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French auxiliary verbs (avoir, être)

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The auxiliary verbs ( les auxiliaires ) être and avoir are important verbs in the French language. They are used to form the compound times

The past participle can agree but it depends on the auxiliary: with the auxiliary 'avoir', the past participle agrees with the direct object complement only if it is placed before the verb in the sentence and with the auxiliary ' être', the past participle agrees with the subject.

The auxiliary verb avoir in French

The auxiliary verb 'avoir' is always conjuguated with transitive verbs (those that can have a direct object complement or indirect). Transitive verbs possess an object complement on which the action designated by the verb takes place. It can be a direct object (COD) or an indirect object (COI). among those verbs you can find: 

  • construire (to build)
  • boire (to drink)
  • connaître (to know)
  • découvrir (to discover)
  • parler (to speak, talk)
  • sourire (to smile)

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Example sentences with transitive verbs

 avoir + transitive verbsdirect or indirect objettranslation 
Tuas construitcette maison you built this house
Il as connuSamantha à l'école he met you Samantha at school
nousavions découvert une jolie grottewe discovered a beautiful cave
ils ont parlé à leur pèrethey talked to their father 
ellea souriau bel hommeshe smiled to the beautiful man 

Conjugation chart of the French verb avoir

The verb avoir is completely irregular and is formed in different times as follows:

presentimperfectfuture simplepast simple subjunctive
j'aij'avaisj'auraij'eusque j'aie
tu astu avaistu aurastu eusque tu ais
il/elle/on ail/elle/on avaitil/elle/on aurail/elle/on eutqu'il/elle/on ait 
nous avonsnous avionsnous auronsnous eumesque nous ayons
vous avezvous aviezvous aurezvous eûtes que vous ayez
ils/elles ontils/elles avaientils/elles aurontils/elles eurentqu'ils/elles aient 

enlightenedThe conditional of avoir is the future simple stem + imperfect endings. 

The auxiliary verb être in French

All pronominal verbs always conjugate with the auxiliary 'être'. Some intransitive verbs (those who never have an indirect or direct object) conjugate with the auxiliary 'être'. ​

Among intrasitive verbs you find:  

  • aller (to go)
  • arriver (to arrive) 
  • descendre (come down)
  • entrer (come in)
  • monter (ascend)
  • mourir (to die)
  • naître (to be born)
  • partir (to leave)
  • retourner (to return)
  • sortir  (to go out)
  • tomber (to fall)
  • venir (to come)
  • demeurer (to stay)
  • rester (to stay)
  • ​passer pour (to look like)

Example sentences with the verb être

Je suis restée jusqu'au soirI stayed until the night 
Je me suis lavé ce matin I took a shower this morning 
Tu es passé pour le faibleYou looked like the weak.

Conjugation chart of the French verb être

The verb être is completely irregular and is formed in different times as follows:

PresentImperfect Future simplePast simpleSubjunctive
je suisj'étaisje seraije fusque je sois
tu estu étaistu serastu fusque tu sois
il/elle/on estil/elle/on étaitil/elle/on serail/elle/on futqu'il/elle/on soit
nous sommesnous étionsnous seronsnous fumesque nous soyons
vous étiezvous étiezvous serezvous futesque vous soyez
ils/elles sontils/elles étaientils/elles serontils/elles furentqu'ils/elles soient 

enlightenedThe conditional of être uses the future simple stem +  imperfect endings.

Usage of être and avoir 

Examples for the verbs of movement

In general, some verbs of movement are conjugated with the auxiliary 'avoir' in a transitive clause, or with the auxiliary ' être' in an intransitive clause.

  • Je suis passée par la ville. (I went by the city.)
  • J'ai passé un bon week-end. (I spent a good weekend.)
  • Elle a rentré sa voiture. (she entered her car.)
  • Elle est rentrée très tard. (she came back very late.)

Examples for the verbs of change

Some verbs of change normally are combined with the auxiliary 'avoir' to emphasize change, but can also be combined with the auxiliary 'etre' to emphasize the result of the change.

  • Ma soeur a divorcé il y a cinq ans. (my sister divorced five years ago)
  • Ma soeur est divorcée depuis cinq ans. (my sister got divorced five years ago.)

Example for the passive and active form

In the passive form, you always use the auxiliary être but you use the auxiliary 'avoir' in the active form.

  • J'ai pris rendez-vous chez le médecin. (I took an apointment at the doctor.)
  • Le rendez vous est pris depuis une semaine. (the appointment was taken one week ago.)

enlightenedTest your knowledge of the auxiliary verbs être and avoir by solving our online exercises!


  1. Question set exercise about the auxiliaries in French

Question set exercise about the auxiliaries in French

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Next lessons

1 Conjugation of avoir (to have) in French Get an overview of the conjugation of avoir in French and study the topic online
2 Conjugation of être (to be) in French Get an overview of the conjuguation of the verb être in French and study the topic online
3 Conjugation of être (to be) in French Get an overview of the conjuguation of the verb être in French and study the topic online