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Infinitive in French

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What is the infinitive of French verbs?

The infinitive in the French language is a basic form of the verb which does not have a subject, tense or number. There are 3 groups of verbs in French, each of them are classified by their endings:

Group 1Group 2Group 3
Regular verbs ending in - ERRegular verbs ending in - IRIrregular verbs ending in - IR ,- OIR , -  RE
  • parler = to speak
  • marcher = to walk
  • donner = to give
  • acheter = to buy
  • finir = to finish
  • rougir = to blush
  • franchir = to cross
  • bondir = to jump
  • dire = to tell
  • faire = to do
  • apprendre = to learn
  • sortir = to leave

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How many types of infinitives do exist in French?

There are 2 types of infinitives in French language:

  • L'infinitif présent (Present infinitive) 
  • L'infinitif passé (Past infinitive)

1) Present infinitive in French

The present infinitive (French l'infinitif présent) is a non-conjugated form of the verb and expresses an action in progress. The present infinitive can function as subject, as well as direct object.

The infinitive is used after most prepositions, such as avant de, pour, à, sans and afin de

PrepositionsExampleTranslation
avant de je vais prendre mon petit-déjeuner avant de partirI am going to have breakfast before leaving
pouril va à l'armée pour apprendre le respecthe is going to the army to learn respect
àje te donne cinq jours en plus à partir d'aujourd'huii give you five more days from now
afin deil a acheté de la levure afin de faire préparer des crèpeshe bought baking powder in order to prepare some crepes
sansje peux bien manger sans parlerI surely can eat without talking

Examples

  • J'aime aller au promenade chaque matin. = I like to walk every morning. (function as direct object)
  • Il veut montrer ses résultat à ses parents. = He wants to show his results to his parents. (function as direct object)
  • Lire est très important. = To read is very important. (function as subject)
  • Passer du temps avec les amis nous fait beaucoup de plaisir. (function as subject) 

2) Past infinitive in French

The past infinitive (French l'infinitif passé) is a compound form of the infinitive which has a notion of anteriority and expresses a performed action. 

It consists of:

  •  the infinitive of the auxiliary verb avoir (to have) or être (to be)
  •  and the past participle of main verb.

Examples

Present infinitiveparlerfinirdirepartirdeveniraller
Past infinitiveavoir parléavoir finiavoir ditêtre parti(e)(s)être devenu(e)(s)être allé(e)(s)

enlightenedThe verbs conjugated with the auxiliary verb "être" have to be agreed with the subject while verbs conjugated with "avoir"  have to be agreed with the direct object. 

The past infinitive is most of the times used after the preposition après

Example of the past infinitive in sentences:

  •  Après avoir mangé mon croissant je suis allé à dormir = When I had finished to eat my croissant I went to sleep.
  •  Après avoir fini son travail il a appelé sa mère. = When he had finished the job he called his mother.
  •  Après être partie pour Paris elle est devenue heureuse. = When she had moved to Paris she became happy.

enlightenedWhen there is two verbs in the sentence, you use the infinitive as the second verb like in English. 

  • j'aimerais parler au directeur. = I would like to talk to the CEO

Usage of the infinitive in french

There are many ways to use the present infinitive :

As a noun

If the subject is not expressed, the application of the infinitive is indeterminate. This is particularly the case when the infinitive is used to formulate an abstract thought, an action having an indeterminate and often hypothetical subject; the infinitive refers in this case to the verbal idea in itself. 

In ordinary French, the use of the infinitive as subject is infrequent; it is more usual to use the infinitive as a dislocated term. you can also use the preposition "le fait de" when you want to use the past or present infinitive as a subject or to state a fact

Examples:

  • vouloir c'est pouvoir = where there is a will, there is a way.
  • voter est un droit. = voting is a right. 
  • partir, c'est mon rêve. = go away, that's my dream 
  • boire de l'eau est nécessaire pour la vie. = drink water is a need for life. 
  • le fait de te voir heureuse me rend heureuse. = to see you happy makes me happy 
  • le fait d'avoir travaillé en Espagne est un grand avantage pour lui. = working in Spain is a big advantage for him

As an imperative

Choosing an infinitive in an imperative sentence, makes it possible to address a group of people more generally without aiming at a particular person. He has a more neutral and distant role. Sometimes, it is necessary to use courtesy before the infinive such as "prière de" "veuillez"

The imperative instead makes it possible to target a particular person and is much more direct by the notion of order that he introduces. 

You use the infinitive as an imperative for: instructions for use or recipes and security rules

Examples: 

  • ne pas marcher sur le gazon. = do not walk on the grass. 
  • laissez cuire pendant trentes minutes. = cook for thirty minutes
  • veuillez enlever vos chaussures. = please, pull off your shoes
  • prière de ne pas faire de bruit. = please, do not make any noise. 

In an interrogative phrase expressing deliberation 

The infinitive is used to ask for a decision or for advice. It is sometimes followed by the present subjunctive.

Examples: 

  • que faire ? = what shall I do ? 
  • où aller ? = where shall I go ? 
  • pourquoi partir aussi loin ? = why leave this far ? 
  • comment faire pour qu'il me parle ? = what shall I do for him to talk to me ? 
  • pourquoi être méchant, toi aussi ? = why you have to be this mean ? 

In an exclamatory phrase

The infinitive is used to express a wish

Examples: 

  • finir et partir ! = to finish and leave !
  • oh ! être jeune encore ! = oh, to be still young ! 

enlightenedIn causative construction, there is an important use of the verb "faire". the subject causes an action to be done by someone or something else so the conjugated verb is always followed by an infinitive. 

  • je fais chanter les enfants. = I make the children sing. 
  • il fait faire ce travail. = he has this work done

Exercises

  1. Question set exercise about the Infinitive in French I
  2. Drag and drop exercise about the present infinitive in French
  3. Multiple choice questions about the use of infinitive in French
  4. Fill in the blank exercise for the past infinitive in French

Question set exercise about the Infinitive in French I


Drag and drop exercise about the present infinitive in French


Multiple choice questions about the use of infinitive in French


Fill in the blank exercise for the past infinitive in French


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