Understanding the Meaning of the French Verb Chercher

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Chercher is a regular -ER verb and means "to look for." Chercher is commonly used like its English counterpart, but there are a few aspects that make it a little tricky. This lesson explains which verb mood to use with chercher, the meaning of chercher followed by an infinitive, and a few essential expressions with chercher.

Meaning

Chercher means "to look/search for" when it's followed by a noun. The meaning of "for" is built into the verb itself, so it should never followed by the preposition pour.
Que cherches-tu ?
What are you looking for?
Je cherche mes clés
I'm looking for my keys
Il cherche une nouvelle voiture
He's looking for a new car

Chercher and a Verb

When chercher is followed by a verb, it means "to try" or "to attempt" and must be followed by the preposition à:
Je cherche à comprendre la situation
I'm trying to understand the situation
Qu'est-ce que tu cherches à faire ?
What are you trying to do?

Chercher and Verb Moods

Chercher is a rather unusual verb, in that it can be followed by any of three verb moods, with a subtle difference in meaning between each one. This occurs in the construction chercher + indefinite pronoun + verb:

  • Chercher and Indicative
    In this construction, you know that the person or thing exists and you're trying to find him/it:
    Je cherche quelqu'un qui peut m'aider
    I'm looking for someone who can help me
    Je cherche l'homme qui connaît mes parents
    I'm looking for the man who knows my parents
    Je cherche quelque chose qui peut le faire
    I'm looking for something that can do it
    Je cherche une maison verte qui est en centre ville
    I'm looking for a green house downtown (it belongs to my brother)
    Chercher and subjunctive
    The subjunctive indicates in French either that you're not sure the person or thing exists, or that you're not sure you'll be able to find him/it. Unfortunately, this distinction does not exist in English, unless you add some additional words:
    Je cherche quelqu'un qui puisse m'aider
    I'm looking for someone who can (might be able to) help me
    Je cherche un homme qui connaisse mes parents
    I'm looking for a man who knows (might know) my parents
    Je cherche quelque chose qui puisse le faire
    I'm looking for something that can (might be able to) do it
    Je cherche une maison verte qui soit en centre ville
    I'm looking for a green house downtown (that may or may not exist)
    Chercher and Conditional
    With the conditional, you expressing hope about existence of the person or thing and your dream of finding him/it.
    Je cherche quelqu'un qui pourrait m'aider
    I'm looking for someone who can help me
    Je cherche un homme qui connaîtrait mes parents
    I'm looking for a man who might know my parents (I hope there is someone)
    Je cherche quelque chose qui pourrait le faire
    I'm looking for something that can do it
    Je cherche une maison verte qui serait en centre ville
    I'm looking for a green house downtown (I really want to buy a house like that)

    Expressions With Chercher

    "Aller chercher," to fetch, to go and get
    "Chercher midi à 14 heures," to complicate the issue
    "Chercher la petite bête," to split hairs

    Conjugations

    Present tense:
    je cherche
    tu cherches
    il cherche
    nous cherchons
    vous cherchez
    ils cherchent