French Verbs "Habiter" and "Vivre"

Both mean 'live'; is there any difference?

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French has two main verbs that mean the equivalent of the English verb "to live": habiter and vivre.

There are other, related verbs, such as loger, which means "to lodge," as in rent a room in a pension and live there. Or demeurer ("to live or stay somewhere," "to remain"), résider ("to reside"), and séjourner ("to stay for a while," "to sojourn"). But implicit in all these alternatives are slight differences in meaning. This multiplicity should be easy for English speakers to accept since we employ even more synonyms for "to live."

How Common Are the Verbs 'Habiter' and 'Vivre'?

Let's begin with the underlying idea here: that habiter and vivre are by the far the most common and generic French verbs meaning "to live." Both may generalize about the concept of living, but they still have distinct differences in meaning and usage, which you can learn easily enough. It pays to know how to use these essential French verbs because if you were to live in a French-speaking country, you would probably use one or both of them every day. 

Since they are both such basic verbs representing such basic concepts, they have naturally inspired many colorful idiomatic expressionsvivre probably more than habiter. A few of these are listed below.

Where You Live ('Habiter')

Habiter is the equivalent of to live in, to reside in, to inhabit, and it emphasizes where one lives. Habiter is a regular -er verb and may or may not take a preposition. For example:

  • J'habite Paris / J'habite à Paris. — I live in Paris.
  • Nous avons habité une maison / dans une maison. — We lived in a house.
  • Il n'a jamais habité la banlieue / en banlieue. — He has never lived in the suburbs.
  • Cette maison n'est pas habitée. — This house is unoccupied.

Habiter can also be used figuratively:

  • Une passion incroyable l'habite. — An incredible passion lives in (inhabits) him.
  • Elle est habitée par la jalousie. — She's gripped (inhabited) by jealousy.

Expressions With 'Habiter'

  • les craintes / les démons qui l'habitent — the fears / the demons within him
  • habiter à l'hôtel — to live or to stay in a hotel
  • Vous habitez chez vos parents ? — Do you live at home ?
  • habiter quelqu'un — to possess someone  
  • habiter à la campagne — to live in the country
  • habiter en pleine cambrousse — to live in the middle of nowhere
  • habiter à l'autre bout du monde — to live halfway around the world
  • habiter en résidence universitaire — to live in a dorm / a residence hall
  • zone habitée — populated area
  • vol spatial habité / vol non-habité — manned space flight / unmanned flight 
  • J'habite au-dessus / au-dessous. — I live upstairs / downstairs.
  • prêt à l'habitat / crédit à l'habitat — building loan / property loan
  • amélioration de l'habitat, rénovation — housing improvement, renovation

How and When You Live ('Vivre')

Vivre is an irregular -re verb that usually expresses how or when one lives. Translated, it means "to be," "live," "exist," "stay alive," "have a specified way of life."

  • Elle vit dans le luxe. > She lives in luxury.
  • Voltaire a vécu au 18e siècle. > Voltaire lived in the 18th century.
  • Il vit toujours avec sa mère. > He still lives with his mother.
  • Nous vivons des jours heureux ! > We're living in happy days!

Less frequently, vivre can also express where one lives.

  •  Je vis à Paris, mais ma copine vit en Provence. > I live in Paris, but my friend lives in Provence.

Expressions With 'Vivre'

  • vivre en paix — to live in peace
  • vivre libre et indépendant — to lead a free and independent life
  • vivre au jour le jour — to take each day as it comes / to live day by day
  • vivre dans le péché — to live in sin / to lead a sinful life
  • il fait bon vivre ici. — Life is good. / It's a good life here.
  • une maison où il fait bon vivre — a house that's good to live in
  • Elle a beaucoup vécu. — She's seen life. / She's lived a lot.
  • On ne vit plus. — We're worried sick. / This isn't a life. or This isn't what you can call living.
  • savoir vivre — to have manners, to know how to enjoy life  
  • Ils vécurent heureux et eurent beaucoup d'enfants. — (And) they lived happily ever after.
  • être facile à vivre — to be easygoing or easy to get along with
  • être difficile à vivre — to be difficult to get along with
  • l'espoir fait vivre !  — We all live in hope !
  • il faut bien vivre ! — One's got to keep the wolf from the door or to live (somehow) !
  • vivre aux crochets de quelqu'un — to sponge off somebody
  • vivre de l'air du temps — to live on thin air
  • vivre d'amour et d'eau fraîche — to live on love alone
  • vivre sa vie — to live one's own life
  • vivre sa foi — to live intensely through one's faith
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Team, ThoughtCo. "French Verbs "Habiter" and "Vivre"." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Team, ThoughtCo. (2023, April 5). French Verbs "Habiter" and "Vivre". Retrieved from Team, ThoughtCo. "French Verbs "Habiter" and "Vivre"." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).