The French language has its fair share of quirks. One that you’ll face as soon as you start learning the language is the weird and irregular verbêtre. The verb simply means ‘to be’ and is used the same way we use it in English. As such, it’s a pretty important word for learning French. However, while the verb être is one of the most common verbs in French, the être conjugation is also one of the most irregular.
First let’s look at the être conjugation in le présent (the present tense):
|Je suis||I am||Nous sommes||We are|
|Tu es||You are||Vous êtes||You are|
|Il est||He is||Ils sont||They are|
|Elle est||She is||Elles sont||They are (females)|
|On est||We are/one is|
Looking over the conjugation of être, you might be wondering how this is one verb. A lot of its forms in the present tense look entirely unrelated. However, since être is such a common verb in French, it shouldn’t take you long to get a hold of its unusual conjugation. And as we said, the verb être is really important to know, because it can be used for so many different things. This includes states of being, profession, and location. We’ve provided some examples below, so you can familiarize yourself.
- Je suis médecin
‘I’m a doctor’
- Tu es étudiant
‘You’re a student’
- Il/Elle/On est à Bruxelles
He/She/One was in Brussels’
- Nous sommes fatigués
‘We are tired’
- Vous êtes toujours ici
‘You’re always here’
- Ils/Elles sont au conservatoire
‘They’re at the music school’
The verb is also important because in French, it’s also used to express the passive voice and as an auxiliary verb, like avoir. That means that être will be used to help make other verbs in compound tenses. This is similar to has/have in English, as in ‘I have seen him’ or ‘he has been there.’
Of course you’ll probably want to discuss things in more than just the present tense. If you want to talk about an ongoing action that has ended, you’ll need l’imparfait (the imperfect). This is used to refer to continuous events in the past and usually translates to ‘used to’ or was/were. Thankfully, in the imparfait, the conjugation of être is much more regular. Unlike the present tense, all of these verbs have the same root (ét) and conjugate it like most imperfect verbs.
- J’étais médecin
‘I used to be a doctor’
- Tu étais étudiante
‘You were a student’
- Il/Elle/On était à Bruxelles
‘S/he was in Brussels’
- Nous étions fatigués
‘We were tired’
- Vous étiez toujours ici
‘You were always here’
- Ils/Elles étaient au conservatoire
‘They were at the conservatory’
Now let’s say that you want to discuss a future event. There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that you’ll need to get familiar with a new verb stem. In the future tense, être is conjugated from the stem ser-. The good news is that the endings are regular and match those of other future tense verbs in French.
- Je serai médecin
‘I will be a doctor’
- Tu seras étudiant
‘You will be a student’
- Il/Elle/On sera à Bruxelles
‘He/She/One will be in Brussels’
- Nous serons fatigués
‘We will be tired’
- Vous serez toujours ici
‘You will always be here’
- Ils/Elles seront au conservatoire
‘They were at the music school’
French also employs what’s called le conditionnel (the conditional). This is used when English would use the word would and often comes alongside the word si (if). And in the conditional form, there’s only good news. You already know the verbal stem ser- and the verb endings are the same as the imperfective tense.
- Je serais médecin si…
‘I would be a doctor if…’
- Tu serais étudiant si…
‘You would be a student if…’
- Il/Elle/On serait à Bruxelles si…
‘He/She/One would be in Brussels if…’
- Nous serions fatigués si…
‘We would be tired if…’
- Vous seriez toujours ici si…
‘You would always be here if…’
- Ils/Elles seraient au conservatoire si…
‘They would be at the music school if…’
We’ve discussed four simple tenses of the être conjugation, where the verb stands by itself. However, there are several other forms that use auxiliary verbs/helping verbs to make compound tenses. We’ll discuss each one.
In French, people regularly used the passé composé to talk about past events. These are normally events that happened once. In the passé composé, être is conjugated with the conjugated form of the auxiliary verb avoir followed by the verb’s past participle form:été.
