Apprendre la Langue Française (100e partie): le verbe–devoir (usage et conjugaison au présent)


Devoir is one of the most common French verbs. It is irregular in conjugation and has a number of different meanings related to concepts like obligation and probability.

1. Obligation and necessity

    Dois-tu étudier ce soir ?
    Do you have to study tonight?
    Elles doivent manger.
    They must / need to eat.

2. Probability and supposition

    Il doit rentrer avant le dîner
    He should / will probably be back before dinner
    Nous devons gagner plus cette année
    We should earn more this year.
    Elle doit être à l’école
    She must be at school

3. Expectation and intention

    Je devais aller avec eux
    I was supposed to go with them.
    Il devait le faire, mais il a oublié
    He was supposed to do it, but he forgot

4. Fatalism and inevitability

    Il devait perdre un jour
    He had to / was bound to lose one day
    Elle ne devait pas l’entendre avant lundi
    She wasn’t to hear it until Monday

Translating devoir
Devoir can be translated by should, must, ought to, have to, supposed to – the distinction between necessity and probability is not always clear:

    Je dois faire la lessive
    I should/must/have to do the laundry
    Il doit arriver demain
    He is supposed to / should / has to arrive tomorrow

To specify “must” rather than “should,” add a word like absolument or vraiment:

    Je dois absolument partir
    I really have to go
    Nous devons vraiment te parler
    We must speak to you

To specify “should” rather than “must,” use the conditional:

    Tu devrais partir
    You should leave.
    Ils devraient lui parler
    They should talk to him.

To say that something that “should have” happened, use the conditional perfect of devoir plus the infinitive:

    Tu aurais dû manger
    You should have eaten.
    J’aurais dû étudier
    I should have studied.

Devoir as a transitive verb
When used transitively (and thus not followed by a verb), devoir means “to owe”:

    Combien est-ce qu’il te doit ?
    How much does he owe you?
    Pierre me doit 10 francs
    Pierre owes me 10 francs

Present tense

    je dois
    tu dois
    il doit
    nous devons
    vous devez
    ils doivent

Apprendre la Langue Française (98e partie): l’imperatif


The imperative, called l’impératif in French, is a verb mood which is used to

  • give an order
  • express a desire
  • make a request
  • offer advice
  • recommend something

Unlike all other French verb tenses and moods, the subject pronoun is not used with the imperative:

Fermez la porte. Close the door.
Mangeons maintenant. Let’s eat now.
Ayez la bonté de m’attendre. Please wait for me.
Veuillez m’excuser. Please excuse me.

The above are called “affirmative commands,” because they are telling someone to do something. “Negative commands,” which tell someone not to do something, are made by placing ne in front of the verb and the appropriate negative adverb after the verb:

Ne parle pas ! Don’t speak!
N’oublions pas les livres. Let’s not forget the books.
N’ayez jamais peur. Never be afraid.

French imperative conjugations are relatively simple. There are only three grammatical persons that can be used in the imperative: tu, nous, and vous, and most of the conjugations are the same as the present tense – the only difference is that the subject pronoun is not used in the imperative.

-ER verbs (regular, stem-changing, spelling change, and irregular)
The imperative conjugations for nous and vous are the same as the present indicative, and the tu form of the imperative is the indicative minus the final s:
(tu) parle
(nous) parlons
(vous) parlez
(tu) lève
(nous) levons
(vous) levez
(tu) va
(nous) allons
(vous) allez

Verbs which are conjugated like -ER verbs (meaning that in the indicative the tu form ends in -es), such as ouvrir and souffrir, follow the same rules as -ER verbs.

(tu) ouvre
(nous) ouvrons
(vous) ouvrez

-IR verbs and -RE verbs
The imperative conjugations for all regular and most* irregular -IR and -RE verbs are the same as the present indicative conjugations.

