Conjugation: être and avoir
Bonjour tout le monde ! Hi folks!
Today I'd like to share a bit about a topic which is often the source of little confusions. Though the verbs "to be" and "to have" are the first ones taught in French, I see them repeatedly misused by foreigners of any level.
Therefore, I decided to prepare a quick guide included the conjugation of Avoir & Être at the Present tense of Indicative, then a detailed explanation on how, when and why we use each of them, and finally a short introduction to Compound Past (of Indicative).
1) Conjugation Avoir / Être
I suppose most of you are familiar with them, but even though, a little refreshing can't hurt!
2) When do we use Avoir:
Usually speaking, we separate both verbs by saying that Avoir (to have) is what one possess while Être is used to describe what one is. And even if both languages agree on that they still use the verbs differently, why then?
Age - Emotional state.
French will ALWAYS use "to have" when referring to their age. Though none of us truly "owns" our years , French do not choose to say they "are" their age, but rather that this number reflect what they currently "possess".
This is certainly the very first oddity any French learners discovers, yet, the number of times I see it misused is impressive!
The only way you will get this one is by embracing the concept. Accept the "logic".
As for what I call your "emotional" state, this will refer to any not lasting feeling or emotion. French "are" not hungry. They have (momentarily) hunger. As weird as it sounds, the idea behind is to say, "Well currently, I have this hunger in me". but in no way does it describes you. You are a boy or a girl, you are not your hunger. In 10 minutes, you might not be hungry anymore, but you'll still be a boy.
Most commons emotional states using AVOIR:
- J'ai faim (I'm hungry)
- J'ai soif (I'm thirsty)
- J'ai chaud (I'm hot)
- J'ai froid (I'm cold)
- J'ai peur (I'm scared)
- J'ai sommeil (I'm tired)
There are much more, but these ones should get you far enough for the moment!
3) When do we use ÊTRE:
Though it is difficult to address a list of the various use of the verb, generally speaking, you can narrow them down to a description of something (normally) still and / or long lasting.
Most commons times to use to be:
- Je suis en retard. (I am late)
- Je suis enceinte. (I am pregnant)
- Je suis dans l'avion. (I am in the plane)
- Je suis en Europe. (I'm in Europe)
- Je suis d'accord. ( I agree)
- Je suis grand. (I am tall)
- Je suis son frère. (I am his brother)
In the first example "being late" doesn't describe a person as what they are, nevertheless, using "to be" is the only way to describe the current situation. (Because of the proposition of manner "en retard".)
4) Compound Past (Le Passé Composé)
The compound past is almost the simplest tense to conjugate (see here). It's formed with one of our two auxiliaries (Avoir / Être) conjugated at the present tense + the Past Participle of the verb, that doesn't (usually) change form no matter the gender or number of the subject).
For example : to eat = > J'ai mangé.
But, the compound past can be translated in 3 different ways:
- I ate (Simple Past)
- I did eat (Past emphatic)
- I have eaten (Present perfect)
The first translation is the most common, but you can still find the other two around.
Most common verbs used with Avoir:
- Manger (to eat) = J'ai mangé
- Chanter (to sing) J'ai chanté
- Voir (to see) = J'ai vu
- Lire (to read) = J'ai lu
Unfortunately, conjugation with the verb "être" is a tiny bit harder when it comes to the compound past. Though it keeps the same formula Present + Past Participle, it has a little trick to it, being that we have to adapt the Past Participle to the gender and number of the subject. Easy peasy?!
Therefore: to come = Je suis venu(e).
=> I put the letter "e" separately. If the subject is male, "Je suis venu", if the subject is female "Je suis venue".
Most common verbs with être:
- naître (being born) = Je suis né(e)
- venir (to come) = Je suis venu(e)
- entrer (to come in) = Je suis entré(e)
- rester (to stay) = Je suis resté(e)
To sum all these up, keep in mind that since both verbs are extremely useful to one's communication skills they both have to be mastered in order to become fluent enough in French. The language is rather difficult since it has many little oddities and exceptions to it but remember: 1) English is NOT any easier (conjugation might be, but that's it) and 2) since they are so common the best way for you to get accustomed to their use is through watching movies or listening to songs. It'll take time, but it will sink in, I promise.
Until next time!
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