- J’ai été impressionné
I was impressed
- Tu as été très clair
You were very clear
- Il a été bouleversé
He was devastated
- Nous avons été fatigués
We were tired
- Vous avez été si tendu
You were so tense
- Ils ont été bouleversé
They were devastated
While the passé composé allows people to talk about past events, the French language has another tense for discussing even more distant ideas. This is le plus-que-parfait, which you might also know as the pluperfect.
If you’re not familiar with grammatical jargon, don’t worry. We’ll break it down for you. The pluperfect refers to an event that happened in a more distant past. In English if you talk about something in the past and need to refer to something happening before that, then you use the pluperfect.
I was walking to the restaurant even though I had already eaten.
In this sentence, was walking refers to the near past, while had eaten refers to something even earlier than the walking. Generally, you can think of le plus-que-parfait as the tense that uses the verb had. To make it, you just add the past participle été to avoir in the imperfect. The forms in French are below.
- J’avais été impressionné
I had been impressed
- Tu avais été très clair
You had been very clear
- Il avait été bouleversé
He had been devastated
- Nous avions été fatigués
We had been tired
- Vous aviez été si tendu
You had been so tense
- Ils avaient été bouleversé
They had been devastated
In addition to le futur simple (the simple future), French also uses a compound future tense with the verb aller (to go) and the infinitive. This is used to discuss events in the near future and translates to the idea of ‘going to’ in English.
- Je vais être…
I’m going to be….
- Tu vas être…
You’re going to be….
- Il/Elle va être…
He/She’s going to be…
- Nous allons être….
We’re going to be…
- Vous allez être….
You’re going to be….
- Ils/Elles vont être…
They’re going to be…
All of the compound tenses we’ve mentioned up to this point have involved another auxiliary verb. However, oftentimes être acts as a helping verb to talk about the past tense.
While most verbs use avoir as their auxiliary verb to form the passé composé, there is a large group that usesêtre instead. Normally, these are intransitive verbs/verbs with no direct object.
- Je suis venu
- Elle est partie
- Nous sommes entrés
We came in
- Ils sont arrivés
In order to express doubt or possibility in French, we use the subjunctive form of a verb. The subjunctive isn’t a tense but a form of a tense that’s used when something is uncertain. Verbs in the subjunctive often (but not always) come after the conjunction que. If you’d like to get a deeper explanation on the subjunctive, you can read about it here.
So here’s the conjugation of être in the subjunctive mood:
|(que) je sois||(that) I am||(que) nous soyons||(that) we are|
|(que) tu sois||(that) you are||(que) vous soyez||(that) you are|
|(que) il soit||(that) he is||(que) ils soient||(that) they are|
|(que) elle soit||(that) she is||(que) elles soient||(that) they are|
|(que) on soit||(that) we are/one is|
- Il faut que je sois sûr
I have to be sure (It’s necessary that I’m sure)
- Je veux que tu sois heureux
I want you to be happy (I want that you be happy)
- Il veut qu’elle soit prête
He wants her to be ready (He wants that she be ready)
- Quel dommage que nous soyons ici
What a shame that we’re here
To have a full understanding of the être conjugation, you should also know how to use it as a command. Thankfully, you don’t have to learn anything new since the command forms of être are the same as the subjunctive form.
- Sois gentil
‘Be nice’ (to one person)
- Soyons raisonnables ‘
‘Let’s be reasonable’
- Soyez responsables
So there you have it – everything you really need to know about the verb être and all of its conjugations. With this you should be able to manage four of the simple tenses and the four of the compound tenses that use être. At the same time, this should give you some idea about the present subjunctive and command forms of the verb. While there are other verb constructions that use the verb être, these are the basis of every day French. It may seem like a big undertaking but you’ll be able to see the results after a bit of practice.
