Introduction to the French Past Infinitive

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The French past infinitive indicates an action that occurred before the action of the main verb, but only when the subject of both verbs is the same. The past infinitive sounds awkward in English—we usually change it to another tense or reword the sentence completely, as you can see here:

Je veux avoir terminé avant midi.

  • I want to have finished by noon.
  • I want to finish by noon.

Il regrette d'être parti.

  • He regrets having left.
  • He regrets leaving.

Using the Past Infinitive

There are four main uses of the French past infinitive:

To modify the verb in the main clause:

  • J'aurais préféré t'avoir vu hier: I would have preferred seeing you yesterday.
  • Il se rappelle d'être venu ici il y a un an: He remembers coming here a year ago.

To modify the adjective in the main clause:

  • Je suis ravi de t'avoir vu: I'm delighted to have seen you.
  • Il est content d'être venu ici il y a un an: He's happy that he came here a year ago.

After the preposition après:

  • Après t'avoir vu, j'étais heureux: After seeing you, I was happy.
  • Après être venu ici, il a acheté une voiture: After coming here, he bought a car.

To express gratitude:

  • Je vous remercie de m'avoir aidé: I thank you for helping me.
  • Merci de m'avoir envoyé la lettre: Thank you for sending me the letter.

Word Order With the Past Infinitive

In everyday French, negative adverbs do not surround the infinitive; they both precede it:

  • Excusez-moi de ne pas être venu: Excuse me for not coming (not having come).
  • Je suis ravi de ne jamais avoir raté un examen: I'm delighted that I've never failed a test (to have never failed a test).

In formal French, however, they may surround it.

  • Veuillez m'excuser de n'avoir pas assisté à la réunion: Please excuse me for not attending the meeting.

As with the other compound tenses, object and adverbial pronouns precede the auxiliary verb of the past infinitive:

  • Après t'avoir vu: After seeing you... (After having seen you...)
  • Il se rappelle d'y être allé: He remembers going there (having gone there).

The past infinitive is a compound conjugation, which means it has two parts:

  1. infinitive of the auxiliary verb (either avoir or être)
  2. past participle of the main verb

Note: Like all French compound conjugations, the past infinitive may be subject to grammatical agreement:

  • When the auxiliary verb is être, the past participle must agree with the subject
  • When the auxiliary verb is avoir, the past participle may have to agree with its direct object
parler choisir vendre
avoir parlé avoir choisi avoir vendu
aller sortir descendre
être allé(e)(s) être sorti(e)(s) être descendu(e)(s)
se taire s'évanouir se souvenir
s'être tu(e)(s) s'être évanoui(e)(s) s'être souvenu(e)(s)

Since the infinitive auxiliary verb is unconjugated, the past infinitive is the same conjugation for all subjects.

Je veux avoir terminé... I want to have finished...
Nous voulons avoir terminé... We want to have finished...

 However, you do need to follow the normal rules of agreement:

Après être sortis, nous... After having gone out, we...
J'ai téléphoné à Anne après l'avoir vue. I called Anne after having seen her.

And pronominal verbs still need a reflexive pronoun that agrees with the subject

Je veux m'être habillé avant midi. I want to have gotten dressed before noon.
Après vous être lavés... After you've washed up...
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Team, ThoughtCo. "Introduction to the French Past Infinitive." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Team, ThoughtCo. (2023, April 5). Introduction to the French Past Infinitive. Retrieved from Team, ThoughtCo. "Introduction to the French Past Infinitive." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).