Often times, when living or travelling in a country where people speak a foreign language, we don't think about health problems until one actually hits us.
Only then do we realize we've never had to deal with a doctor who doesn't speak our language ! Being able to have a small conversation in French with a doctor - with you as the patient - is an important skill to have.
Obviously, there are hundreds of possible health problems for which you may end up seeing a doctor. However, for most common petty troubles, a visit to a general practitioner might follow a typical pattern.
In this article, we'll look at (and listen to) an example conversation dialogue in French between doctor and patient. We'll then go through the most interesting phrases and expressions in the dialogue, with comments and explanations about how to (re)use them.
In the following dialogue, a female patient in her forties is seen by Docteur Durand, a "médecin généraliste" (general practitioner).
Note that the right way to refer to a doctor is "un médecin". Although people often say "voir un docteur", the word "Docteur" in French is just a title (like "Doctor" in English), the correct phrase is "voir un médecin".
Conversation between doctor and patient in French : the dialogue
Bonjour madame. Alors, qu'est-ce-qui vous amène ?
Bonjour Docteur. Eh bien, ça fait plusieurs jours que j'ai mal partout.
Où avez-vous mal exactement ?
Dans la nuque, les bras, les épaules, les mains, les jambes, les pieds ... partout !
Aha... Avez-vous pris votre température ?
Oui, je n'ai pas de fièvre.
Bon, veuillez vous asseoir là. Ouvrez la bouche et dites "aaaaaah".
Hum, je ne vois rien d'anormal, il ne semble pas y avoir d'inflammation.
Avez-vous également mal au ventre ?
Euh non docteur.
Des migraines ? Des nausées ? Des soucis de digestion ?
Ressentez-vous une fatigue anormale ?
Non, en fait je suis plutôt en forme, mis à part ces douleurs.
Avez-vous fait de nouvelles activités ces temps-ci ?
Non pas vraiment... Ah si, depuis une semaine, je participe à un marathon de danse tous les soirs. Mais à part ça ...
Ah d'accord, je vois... Bon, je vais vous donner de l'aspirine... Et allez-y doucement sur la danse...
Si vous voulez bien m'excuser, j'ai encore beaucoup de patients à voir. Bonne journée madame.
Listen to the audio for the complete dialogue :
Here's the English version :
Good afternoon ma'am. So, what brings you here ?
Hi Doctor. Well, I've been feeling pain all over my body for several days.
Where exactly is the pain located ?
In my neck, my arms, my shoulders, my hands, my legs, my feet ... everywhere !
Aha... did you take your temperature ?
Yes, I don't have any fever.
OK, please sit here. Open your mouth and say "aaaaaah".
Hum, I'm not seeing anything wrong, there doesn't seem to be an inflammation.
Does your belly hurt ?
Headaches ? Nausea ? Digestion problems ?
Are you feeling unusually tired ?
No, I'm actually feeling pretty good, aside from these pains.
Have you been doing any special activities lately ?
No, not really ... Well yeah, for the past week I've been participating in a danse marathon every night. But other than that ...
Oh OK, I see ... Well I'll just give you some aspirin... And take it easy on the dansing ..
Now if you'll excuse me, I have many more patients to see. Have a nice day ma'am.
Conversation between doctor and patient in French : what seems to be the trouble ?
At the start of the visit, the doctor greets the lady saying "bonjour madame". He could also just say "Bonjour ...", but appending "madame" is often considered more polite and respectful.
Having no time to waste, he then asks : "alors, qu'est-ce-qui vous amène ?" (so, what brings you here ?)
The word "alors" serves as a transition from his quick greeting to the question of why she's here. He could have skipped the word altogether, but using it indicates he's ready to start working. It sort of means, "OK let's get straight to the point".
This is a common way to start a consultation with a service provider. For example, you go to a technican to get your PC fixed. At the store, you wait for your turn, then someone comes to attend you. He might say :
- "Alors, qu'est-ce-que je peux faire pour vous ?"
- "Alors, que puis-je faire pour vous ?"
For more examples of a conversation in a store, check out this article and audio dialogue.
In the case of a doctor, dentist, psychologist, and generally speaking medical related service providers, they will often say :
"qu'est-ce-qui vous amène ?" (what brings you here)
rather than "que puis-je faire pour vous ?" which sounds a bit too mercantile. It sort of reflects the nuance between a "patient" and a "client"...
