Conjugating the Major Verbs of French: 'Avoir,' 'Être' 'Faire'

Here are meanings, uses and expressions with links to full conjugations

Essential french verbs

The French verbs avoir ("to have"), être ("to be") and faire ("to do or make") are the three most used and, thus, most important verbs in the French language. They are used in some of the ways that we do in English as well as in many idiomatic expressions. Conjugations for all three of these verbs are irregular. In the table below, you'll see the present tense conjugated for each verb and links to the full, detailed conjugations of each.

'Avoir': Uses 

Avoir, which means"to have" in most senses, has many usesAvoir à can mean "to have to," but that expression is more commonly translated by devoir. Avoir is the auxiliary for most French verbs in the compound tenses, as in J'ai déjà étudié. ("I have already studied.)  

Examples of common usage: 

  •  J'ai un livre. > I have a book.
  •  Nous avons une voiture. > We have a car.  
  •  J'ai mal à la tête. > I have a headache.
  •  J'ai une idée. > I have an idea.
  •  J'ai été eu. > I've been had (tricked).

'Avoir': Expressions

Avoir is used in a number of idiomatic expressions, many of which are translated by the English verb "to be":

  •    J'ai 30 ans. > I am 30 years old.
  •    J'ai soif. > I am thirsty.
  •    J'ai froid. >  I am cold.
  •    Il y a... > There is/are...

'Être': Uses 

Être, which means "to be" in most instances, is used in idiomatic expressions, as an auxiliary verb for some verbs in the compound tenses, and for the passive voice.

Note that even though être is the French equivalent of "to be," there are certain expressions in which you have to use avoir or faire to translate "to be."

It is used with adjectives, nouns and adverbs to describe a temporary or permanent state of being, such as: Il est beau ("He is handsome").

Être is also used to describe someone's profession, as in: Mon père est avocat ("My father is a lawyer").

And être can be used with the preposition à plus a stressed pronoun to indicate possession, like this: Ce livre est à moi ("This is my book").

When talking about the weather, French uses the verb faire (to do/make) rather than être, as in: Quel temps fait-il ? ("How's the weather?")

'Être': Expressions

There's a long list of idiomatic expressions using êtreHere are a few:

être bien dans sa peau > to be at ease/comfortable with oneself

être dans la mouise (familiar) > to be flat broke

être dans son assiette > to feel normal, like oneself

être de > to be at/in (figuratively)

être en train de + infinitive > to be (in the process of) + present participle

être sur son trente et un > to be dressed to the nines

en être > to take part in

ça m'est égal > it's all the same to me 

c'est > it is 

c'est + date > it's (date)

c'est-à-dire > that is, i.e., I mean

C'est la vie ! > That's life!

'Faire': Uses

Faire is used in numerous idiomatic expressions and in the causative construction. Faire means "to do" and "to make" in most senses that these verbs are used in English, as in Je fais la lessive ("I'm doing the laundry").

In French, one takes (not makes) a decision; the expression is prendre une décisionas in: J'ai pris une décision ("I made a decision").

And when "to make" is followed by an adjective, it is translated by rendre, as in: Ça me rend heureux. ("That makes me happy").

'Faire': Expressions

Faire, like avoir and être, is used in many, many idiomatic expressions. Here are a few:

  • 2 et 2 font 4 (math) > 2 plus 2 equals 4
  • faire + infinitive (causative) > to cause something to happen, as in
    Le froid fait geler l'eau. > Cold makes water freeze.
  • faire + beau or mauvais (weather expressions) 
    Il fait beau or il  fait beau temps > It's nice weather / out.
    Il fait mauvais temp or il fait mauvais temp > The weather is bad. 
  • faire attention à > to pay attention to, watch out for
  • faire bon accueil > to welcome
  • faire de la peine à quelqu'un > to hurt someone (emotionally or morally)
  • faire de l'autostop > to hitchhike
  • faire des bêtises > to get into mischief
  • faire une bêtise > to do something stupid

Simple Present Tense of 'Avoir,' 'Être,' and 'Faire 





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