Conjugating the French Verb Voir

Woman looking through telescope
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Voir means "to see" and it is one of the most common verbs in the French language. Students will want to take quite a bit of time studying this very useful verb because it has a variety of uses and meanings. It's also important to understand how to conjugate it into the present, past, and future tenses.

This lesson is a good introduction to voir and will give you a nice foundation for using it in conversation and within common expressions.

The Many Meanings of Voir

In a general sense, voir means "to see" as in, "Je vois Lise le samedi." (I see Lise on Saturdays.) or "Je vois deux chiens." (I see two dogs.). In the right context, however, it can take on a slightly different meaning.

Voir can mean "to see" figuratively, in the sense of "to witness" or "to experience":

  • Je n'ai jamais vu un tel enthousiasme. - I've never seen such enthusiasm.
  • Il a vu la mort de tous ses amis. - He has seen (lived through) the deaths of all of his friends.

Voir is also commonly used to mean "to see" in the sense of "to understand:"

  • Ah, je vois ! - Oh, I see! (I get it, I understand)
  • Je ne vois pas la différence. - I don't see (understand) the difference.
  • Je ne vois pas comment vous avez décidé. - I don't see (understand) how you decided.

Simple Conjugations of Voir

Voir, like many other common French verbs, has irregular conjugations. They are so irregular that you simply have to memorize the full conjugation because it doesn't fall into a predictable pattern.

However, you can study it along with similar verbs like dormirmentir, and partir, which add similar endings to the verb stem.

We're going to keep the verb conjugations simple in this lesson and concentrate on its most basic forms. The indicative mood is the most common of them all and should be your priority when studying voir.

Using this first table, you can match the subject pronoun to the correct tense. For instance, "I see" is je vois and "we will see" is nous verrons. Practicing these in short sentences will help you learn them much faster.

 PresentFutureImperfect
jevoisverraivoyais
tuvoisverrasvoyais
ilvoitverravoyait
nousvoyonsverronsvoyions
vousvoyezverrezvoyiez
ilsvoientverrontvoyaient

The present participle of voir is voyant.

To form the passé composé of voir, you will need the auxiliary verb avoir and the past participle vu. With these two elements, you can construct this common past tense to match the subject pronoun. For example, "we saw" is nous avons vu.

While the indicative forms of voir should be your priority, it's a good idea to be able to recognize a few other verb moods. Both the subjunctive and conditional are used when the action of seeing is questionable or uncertain, for instance. It's also possible that you'll come across the passé simple or imperfect subjunctive, but those are mostly found in formal writing.

 SubjunctiveConditionalPassé SimpleImperfect Subjunctive
jevoieverraisvisvisse
tuvoiesverraisvisvisses
ilvoieverraitvitvît
nousvoyionsverrionsvîmesvissions
vousvoyiezverriezvîtesvissiez
ilsvoientverraientvirentvissent

The imperative verb mood is used for commands and demands that are short and to the point. When using it, skip the subject pronoun. For example, Voyons ! simply means "Come on! Let's see!"

 Imperative
(tu)vois
(nous)voyons
(vous)voyez

Voir With Other Verbs

You can pair voir with other verbs to alter its meaning and fit the context of the sentence. Here are a few common examples of that in action.

Voir can be followed by an infinitive to mean "to see" literally or figuratively:

  • As-tu vu sauter la petite fille? - Did you see the little girl jump?
  • J'ai vu grandir ses enfants. - I saw (witnessed) his children growing up.

Aller voir means "to go (and) see":

  • Tu devrais aller voir un film. - You should go see a movie.
  • Va voir si elle est prête. - Go and see if she's ready.

Faire voir means "to show":

  • Fais-moi voir tes devoirs. - Let me see / Show me your homework.
  • Fais voir! - Let me see! Show me!

Voir venir is informal and figurative, meaning "to see something/someone coming":

  • Je te vois venir. - I see where you're going (with this), what you're leading up to.
  • Mais c'est trop cher ! On t'a vu venir ! - But that's too expensive! They saw you coming!

Using Se Voir: Pronominal and Passive

Se voir can be a pronominal or passive voice construction.

In the pronominal construction, se voir can be used as a reflexive verb, meaning "to see oneself." For instance, "Te vois-tu dans la glace ?" (Do you see yourself in the mirror?) or "Je me vois habiter en Suisse." (I see / can imagine myself living in Switzerland.).

In a figurative sense, the pronominal reflexive of se voir can also mean "to find oneself" or " to be in the position of." An example of this may be, "Je me vois obligé de partir." (I find myself obliged to leave.) When speaking about someone else, you might use it in a sentence such as, "Il s'est vu contraint d'en parler." (He found himself forced to talk about it.).

Another type of pronominal verb is the reciprocal. When used with se voir, it takes on the meaning of "to see each other." For example, you might say, "Nous nous voyons tous les jours." (We see each other every day.) or "Quand se sont-ils vus ?" (When did they see each other?).

When se voir is used in the passive voice. it can also have multiple meanings:

  • to happen; to show, be visible. This has many uses, including the common phrases of, "Ça se voit" (That happens) and "Ça ne se voit pas tous les jours." (You don't see that / That doesn't happen every day)
  • se voir plus an infinitive means to be ___ed. For example, " Il s'est vu dire de se taire." (He was told to be quiet) and "Je me suis vu interdire de répondre." (I was forbidden to respond.).

Expressions With Voir

Voir is used in a number of very common French expressions. One of the best-known is déjà vu, which means "already seen." You can also use it for short phrases such as on verra (we'll see) and voir venir (wait and see).

Though it means "to see," voir can be used to convey a positive or negative relationship between things as well:

  • avoir quelque chose à voir avec/dans - to have something to do with
  • ne pas avoir grand-chose à voir avec/dans - to not have much to do with
  • ne rien avoir à voir avec/dans  - to have nothing to do with

Because voir is such a useful verb, there are several idiomatic expressions that use it. In the most obvious sense, it's used to indicate sight, whether figurative or literal:

  • voir la vie en rose - to see life through rose-colored glasses
  • Voir, c'est croire. - Seeing is believing.
  • Vous voyez d'ici le tableau ! - Just picture it!
  • n'y voir goutte - to not see a thing
  • C'est quelque chose qui ne se voit pas tous les jours. - That's something you don't see every day.
  • Il faut voir. - We'll (have to wait and) see.  
  • Il faut le voir pour le croire. - It has to be seen to be believed.
  • J'en ai vu d'autres ! - I've seen worse!
  • ne voir aucun mal à quelque chose - to not see any harm in something
  • Je voudrais t'y voir ! - I'd like to see you try! I'd like to see how you would handle it!

You can also find voir in unlikely expressions. These are ones in which the English translation barely alludes to the act of seeing:

  • C'est mal vu. - People don't like that.
  • n'y voir que du feu - to be completely fooled
  • en faire voir de dures à quelqu'un - to give someone a hard time
  • faire voir 36 chandelles à quelqu'un - to beat the living daylights out of someone
  • C'est tout vu. - It's a foregone conclusion.
  • Quand on parle du loup (on en voit la queue). - Speak of the devil (and he appears).
  • Essaie un peu pour voir ! - Just you try it!