French conversation between doctor and patient : exposing the health problem
The patient replies with "bonjour Docteur", which is the way you typically address a docteur. In the same manner, you would say "bonjour Professeur " when talking to a professor.
She then starts exposing her problem, beginning with "eh bien" :
"eh bien, ça fait plusieurs jours que j'ai mal partout."
Just like "alors" earlier, "eh bien" serves as a transition and a lead into the description of her problem, similar to an English "well".
Notice the phrase "ça fait plusieurs jours que", which precedes "j'ai mal partout". This is a common way to express duration, and something that's ongoing, in spoken French :
- Ça fait des mois que je travaille sur ce projet (I've been working on this project for months)
- Ça fait des années que je m'entraine (I've been practicing for years)
- Ça fait des heures que je t'attends ! (I've been waiting for you for hours !)
It's a bit like saying "it's been hours that I've been waiting for you !" It's a colloquial way of saying things with an emphasis on duration - which comes first in the sentence.
An alternative, more neutral phrasing would be :
- J'ai mal partout depuis plusieurs jours
- Je m'entraine depuis des années
- Je t'attends depuis des heures !
The patient uses the phrase "j'ai mal partout" (I'm hurting everywhere). "Avoir mal" (to hurt) is used very often in spoken French :
- "J'ai mal à la tête" (my head hurts / I have a headache)
- "Tu as mal au ventre" (your belly hurts)
- "Il a mal au coeur" (he's feeling nauseous - litterally "his heart is hurting")
- "Nous avons mal aux pieds" (our feet hurt)
- "Vous avez mal au dos" (your back hurts)
An alternative way of expressing pain is using the word "douleur" (pain) :
- J'ai une douleur au bras (I have pain in my arm)
- J'ai une douleur à l'estomac (I have pain in my stomach)
The doctor then asks the patient :
"Où avez-vous mal exactement ?" (where exactly are you feeling pain ?)
This is a common way of asking for precisions about something. For example :
- "Ou allez-vous exactement ?" (where exactly are you going ?)
- "Qu'essayez-vous de faire exactement ?" (what exactly are you trying to do ?)
- "Pourquoi pleures-tu exactement ?" (why exactly are you crying ?)
The patient then lists all the troublesome parts of her body. Notice she uses "les" when listing body parts (les bras, les jambes...) instead of "mes" (mes bras, mes jambes). When expressing pain, you typically say :
"J'ai mal dans les bras" or "j'ai une douleur dans les bras"
instead of "j'ai mal dans mes bras" or "j'ai une douleur dans mes bras", sometimes considered redundant and poor language.
In a similar way, we say "je me lave les dents" rather than "je lave mes dents". Go figure ...
Conversation between doctor and patient in French : ruling out some causes
The doctor asks his patient : "Avez-vous pris votre température ?" (did you take your temperature). He implictly means "avec un thermomètre" (with a thermometer).
In French, "avoir de la température" is synonymous with "avoir de la fièvre" (to have fever) :
"Elle est malade ?"
"Oui, elle a de la température."
"oui elle a de la fièvre".
In our conversation in French, the patient answers to the doctor "non je n'ai pas de fièvre".
He then says "bon, veuillez vous asseoir là". The phrase "veuillez + verb" is a polite and formal way to ask someone to do something, more formal than just a regular "please". It's a bit like saying "if you would please ..." or "if you'd be kind enough to ...".
Some other examples :
- "Veuillez m'apporter un café" (if you would please bring me some coffee)
- "Veuillez baisser le son" (if you would please turn the volume down)
- "Veuiller fermer la porte" (if you would be kind enough to close the door)
Again, the phrase "veuillez vous asseoir" is quite formal. If he were to speak to his son, for example, he would probably say instead :
"Assieds-toi là s'il te plait."
Next, he asks his patient to open her mouth and say "aaaaah" - a classic request a doctor makes so he can get a good view of the patient's throat - same as in English.
After examining the patient's throat, the doctor concludes he's not seeing anything wrong or abnormal :
"Je ne vois rien d'anormal".