(tu) finis
(nous) finissons
(vous) finissez
(tu) attends
(nous) attendons
(vous) attendez
(tu) fais
(nous) faisons
(vous) faites

*Except for verbs conjugated like -ER verbs and the following four irregular imperative verbs:

(tu) aie
(nous) ayons
(vous) ayez
(tu) sois
(nous) soyons
(vous) soyez
(tu) sache
(nous) sachons
(vous) sachez
(tu) veuille
(nous) n/a
(vous) veuillez

The order of words in a French sentence can be very confusing due to affirmative and negative imperative constructions and object and adverbial pronouns.  Remember that there are two kinds of imperatives, affirmative and negative, and the word order is different for each of them.

Negative imperatives are easier, because their word order is the same as that of all other simple verb conjugations: any object, reflexive, and/or adverbial pronouns precede the verb and the negative structure surrounds the pronoun(s) + verb:

Finis ! – Finish!
Ne finis pas ! – Don’t finish!
Ne le finis pas ! – Don’t finish it!

Lisez ! – Read!
Ne lisez pas ! – Don’t read!
Ne le lisez pas ! – Don’t read it!
Ne me le lisez pas ! – Don’t read it to me!

Affirmative commands are more complicated, for several reasons.

1. The word order is for affirmative commands is different from that of all other verb tenses/moods: any pronouns follow the verb and are connected to it and to each other with hyphens (un trait d’union).

Finis-le ! – Finish it!
Allons-y ! – Let’s go!
Mangez-les ! – Eat them!
Donne-lui-en ! – Give him some!

2. The order of the pronouns in affirmative commands is slightly different from all other verb tenses/moods:

Envoie-le-nous ! – Send it to us!
Expliquons-la-leur ! – Let’s explain it to them!
Donnez-nous-en ! – Give us some!
Donne-le-moi ! – Give it to me!

3. The pronouns me and te change to the stressed pronouns moi and toi

Lève-toi ! – Get up!
Parlez-moi ! – Talk to me!
Dis-moi ! – Tell me!
…unless they are followed by y or en, in which case they contract to m’ and t’
Va-t’en ! – Go away!
Faites-m’y penser. – Remind me about it.

4. When a tu command is followed by the pronouns y or en, the final s is not dropped from the verb conjugation:

Vas-y ! – Go away!
Parles-en. – Talk about it.

Apprendre la Langue Française (96e partie): communication et savoir-faire, les sommaires (deuxieme partie)

I have shared quite a lot of notes about French here at my apprendre la langue francaise series. We learned about the grammar, the phonetics, the verb conjugations, some vocabularies, several expressions, among others.  Yet it’s also equally important to understand how we can apply all these, and I’ll try my best, as I am no expert, to demonstrate it here and likewise, share my personal observations and insights as I learn the language while living in Geneva, where my French connection begins.

1) Exprimer la possession et ses goûts

In expressing your interests (or otherwise), the French verbs adorer, aimer and détester are commonly used (read: les verbes – adorer, aimer et détester, and le verbe, aimer – la usage). Adorer means “to love” while aimer means “to like.” On the other hand, détester means “to hate.”

So, what is it I like and dislike in Geneva? Alors, qu’est-ce que j’aime et je deteste  à Genève?

I like the chocolates and cheese a lot. J’aime beaucoup le chocolat et le fromage.

I do not like the very cold weather. Je n’aime pas le temps très froid.

I hate the tap water here, but Evian is an exemption! Je deteste de l’eau ici mais l’Evian est une exemption!

Generally, I love the life in Geneva. En général, j’adore la vie à Genève.

You may have noticed that there’s a different way in negating a verb. With the example above, it’s je n’aime pas (the letter e is dropped here). Generally, ne…pas is one of the negative adverbs commonly used to negate or restrict the action of the verb it modifies (read: la négation).

When a person asks you either a positive or a negative question, in English we can either respond with ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ In French however, when someone asks you a negative question, your reply could have been ‘oui’ but instead, in French you must say, ‘si’ (read: oui? non!). It seems confusing that even I couldn’t seem to apply it well sometimes! It’s a wishful thinking that questions can only be answerable with just a yes or a no (and ironically, si doesn’t even mean, maybe).