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|Je suis||I am||Nous sommes|
|Tu es||You are||Vous êtes|
|Il est||He is||Ils sont|
|Elle est||She is||Elles sont|
The 16 verbs generally refer to motion, travel or change of place, e.g. going in/out/up/down or remaining. allé, arrivé, venu, revenu, entré, rentré, descendu, devenu, sorti, parti, resté, retourné, monté, tombé, né et mort.What are the 13 verbs that take être in French? ›
The list of verbs ordinarily conjugated with être is short and worth remembering. They are generally considered to be verbs of motion. The most common of such verbs are: aller, sortir, partir, venir, revenir, devenir, monter, remonter, descendre, redescendre, naître, mourir, passer, tomber, retourner, rester.What is the most difficult French verb tense? ›
6) Le subjonctif (The Subjunctive Tense)
This is notoriously one of the most difficult tenses for native English-speakers to learn. We do technically have the subjunctive in English, but we don't use it much. Le subjonctif is used at times when the topic at hand is clouded or influenced by emotion.
- I am = Je suis. I am a woman = Je suis une femme.
- You are = Tu es (casual) You are so friendly = Tu es si gentil.
- She is = Elle est. ...
- He is = Il est. ...
- We are = on est. ...
- We are = nous sommes. ...
- You are = vous êtes (formal or you all) ...
- They are = Elles sont (for an exclusively feminine group)
- aller > to go.
- arriver > to arrive.
- descendre > to descend / go downstairs. redescendre > to descend again.
- entrer > to enter. rentrer > to re-enter.
- monter > to climb. remonter > to climb again.
- mourir > to die.
- naître > to be born. ...
- partir > to leave.
- READ ME – Formal vs. Modern French Pronunciation of Être.
- 1 – Être – Present Indicative.
- 2 – Être – Past Participle.
- 3 – Être – Simple Past Indicative.
- 4 – Être – Imperfect Indicatif.
- 5 – Être – Future Indicative.
- 6 – Être – Pluperfect.
- 7 – Être – Future Perfect.
The basic rule of thumb is as follows: 'Avoir' is used for transitive verbs (that is, verbs that take a direct object). Examples include 'Manger', 'Voir', 'Regarder' and 'Lancer'. 'Être' is used for intransitive verbs (that is, verbs that do not take a direct object), especially verbs of movement.How many verbs go with être? ›
Most verbs use avoir as their helping verb, but there are 17 that use être. Before going any further, let's recap the conjugation of être in the present tense, since you'll need it for these verbs in the passé composé.What is the rarest French tense? ›
The rarest French verb form is the pluperfect subjunctive (aka past perfect subjunctive). It's a literary tense, meaning that it's reserved for formal, written French – mainly literature, but also history and journalism.
French is ranked as one of the hardest languages to learn because grammatical structures are more difficult for native English speakers, such as sentence word order (which can be changed depending on whether speaker or subject is the focus of the sentence), compound nouns, the agreement between adjective and noun which ...Is French grammar more difficult than Spanish? ›
Spanish grammar is considered more difficult to understand than French grammar. The vocabulary of the French language is less challenging because of the similar words French and English share. Vocabulary is harder to learn in Spanish because there are less similar words to the English language.How is être used in French? ›
Être (pronounced: ay-tr, with a soft 'r' at the end) is used to indicate how things are. Literally meaning 'to be', être can be conjugated with the various French subject pronouns, paired with adjectives or used in numerous idiomatic expressions. Each French pronoun requires a different conjugation of the verb être.What is the future tense of être? ›
il / elle / on sera (he / she / we will be) nous serons (we will be) vous serez (you will be) ils / elles seront (they will be)What verb group is être in? ›
Reflexive verbs (or "pronominal verbs") are conjugated with être. être is used to form the passive voice.What past tense verbs use être? ›
|né·e||→||naître (to be born)|
|rentré·e||→||rentrer (to return, go home)|
|retourné·e||→||retourner (to return, send back)|
|resté·e||→||rester (to stay)|
|tombé·e||→||tomber (to fall down)|
- Je suis americain. - I am American.