Note the use of " d' " after "rien" and before the adjective "anormal". Other examples are :
- "Je ne vois rien de grave" (I don't see anything serious)
- "Je ne mange rien de sucré" (I don't eat anything sweet)
- "Il ne fait rien de mal" (he's not doing anything wrong)
Note that in our dialogue, " d' " replaces "de" because "anormal" starts with a vowel.
The doctor adds : "il ne semble pas y avoir d'inflammation"
The phrase "il ne semble pas y avoir de ..." (there doesn't seem to be) is used quite frequently in French. It is used when drawing conclusions from the observation of something :
- "Il ne semble pas y avoir de monde" (there don't seem to be a lot of people)
- "il ne semble pas y avoir de bruit" (there doesn't seem to any noise)
Here's another way the doctor could have said it :
"il ne semble pas qu'il y ait d'inflammation" (note the use of subjunctive after "semble que")
This looks a bit more grammatically complex, yet this structure is used quite a bit in everyday French-speaking life.
Conversation between doctor and patient in French : investigating
The doctor pursues his investigation and asks :
"Avez-vous également mal au ventre ?"
Note the use of "également" (as well). He might have said "avez-vous mal au ventre également ?" or "avez-vous aussi mal au ventre ?"
He then goes through a brief list of ailments (headaches, nausea, digestion troubles) that his patient might be experiencing, this time omitting "avez-vous" - it's implicit as he's continuing from his previous question.
The lady responds negatively for all of them :
"non, aucun" : she's not experiencing any of the ailments the doctor listed. She could have also replied :
"non, je n'ai aucune migraine, aucune nausée, aucun souci de digestion".
The doctor then asks :
"ressentez-vous une fatigue inhabituelle ?"
Note that he expresses himself in a rather formal way, using the kind of phrasing one may read in a book - a common way for doctors to address their patients. In a more informal setting, he might have said instead :
"Vous vous sentez plus fatiguée que d'habitude ?" (you feel more tired than usual ?)
Instead, he uses the verb "ressentir" instead of the more colloquial "sentir", and a classic interrogative form (verb + subject) : "ressentez-vous ?"
The patient replies "non en fait je suis plutôt en forme". "En forme" litterally means "in shape" and can be used to mean just that. In our context, though, the woman is referring to her general well-being (feeling well).
- "elle est en forme physiquement" (she's physically in shape, she's fit)
- "Il est en forme ce soir" (he seems to be feeling well tonight)
- "Je ne suis pas en forme aujourd'hui" (I'm not feeling so great today)
- "Je n'ai pas la forme aujourd'hui (same as above)
She says "plutôt en forme", with "plutôt" meaning "quite", "rather". She's actually feeling quite good these days.
- "Il est plutôt beau" (he's quite handsome)
- "Tu es plutôt grand" (you're quite tall)
- "Ces gens sont plutôt chiants ..." (these people are quite painful ...)
She adds "mis à part ces douleurs", indicating that the pains she feels are an exception to her well-being.
"Mis à part" is used for "aside from", "apart from", "except" :
- "Mis à part l'argent, il a tout pour réussir" (aside from money, he has everything to succeed)
- "Mis à part le français, tu parles toutes les langues !" (except for French, you speak all languages !)
- "Mis à part le goûter, je ne rate aucun repas" (apart from afternoon snacks, I don't miss any meal)
Conversation between doctor and patient in French : the outcome
Next in our French conversation, the doctor asks his patient if she's done any special new activities lately :
"Avez-vous fait de nouvelles activités ces temps-ci ?"
Notice the expression "faire des activités" (do some activities), or equivalently "avoir des activités" :
- "Tu as beaucoup d'activités !" (you have a lot of activities)
- "Elle a des activités sociales" (she has social activities)
- "Tu fais souvent ce genre d'activité ?" (do you do this kind of activities often ?)
He uses the phrase "Ces temps-ci" which means "lately", "recently", "these days" :
- "Tu as vu Jean ces temps-ci ?" (have you seen Jean lately ?)
- "Elle a l'air fatiguée ces temps-ci" (she's been looking tired lately)
- "Ces temps-ci j'ai beaucoup de travail" (I have a lot of work these days)
An alternative, equivalent expression is "ces derniers temps" :
"Je fais beaucoup de rencontres ces derniers temps" (I've been meeting a lot of people these days)
Our patient replies "non, pas vraiment" (not really). Just like in English, it indicates she's thinking about the question, probably reviewing in her mind the activities she's done over the past days.