Vous aimez le jazz?
You like jazz?
Oui, j’aime beaucoup* le jazz.
Yes, I like jazz a lot.
Et la pluie, vous aimez?
And rain, you like?
Non, je n’aime pas la pluie.
No, I do not like rain.
Vous n’aimez pas le sport?
You do not like sport?
Si, j’aime le sport. Je fais** du tennis.
Yes, I like sport. I play tennis.

* l’adverbe utilisé: beaucoup means a lot, very much    **le verbe utilisé: faire means to do, to make

In expressing a possession, French possessive adjectives are very important. Same with nouns of course, these adjectives have corresponding masculine, feminine and plural forms (read: les adjectifs possessifs).

There is my bag and my shoes. Il y a mon sac et mes chasseures.

He is your friend. Il est ton/votre ami.

She is his mother. Elle est sa mère.

Our house is beautiful. Notre maison est belle*.

Their dinner is ready. Leur dîner est prêt*.

* l’adjectif utilisé: belle is a female form for beautiful; prêt is a male form for ready

2) Demander (poliment) à quelqu’un de faire quelque chose

The verbs pouvoir (meaning “to be able to,” “to have the capacity to” or “can”) and vouloir (meaning “to want,” “to wish,” or “to like”) are commonly used when you ask someone to do something for you, or when you request something from someone (read: le verbe pouvoir, and le verbe vouloir). When these verbs are utilized with pronouns in first person (here, it is je), they are normally constructed in conditional form (we might tackle conditional verb conjugations  in detail later on).

Would you want to help me, please? (or literally, it means, You would want to help me, please?) Vous voulez* bien m’aider, s’il vous plaît?

Could you respond, please? (or literally, it means, You could respond, please?) Vous pourriez* répondre, s’il vous plaît?

I would like…  Je voudrais*J’aimerais*…

Now when you demand to someone, especially that you are a person in authority, you use the conjugated verbs assigned to pronoun vous; or when you used with another pronoun, tu, which is equally in second person vis-à-vis vous, no letter s is added at the end of the verb.

Listen! Écoute*! Écoutez*!

Go! Va*! Allez*!

Listen well! Go to Saint-Michel Place. Écoutez bien! Allez place Saint-Michel.

You listen? Listen! Tu écoute?  Écoute!

* les verbes utilisé: voulez and pourriez are conjugated forms in present tense for pronoun vous; voudrais and aimerais are conjugated in conditional form for pronoun je; écouter means to listen and the verbs écoute and écoutez are conjugated forms for pronouns je and vous respectively; aller means “to go,” “to move,” or “to travel” and the verbs va and allez are conjugated forms for pronouns je and vous respectively

3) Poser une question

In posing a question (read: les adverbes interrogatifsque, quoi ou quel?, oui/non questions), you can either apply an ascending intonation to a sentence and place with required question words like que, quand, où etc., for example:

Tu connais ce chanteur? You know that singer?

Vous habitez où? You live where?

À quelle heure tu veux manger? What time you are going to eat?

Tu vas à Paris quand? You go to Paris when?

Il s’appelle comment? It is called how?

or, add est-ce que and required question words, for example:

Est-ce que tu connais ce chanteur? Do you know that singer?

Où est-ce que vous habitez? Where do you live?

À quelle heure est-ce que tu veux manger? What time are you going to eat?

Quand est-ce que tu vas à Paris? When are you going to Paris?

Comment est-ce qu’il s’appelle? How is it called?

4) Proposer – accepter/inviter une invitation

So, we have verbs inviter(meaning “to invite”), proposer (meaning “to propose”) accepter (meaning “to accept”) and refuser (meaning “to refuse”) in use, which all belong to primary group in verb conjugation (read: les verbes terminent par –er).  Here are some examples on how to propose, accept or refuse an invitation.


