See if close the door
Page Updated: 31-Jul-2014