Then she remembers she's been participating in a danse marathon. Note how she says :
"depuis une semaine, je participe à un marathon"
Remember how the patient earlier said "ça fait plusieurs jours que j'ai mal partout" ? Well, using "depuis [duration]" is another way to express an ongoing action. She might have said earlier :
"Depuis plusieurs jours, j'ai mal partout."
And here, she could have said equivalently :
"Ça fait une semaine que je participe à un marathon".
Some other examples of using "depuis" :
- "Je prends des cours de français depuis six mois"
- "Je ne travaille plus depuis la semaine dernière"
Note that in the last example, "la semaine dernière" is a point in time rather than a duration – you can use "depuis" in both cases.
The patient then adds "mais à part ça…" (aside from that)
Earlier, she used "mis à part" saying "je suis plutôt en forme mis à part ces douleurs" (aside from these pains). Here, "à part ça" means the same as "mis à part ça", it's just an abbreviated way of saying it.
The expression "mais à part ça…" is often used as-is to express that what precedes is an exception. Here, it's like saying "I've been dansing every night, but aside from that, nothing else, that's the only new activity I've been doing".
The doctor suddenly understand what's going on and says :
"ah d'accord … je vois …"
He's basically saying, "OK I see… not need to look any further". He may be thinking she wasted his time having him look for causes for her pains while the reason is quite obvious (intense dansing every night).
The doctor then says he'll give her some aspirin, and suggests she should take it easy on the dansing :
"Allez-y doucement sur la danse"
The phrase "allez-y doucement" translates roughly to "take it easy", "go easy". Another similar phrase is "allez-y mollo" (much more colloquial) :
- "vas-y doucement sur l'alcool" (go easy on the alcohol)
- "vas-y mollo avec le télephone (easy with the phone)
- "Tu es fatigué, vas-y mollo" (you're tired, take it easy)
Conversation between doctor and patient in French : ending the consultation
The doctor ends the conversation saying "Si vous voulez bien m'excuser". This is a formal way to excuse oneself and leave a conversation or place, for example when at a dinner party :
"Si vous voulez bien m'excuser, je dois partir" (if you'll excuse me, I have to leave)
Another formal way to say the same is "veuillez m'excuser" - remember, we talked about "veuillez" earlier in this story.
He politely states the reason why he needs to leave (or in this case, she does) :
"j'ai encore beaucoup de patients à voir".
Notice the structure "j'ai encore beaucoup de [object] à [verbe]" (I still have many/much … to …). Examples :
- "Il a encore beaucoup d'années à vivre" (he still has many years to live)
- "Vous avez encore beaucoup de travail à finir" (you still have much work to finish)
- "Nous avons encore beaucoup de choses à faire" (we still have a lot of things to do)
Saying this, the doctor is implicitely saying to the patient he has some real problems to deal with, unlike the minor issues with obvious causes she's suffering from.
Likewise, his ending "bonne journée madame" is quite formal and in somewhat of a dry tone, probably indicating he's slighty annoyed for wasting his time – though he remains polite and professional all the way.
Epilogue : test yourself !
Let's find out if you've learned anything from this dialogue and associated explanations and examples.
Look at the following quiz and write your answers in the comments section below.
The correct answers will be posted later - if you want to get them faster, just add your email address to your answers - I'll delete it right after emailing the answers to you.
1) You're at the doctor's and want to let her know you have pain in your right knee. What do you say ?
A. J'ai mal au genou droit
B. J'ai le genou droit douleur
C. J'ai le genou droit mal foutu
2) The doctor examines you and concludes you have nothing serious, just small minor things resulting from stress. How does he say that to you :
A. Ce n'est pas sérieux
B. Vous n'avez rien de grave
C. Allez-y mollo
3) The doctor gives you a prescription for a drug and explains you need to take it 3 times a day. How does he say it ?
A. Veuillez le prendre trois fois par jour
B. Si vous voulez bien m'excuser, prenez-le 3 fois par jour
C. Ça fait trois fois par jour que vous devez le prendre
D. Prenez le depuis trois fois dans la journée