I suggest dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Je te propose un dîner dans un restaurant chinois.***

I suggest you go first to the movies. Je te propose d’aller d’abord au cinéma.***

Do you want to visit the museum? Est-ce que tu veux* visiter le musée?

A Chinese restaurant, how would you like? (it tells you?) Un restaurant chinois, ça te dirait? (ça te dit*?)***

How would you like (it tells you?) to go swimming? Ça te dirait (Ça te dit?) d’aller à la piscine?***

I invite you! Je t’invite!***

Accepter une invitation…

Okay. It’s okay. D’accord. C’est d’accord.

It works. Ça marche.

With pleasure. Avec plaisir.

It does not bother you? Ça ne te dérange pas?***

Thank you for your invitation. Merci de ton/votre invitation.

We thank you for your invitation. Nous te/vous remercions* de ton/votre invitation.***

Refuser une invitation…

I’m sorry, I must work. Je suis désolé, je dois* travailler.

That tells me nothing. Ça ne me dit rien.

Monday, it’s not possible. Lundi, ce n’est pas possible**.

I do not want to leave. Je n’ai pas envie de sortir.

I cannot today. Je ne peux pas aujourd’hui.

I am not available. Je ne suis pas libre**.

* les verbes utilisé: veux is a conjugated  form in present tense of vouloir which means to want; remercions is a conjugated form in present tense of remercier which means to thank; dois is a conjugated form in present tense of devoir which means to have to.

**les adjectifs utilisé: possible also means feasible; libre means available, free.

***read: les pronoms compléments directs

Apprendre la Langue Française (Part 95): les verbes à sens réciproque et les verbes à sens idiomatique


French has three kinds of pronominal verbs. The most common are reflexive verbs, but there are also two lesser-known types: reciprocal verbs and idiomatic pronominal verbs.

French Reciprocal Verbs

While reflexive verbs tell you that one or more subjects are acting upon themselves, reciprocal verbs indicate that there are two or more subjects acting on one another. Here are the most common French reciprocal verbs:

s’adorer to adore (one another)
s’aimer to love
s’apercevoir to see
se comprendre to understand
se connaître to know
se détester to hate
se dire to tell
se disputer to argue
s’écrire to write to
s’embrasser to kiss
se parler to talk to
se promettre to promise
se quitter to leave
se regarder to look at
se rencontrer to meet
se sourire to smile at
se téléphoner to call
se voir to see

Nous nous adorons ! We adore one another!
Elles se voient le lundi. They see each other on Mondays.

Note that reciprocal verbs can also be used without the pronoun for a non-reciprocal meaning:

Nous nous comprenons. We understand each other.
Nous comprenons la question. We understand the question.

Ils s’aiment. They love each other.
Ils m’aiment. They love me.

French Idiomatic Pronominal Verbs

Idiomatic pronominal verbs are verbs that take on a different meaning when used with a reflexive pronoun. Here are the most common French idiomatic pronominal verbs (and their non-pronominal meanings):

s’en aller to go away   (to go)
s’amuser to have a good time   (to amuse)
s’appeler to be named   (to call)
s’approprier to appropriate   (to suit, adapt to)
s’arrêter to stop (oneself)   (to stop [s.o. or s.t. else])
s’attendre (à) to expect   (to wait for)
se demander to wonder   (to ask)
se débrouiller to manage, get by   (to disentangle)
se dépêcher to hurry   (to send quickly)
se diriger vers to head toward   (to run, be in charge of)
se douter to suspect   (to doubt)
s’éclipser to slip away/out   (to eclipse, overshadow)
s’éloigner to move (oneself) away   (to move s.t. else away)
s’endormir to fall asleep   (to put to sleep)
s’ennuyer to be bored   (to bother)
s’entendre to get along   (to hear)
se fâcher to get angry   (to make angry)
se figurer to imagine, picture   (to represent, to appear)
s’habituer à to get used to   (to get in the habit of)
s’inquiéter to worry   (to alarm)
s’installer to settle in (to a home)    (to install)
se mettre à to begin to   (to place, put)
se perdre to get lost   (to lose)
se plaindre to complain   (to pity, begrudge)
se rendre à to go to   (to return)
se rendre compte de to realize   (to account for)
se réunir to meet, get together   (to gather, collect)
se servir to use, make use of   (to serve)
se tromper to be mistaken   (to deceive)
se trouver to be located   (to find)

See how the meaning changes when idiomatic pronominal verbs are used with and without the reflexive pronoun:

Je m’appelle Sandrine. My name is Sandrine.
J’appelle Sandrine. I’m calling Sandrine.

