Avoir – The Conjugation and Tenses of the French Irregular Verb

Salut! Ça fait longtemps, mais je suis là.

Hello! It’s been a long time, but here I am. I’m happy to announce that my French studies have been going very well! When I’m learning, I can’t move on to something new until I fully understand the why and how of what’s in front of me. I take great pleasure in being completely confident in my ability to properly use a new word, as well as understanding why, when, and how to use said new word. Having said that, certain things I once had trouble with in my French studies have lately seemed to just click, and I’ve begun to understand more clearly and add to my cache of knowledge on the subject. So today, we’re going to take a deeper look at one of the first verbs beginner French speakers learn, and that’s avoir, which means to have. It’s the verb with the most conjugations, as it has a multitude of uses.

Present tense conjugations of avoir are commonplace in the beginning and are easy to recognize:

J’ai – I have
Tu as – you have (informal)
Vous avez – you have (formal)
Il/elle a – he/it/she has
Nous avons – we have
Ils/elles ont – they have

Now comes the tricky part. Avoir has numerous tenses and conjugations, depending on the mood and who’s speaking. But if you’re like me, it’s difficult to remember all the different tenses and what each one means. There’s present, present perfect, imperfect, future, future perfect, pluperfect, nearly perfect, less than perfect… Okay, so maybe those last two I made up. But the six tenses prior are all legitimate. But again, I never remember what exactly ‘present perfect’ or ‘pluperfect’ mean, and honestly, I can’t be bothered to care. So that’s why I’m taking the liberty of conjugating avoir for you in each of these tenses, as well as writing the English equivalent. This way, if you’re having trouble knowing when to use which conjugation, just remember that how you’d say it in English, that’s the translation you’d need to use in French, too. Note that as I conjugated the present tense above, it will not appear below. Enjoy.

Present Perfect Tense (English: have had)

J’ai eu – I have had
Tu as eu – you have had (informal)
Vous avez eu – you have had (formal)
Il/elle a eu – he/it/she has had
Nous avons eu – we have had
Ils/elles ont eu – they have had

Imperfect Tense (English: had)

J’avais – I had
Tu avais – you had (informal)
Vous aviez – you had (formal)
Il/elle avait – he/it/she had
Nous avions – we had
Ils/elles avaient – they had

Pluperfect Tense (English: had had)

J’avais eu – I had had
Tu avais eu – you had had (informal)
Vous aviez eu – you had had (formal)
Il/elle avait eu – he/it/she had had
Nous avions eu – we had had
Ils/elles avaient eu – they had had

Future Tense (English: will have)

J’aurai – I will have
Tu auras – you will have (informal)
Vous aurez – you will have (formal)
Il/elle aura – he/it/she will have
Nous aurons – we will have
Ils/elles auront – they will have

Future Perfect Tense (English: will have had)

J’aurai eu – I will have had
Tu auras eu – you will have had (informal)
Vous aurez eu – you will have had (formal)
Il/elle aura eu – he/it/she will have had
Nous aurons eu – we will have had
Ils/elles auront eu – they will have had

Conditional Present Mood (English: would have)

J’aurais – I would have
Tu aurais – you would have (informal)
Vous auriez – you would have (formal)
Il/elle aurait – he/it/she would have
Nous aurions – we would have
Ils/elles auraient – they would have

Conditional Past Mood (English: would have had)

J’aurais eu – I would have had
Tu aurais eu – you would have had (informal)
Vous auriez eu – you would have had (formal)
Il/elle aurait eu – he/it/she would have had
Nous aurions eu – we would have had
Ils/elles auraient eu – they would have had

The spellings of each conjugation are important, as the accidental omission or addition of a letter could potentially be the wrong translation. But getting the hang of that will come in time. And just when you thought that the previously listed eight moods were overwhelming, they don’t stop there. There are three other tenses: the subjunctive (uncertainty of events), the imperative (a demand/request/suggestion), and the three participles (perfect: having done/had; past: when avoir acts as a helping verb; present: to be in the process of). But I’ll elaborate more on those in a future post, once I get the hang of them myself. In the meantime, I hope this post has helped to clear up any confusion you may have had surrounding the enigmatic avoir. Any questions or concerns? As always, feel free to leave them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them all. Also, a disclaimer: I am still learning, so if any of the above information is incorrect, please, by all means, let me know. I don’t want to be teaching potential/beginner French speakers how to conjugate incorrectly! Ce ne serait pas bon. 🙂

Happy tensing! (See what I did there?)


Fluent French speakers: I need your help

French is a beautiful and romantic language, and I am enjoying every minute I spend studying and practicing it. As with any new language, however, I’m having some difficulties. I guess I shouldn’t complain, since my native tongue is English, and English is one of the most difficult language to learn. It’s got all kinds of inconsistent rules, the pronunciation of the vowels varies depending on the word, some letters are contextually pronounced as others, etc.

Back to my point. I’m struggling to understand certain rules in French, insofar as when to use different forms of the same word. I’m using a fantastic app called Duolingo which allows anyone to learn a new language, free of charge. It’s very good about explaining when to use what. But sometimes, it leaves me hanging.

Par exemple:

The words eux and les both mean ‘them.’ But are they interchangeable? If not, when do I use which word? I’ve tried scouring Google for answers, but the results are explained confusingly and are unhelpful. I’ve also occasionally seen leur, which means ‘their,’ used to mean ‘them.’ Did I make that up? Or is it really a thing? 

The phrase ce sont eux qui dirigent translates into ‘they are the ones driving.’ (Literally: it is them who drive.) Could I use les in place of eux here? Why or why not? My theory is that les refers to inanimate objects, whereas eux is in regards to people or animals. Is this at all true?

Un autre exemple:

Nous is the formal word for ‘we’/’us.’ I’m familiar with the conjugation for this form. However, on is the informal version. Sometimes, I’m caught off-guard by its usage. It seems to me that the conjugation of on is the same as the conjugation of the forms il/elle. Is this correct? (i.e. nous allons = ‘we go’; on va/il va = ‘we go,’ ‘he goes.’)

These two examples are what stump me the most in French. There are others, and as I come across them again in my studies, I will post addendums to request more help. Any and all feedback is greatly appreciated!