Take chances, make mistakes. That's how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.Mary Tyler Moore
Are you a student learning French and finding it difficult to remember the correct conjugations? The four most common verbs in French are être, avoir, aller and faire. These four verbs can help you start your way through the rest of the grammar!
Although these four French verbs are often overlooked, not only beginners but also students who have been learning French for many years will be happy to discover that they help one learn many other words. In fact, knowing how to use “être,” “avoir,” “aller” and “faire” in sentences is the key to mastering beginner-level level grammar rules. So don't skip over them – study them and keep practicing!
Être – to be, to express a state/condition (auxiliary: avoir)
Always use “être” to express a state/condition or some kind of being. This is why beginners have a hard time understanding this tricky verb because it has many strange meanings linked to it, like must, should, could, may, might. When you hear any of these expressions in English (and they are common ), remember that you should always use “être” in French.
Quand es-tu arrivé chez ton ami? – Je suis arrivé à 18h20. (When did you arrive at your friend's place?) – I arrived at 6:20 p.m.
Es-tu déjà allée en France? – Non, je n'y suis jamais allée mais j'ai parlé avec des personnes qui y sont déjà allées et je les crois quand ils me disent que c'est une belle région du monde! (Have you been to France yet? – No, I've never been there but I've talked with people who have and they all told me the same thing: that it's a beautiful country!)
Il doit être arrivé. (He must have arrived)
Cela peut-il être fait rapidement? (Can this be done quickly?)
Use “être” to express when two events happen: first event + il est/elle est + second verb in the past participle (-e or -ée). These verbs are in 1st person plural form because both events happen to us.
Nous sommes arrivés au restaurant à 18h30 et il était déjà plein à craquer! (We arrived at the restaurant at 6:30 p.m. and it was already jam-packed!)
Je suis descendue du train avec toute ma valise, je me suis retrouvée devant le tapis roulant et comme il était arrêté j'ai failli lâcher mes bagages! (I got off the train with my huge suitcase in tow, I found myself in front of the luggage conveyor belt which was stopped so I almost dropped everything!)
Other examples of how to use ‘être'
- Être rassasié(e) f. = to be full / satisfied
- Être blessé(e) f. = to be hurt
- Être furieux(euse) f. = to be furious
- Être malade= to be sick
- Être heureux(euse) f. = to be happy
- Être malin = to be smart
Avoir – to have, possession/ownership (auxiliary: avoir)
Avoir is used to express ownership, e.g., J'ai un chien (I own a dog), Je n'ai pas de frère (I don't have a brother), and Ils ont des enfants (They have children).
J'ai les yeux verts. (I have green eyes.)
Green eyes belong to me, so it's translated using the verb “avoir.” If you ask me if I have green eyes, you're asking whether or not a part of my body has got this color, and the answer would be yes.
Elle a quel âge? – Elle en a 22. (How old is she? – She's 22 years old.)
Other examples of how to use ‘avoir':
- Avoir à = must, to have to
- Avoir faim = to be hungry (Notice that YOU HAVE hunger and not to be confused with I am hungry in English.)
- Avoir de = to own something, e.g. avoir une maison = to own a house
- Avoir besoin de means “to need” / to need something (someone)
Elle a besoin de toi! (She needs you!)
- Avoir la forme means “to be dressed” or “to have clothes on.” This is not an expression beginners use much, so it's one you're probably safe skipping!
Note: Both avoir and être are auxiliary verbs used in simple tenses with the past participle of other verbs. Think of them as verbs that help other verbs live their life to the fullest!
Aller – to go (auxiliary: être)
Aller is the generic way to say to go. Later we can learn about sortir, partir, laisser, and quitter.
French is all about the context, but to get the ball rolling, we'll start with aller. It's one of those verbs that works pretty much on every level, so you can feel good about it being part of your French language arsenal.
Où vas-tu? (Where are you going?)
Je vais à la poste. (I am going to the post office.)
Ça ira! (I am going to the post office.)
Je vais y aller. (I'm going to go.)
Je vais faire… (I'm going to do.)
Allons-y! (Let's go!)
Other examples of how to use ‘aller':
- Aller voir = to go see
- Aller à l’école = to go to school
- Aller au lit = to go to bed
- Aller à la pêche = to go fishing
- Aller en bateau = to go sailing
Faire – to do, to make (auxiliary: avoir)
When you want to say that someone or something is doing something, use the verb faire.
Cela ne fait rien. (That doesn't matter.)
Le soleil fait beau aujourd'hui! (The sun is shining today!)
Il fait chaud! (It's hot!; weather. Think of it like this, the weather makes heat.)
Que fais-tu? (What are you doing?)
Je suis en train de faire la vaisselle. (I am doing the dishes.)
Faire can also express the fact that someone or something has some quality.
Elle fait tour guide pour les étrangers. (She's an international tour guide.)
Other examples of how to use ‘faire':
- Faire des courses = to go shopping
- Faire attention = to pay attention
- Faire des progrès = to make progress
- Faire la fête = to have a party
Learning languages is hard work but worth it in the end when you can communicate better with people from other cultures!
You may not be fluent yet, but you've learned some French grammar basics. Now it's time to put these three verbs into practice! As I said at the beginning of this post, mastering a language is an ongoing process and requires both dedication and patience. But if you can dedicate yourself for 10 minutes every day or so to studying your new vocabulary words with their appropriate verb tense, then before long, you'll find that reading comprehension becomes easier and conversations with native speakers become more fluid.
So go ahead – give it a try! I can't wait to hear how well you're doing 🙂
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