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?)

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Sunday

I saw you at a time
when the wind wasn’t blowing in my direction

and you disappeared quicker
than I can say
‘Sunday’


Je t’ai vu à un moment
quand le vent ne souffle pas dans ma direction

et tu as disparu plus vite
que je peux dire
‘dimanche’

On: Phonétique française – A closer look at French Phonetics

In my French studies, I’ve come across several different accents above varying letters. Par exemple: à (e.g. là – ‘there’), ô (e.g. tôt – ‘soon’), é (e.g. légère – ‘light’), and so on. Though I’ve been able to pick up on how to pronounce each accented letter due to repetitive use, I’ve still been curious as to the meaning behind each accent. It varies per language, but what (hopefully) follows is a clarification regarding each accent and its respective rules in the French language. grave The grave accent, seen above the letter a in the French word là, generally marks the openness of a vowel. The openness refers to the height at which your jaw is positioned during pronunciation. (‘Open’ means your jaw is literally more open; ‘close’ means the opposite.) In French, it is used on three letters: ae, and u.

Its only purpose for appearing above letters a and u is to differentiate between homonyms that are otherwise spelled the same way; the pronunciation is not affected. In other words: a is the third-person singular present tense conjugation of the verb avoir (to have – elle a = she has). À on the other hand means to/belonging to/towards. Both words are pronounced the same; the grave accent is used to distinguish them.

When placed above the letter e, it marks a change in pronunciation. The letter è in French is pronounced open, as I mentioned earlier; it shares the same pronunciation as the ai in the English word air.

circumflex

The circumflex accent plays an interesting role in the French language. When placed over the letter (ergo, ê), it is pronounced open, much like è. I like to say that ê is pronounced the same as in the English word get when followed by the letter t; i.e. fête (party), tête (head). When used as ô, it is pronounced close, as it is in l’eau (the water), and plutôt (rather).

Not unlike the grave accent, the circumflex is also used to distinguish homophones. For instance; cote, meaning mark or level, and côte, meaning rib or coast. Now comes the interesting part.

The circumflex accent is also used to denote an English-to-French translation in which the letter s, used in the corresponding English word, has been omitted and thus is no longer pronounced in the French equivalent. Confused? Here are some examples:

  • ancêtre, meaning ‘ancestor’
  • hôpital, meaning ‘hospital’
  • pâte, meaning ‘paste’
  • août, meaning ‘August’ 

You’ll notice the s was lost in translation. See what I did there?

Fait intéressant: In handwritten French, such as when taking notes, an  may be used as an informal abbreviation to mean même (same).

acute

The acute accent in most Romance languages implies a stressed vowel; i.e. a vowel that emphasis is placed on in pronunciation. However, stress is not implied by the acute accent in French. It is only used on é, and should be pronounced like the letter e is in the English word seenE in French without the acute accent is normally stressless, and by itself, should be pronounced as the u in the English word put

cedilla

The cedilla is easily recognizable as the little tail that hangs off the letter c in the commonly used French word ça, meaning it. It is used to mark the soft sound with which to pronounce the letter c as opposed to the hard k sound, as in canard (duck).

oe

The œ is not so much an accent as it is a ligature (a combination) of the letters o and into a single glyph. It is pronounced the same as in the French consecutive letter pairing eu which sounds like the oo in the English words book and took. When oe occurs without the ligature, it is pronounced just as oi is in moi (me) and toi (you).

Fait intéressant: In French, œ is called e dans l’o, which literally means e in the o. Due to French pronunciation, it sounds similar to the phrase (des) œufs dans l’eau, meaning eggs in the water. This is a mnemotechnic* pun used when first learning the ligature in primary school.

*Mnemotechny is the study or practice of improving one’s memory.

umlaut

In French, the umlaut is placed over a vowel when it is to be pronounced separately from the preceding letter. On several occasions, you’ll notice that a pairing of vowels in French is pronounced as a single sound. Take mais for example; it means but, and it is monosyllabic. But if you add an umlaut above the i, making it into maïs, its meaning changes to corn, and you must pronounce the vowels separately.

The umlaut is also placed over the letters e and u to denote a pronunciation change when the otherwise silent e follows gu. Compare the French words figue, meaning fig (which shares its English counterpart’s pronunciation), and ciguë, meaning hemlock. The latter is disyllabic due to the added umlaut, and is pronounced sig-y, as opposed to sig


Hopefully this in-depth look at the phonetics of the French language is helpful to you. Maybe you never cared about the accents or their respective uses; that’s fine. Maybe you feel like your time was wasted in reading this. That’s fine, too. I’m not hurt by that…

cuteness-overload-rage-face[1]

But if you’re like me, and you need to learn every single tidbit of information about the language you’re learning and its history, then maybe you found this informative. I hope that’s the case. 🙂


P.S. You may have read in my very first post that I’d been planning to attach a French translation to each entry here on Wordsmith. You may have also noticed that that hasn’t been the case for most of my posts since then. I’ve decided that’s no longer something I’m going to do. Some posts end up being thousands of words long, and the translation takes me an awfully long time, as I’m still in the early stages of developing my French tongue. I may write bilingually in the future once I become more proficient. But for now, since I’m only a novice, and for the sake of saving time and space, 95% of my posts will be in English only. A few here and there may include a French translation, if I’m feeling ambitious. I hope you understand.

Also, a huge thank-you to the 50+ followers I’ve amassed so far. I really appreciate you coming along on this journey of creative writing, language, and occasional ranting and raving with me. It means a lot, and you’re all the reason I do what I do.

Write on.

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!