Tu te trompes. You are mistaken.
Tu me trompes. You are deceiving me.

Apprendre la Langue Française (Part 94): les verbes pronominal en les temps composé


How to use pronominal verbs in the passé composé and other compound tenses

In compound tenses like the passé composé, all pronominal verbs are être verbs, which means two things:

  1. The auxiliary verb is être
  2. The past participle may need to agree with the subject in gender and number

In compound tenses, the reflexive pronoun precedes the auxiliary verb, not the past participle:

Elle s’est couchée à minuit. She went to bed at midnight.
Ils s’étaient vus à la banque. They had seen one another at the bank.
Après m’être habillé, j’ai allumé la télé. After getting dressed, I turned on the TV.

Agreement with pronominal verbs
When pronominal verbs are in the compound tenses, the past participle has to agree with the reflexive pronoun when the pronoun is a direct object but not when it’s an indirect object. So the trick is to figure out whether the reflexive pronoun is direct or indirect.

1. For most* pronominal verbs that are not followed by a noun, the reflexive pronoun is the direct object, so the past participle needs to agree with it.

Nous nous sommes douchés. We showered.
Marianne s’est fâchée. Marianne got mad.

2. Likewise, with a pronominal verb plus a preposition plus a noun, the reflexive pronoun is the direct object, so you need agreement:

Elle s’est occupée du chien. She took care of the dog.
Ils se sont souvenus de la pièce. They remembered the play.

3. When a pronominal verb is followed directly by a noun with no preposition in between, the reflexive pronoun is indirect, therefore there is no agreement:

Nous nous sommes acheté une voiture.
xxx Nous nous sommes achetés une voiture. xxx
We bought ourselves a car.

Elle s’est dit la vérité.
xxx Elle s’est dite la vérité. xxx
She told herself the truth.

4. When you have a sentence with a reflexive pronoun plus an object pronoun, the reflexive pronoun is always the indirect object, so there is no agreement with it. However, there is agreement with the object pronoun, per the rules of direct object pronoun agreement:

Nous nous le sommes acheté. (Le livre is masculine)
We bought it (the book) for ourselves.

Nous nous la sommes achetée. (La voiture is feminine)
We bought it (the car) for ourselves.

Elle se l’est dit. (Le mensonge is masculine)
She told it (the lie) to herself.

Elle se l’est dite. (La vérité is feminine)
She told it (the truth) to herself.

*5. For the following verbs, the reflexive pronoun is always an indirect object so the past participle does not agree with it:

s’acheter to buy (for) o.s.
se demander to wonder
se dire to say (to o.s. / e.o.)
se donner to give (to e.o.)
s’écrire to write (to e.o.)
se faire mal to hurt o.s.
s’imaginer to imagine, think
se parler to talk (to o.s. / e.o.)
se plaire (à faire…) to enjoy (doing…)
se procurer to obtain (for o.s.)
se promettre to promise (o.s. / e.o.)
se raconter to tell (e.o.)
se rendre compte de to realize
se rendre visite to visit (e.o.)
se ressembler to resemble (e.o.)
se rire (de quelqu’qun) to mock (someone)
se sourire to smile (at e.o.)
se téléphoner to call (e.o.)
Key: e.o. = each other   o.s. = oneself

Nous nous sommes souri.
xxx Nous nous sommes souris. xxx
We smiled at each other.

Elles se sont parlé.
xxx Elles se sont parlées. xxx
They talked to each other.