- Tu es anglais. - You are English.
- Il est français. - He is French.
- Elle est française. - She is French.
- Nous sommes japonais. - We are Japanese.
- Vous êtes mexicains. ...
- Ils sont italiens. ...
- Elles sont italiennes.
- Monter (elle est montée)
- Retourner (elle est retournée)
- Sortir (elle est sortie)
- Venir (elle est venue)
- Aller (elle est allée)
- Naître (elle est née)
- Descendre (elle est descendue)
- Entrer (elle est entrée)
An easy way to remember some of these verbs is to use the Dr and Mrs Vandertramp or Dr Mrs P Vandertramp mnemonics. Each letter in the sentence Dr and Mrs P Vandertramp represents the beginning of a verb that uses être as a helping verb when conjugated in the passé composé.What are the 100 most common French verbs? ›
- Être Conjugation (To be)
- Avoir Conjugation (To have)
- Pouvoir Conjugation (Can, to be able to)
- Vouloir Conjugation (To want)
- Faire Conjugation (To do, to make)
- Aller Conjugation (To go)
- Venir Conjugation (To come)
- Devenir Conjugation (To become)
The Big Four Irregular French Verbs (Être, Avoir, Aller and Faire) The following verbs are essential to know: être (to be), avoir (to have), aller (to go) and faire (to do/make). These four verbs are perhaps the most important irregular verbs in all of the French language.What are 10 er verbs in French? ›
- Aimer (to like, to love)
- Changer (to change)
- Demander (to ask)
- Écouter (to listen)
- Fabriquer (to make)
- Habiter (to live)
- Jouer (to play)
- Manger (to eat)
The passé composé of 17 verbs is formed by combining the present tense of être (je suis, tu es, il est, nous sommes, vous êtes, ils sont) and then adding the past participle of the verb showing the action.How do you know if passé composé is être or avoir? ›
In these cases you would use avoir to form the passé composé because the verb now has a direct object. Verbs that indicate a change of state (devenir = to become) also use être when forming the passé composé. All reflexive verbs require the use of être when forming the passé composé.What are the three forms of être in the imperative? ›
Être means 'to be'. We commonly use it to give our nationality and profession, or to describe people and things. Avoir means 'to have'. We use it to say our age (unlike English which uses the verb 'to be'), or talk about things in our possession.What French verbs should I learn first? ›
As I mentioned, many of the most common verbs in French are irregular. The first two irregular verbs you should learn are avoir and être, 'to have' and 'to be' respectively. Once you have mastered these, move on to verbs like aller and venir, ('to go' and 'to come') and so on.What are the 17 irregular verbs in French? ›
- aller – to go. Je vais. Tu vas. Il/Elle va. ...
- avoir – to have. J'ai. Tu as. ...
- dire – to say, to tell. Je dis. Tu dis. ...
- être – to be. Je suis. Tu es. ...
- faire – to make, to do. Je fais. Tu fais. ...
- pouvoir – to be able to do. Je peux. Tu peux. ...
- savoir – to know, to know how to. Je sais. Tu sais. ...
- voir – to see. Je vois. Tu vois.
The most common verbs in French are avoir (to have), aller (to go), être (to be), and faire (to do).Is French one of the hardest language? ›
In their language difficulty ranking, the Foreign Service Institute puts French in the top ten easiest languages to learn for English-speakers, alongside notoriously easy languages such as Spanish and Italian.
Is English Harder than French To Learn? French is not as hard to learn as it is considered by most of the people, especially when compared to English. In fact, it is a language that's much easier to achieve fluency in than you'd have ever expected. English is inconsistent when it comes to pronunciation.How many French tenses do I need to know? ›
|Passé Composé||Past||Most Common|
But research shows that learning a second language offers proven benefits for intelligence, memory, and concentration, plus lowered risks of dementia and Alzheimer's. So what if you are over 40 and want to learn a second language? The good news is, it can be done. I learned French in my 50s.Can I learn French at 35? ›
You can learn basic grammar and vocabulary at any age. That explains my “good enough” French. But there's also an enormous amount of low-frequency words and syntax that even native speakers might encounter only once a year. Knowing any one of these “occasional” words or phrasings isn't essential.Which one is easier French or Spanish? ›
Spanish is simpler to pronounce and most English speakers will find it easier to learn speaking fluently Spanish than to learn speakinf fluently in French. In terms of vocabulary, French and English are very close due to their shared history.Which is harder French or German? ›
French tends to be easier for beginners, though it gets harder as you get into its intermediate and advanced layers. German has a tougher on-ramp for beginners, but gets easier as you go along.Which is easier French or Italian? ›
On Babbel's internal ranking of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn, Italian ranked in seventh place, and French was eighth (out of nine). All in all, difficulty probably shouldn't be a major factor in your decision, because they're fairly equal in that regard.What is the easiest language to speak? ›
1. Norwegian. This may come as a surprise, but we have ranked Norwegian as the easiest language to learn for English speakers. Norwegian is a member of the Germanic family of languages — just like English!What is the difference between être and avoir? ›
'Avoir' is used for transitive verbs (that is, verbs that take a direct object). Examples include 'Manger', 'Voir', 'Regarder' and 'Lancer'. 'Être' is used for intransitive verbs (that is, verbs that do not take a direct object), especially verbs of movement. Examples include 'Venir', 'Aller', 'Rester' and 'Sortir'.What tense is a été in French? ›
2 – Être – Past Participle
The past participle of a verb is used to form compound tenses like passé-composé. We'll talk more about it below. The past participle of être is “été“.
- Tu es fort. – You are strong.
- Elle es jolie. – She is pretty.
- Vous etes haut. – You are tall.
- Il est petite. – He is small.
- Nous sommes heureux. – We are happy.
- Vous êtes fous. – You are crazy.
- Ma soeur est à la France. – My sister is in France.
- I have = J'ai. I have two dogs = J'ai deux chiens.
- You have = Tu as (casual) You have a big problem = Tu as un gros problème.
- She has = Elle a. ...
- He has = Il a. ...
- We have = on a. ...
- We have = nous avons. ...
- You have = vous avez (formal or you all) ...
- They have = Elles ont (for an exclusively feminine group)
- aller (to go)
- arriver (to arrive)
- décéder (to die)
- demeurer (to remain)
- descendre (to go down, descend)
- devenir (to become)
- entrer (to enter)
- monter (to go up)
Most verbs use avoir as their helping verb, but there are 17 that use être. Before going any further, let's recap the conjugation of être in the present tense, since you'll need it for these verbs in the passé composé.What is an example of être? ›
Être = to be someone
Pierre est étudiant. Pierre is a student. J'ai été témoin dans ce procès. I was a witness in that trial.
The word “summer” in French is l'été.
Although the French word for season, la saison is feminine, l'été is masculine.
Je vais + the whole verb (infinitive) which either ends in –er/-re or –ir =' I am going to 'which communicates a future tense. This is called the simple future.How do you use être in past tense? ›
In all cases using être as the auxiliary verb, however, agreement between the past participle and the subject of the sentence is required. We can make them agree by adding an -e, s, or -es to the end of the past participle depending on whether the subject is feminine singular, plural, or feminine and plural.How many verbs are in French? ›
Not surprising when you know there are about 12,000 French verbs that can be divided into more than a hundred conjugated forms! You need to know that there is a big difference between French and English tenses.What tense is C est? ›
At the same time, French has several other pronouns that don't have direct equivalents in English. One of them, ce, is used with the verb être (to be) to make c'est in the present tense – as well as ce sont in the plural and ce sera, ce serait etc. in other tenses.
The third person plural conjugation of avoir is "ont" therefore Ils ont ......