Practical guide to être and avoir

Etre and avoir verbs can also be a tad confusing, especially for beginning learners in French. You will find them in a lot of online conversations and resources.

Thankfully, we’ve compiled a practical guide to être and avoir so you know exactly how these French verbs work.

etre and avoir in french

Summary :

  • Conjugating être and avoir in French
  • Using avoir in conversations
  • Specific uses of être
  • Être or avoir as auxiliary in compound verb tenses

Conjugating être and avoir in French

The two verbs être (to be), and avoir (to have) are the basics in French . You need to understand the use of these verbs in order to master the French language. In addition, they become auxiliary to make compound tenses as we will see a bit later on.

How to conjugate avoir (to have)

As you will see, unfortunately, avoir is pretty irregular. But don’t worry ! Start with the present tense and the stems which are fairly simple. Then conjugate them in imparfait (imperfect) and futur simple as follows :

PresentImparfaitFutur simple
J’aiJ’avaisJ’aurai
Tu asTu avaisTu auras
Il/Elle/On aIl/Elle/On avaitIl/Elle/On aura
Nous avonsNous avionsNous aurons
Vous avezVous aviezVous aurez
Ils/Elles ontIls/Elles avaientIls/Elles auront

Additionally, you can find in-depth conjugations of these two verbs (and more) of the Futur simple and Futur proche.

How to conjugate être (to be)

Etre is also quite different from one tense to another. This is a lot to remember, so don’t try to memorize all tenses at once.

PresentImparfaitFutur simple
Je suisJ’étaisJe serai
Tu esTu étaisTu seras
Il/Elle/On estIl/Elle/On étaitIl/Elle/On sera
Nous sommesNous étionsNous serons
Vous êtesVous étiezVous serez
Ils/Elles sontIls/Elles étaientIls/Elles seront

For additional practice of French conjugation, feel free to also check online the Nouvel Obs website.

conjugate etre and avoir

Using avoir in conversations

Avoir is one of the most important French verbs. Let’s see how we can use it in every day conversations.

Talking about age

  • Quel âge as-tu / quel âge avez-vous ?  = How old are you ?
  • J’ai 23 ans = I’m 23

People

  • Est-ce qu’elle a un enfant ? = Does she have a child ?
  • Oui, elle a une fille / Non, elle n’a pas d’enfant = Yes, she has a daughter / No, she has no children
  • Vous avez un bon médecin = We have a good doctor

Material objects

  • Tu as une voiture / une maison = You have a car / a house

Concepts and notions

  • J’ai faim / soif / chaud / froid … = I’m hungry / thirsty / hot / cold
  • Tu as rendez-vous à 17 heures = You have an appointment at 5pm
  • Ils ont de la chance = They have luck (they are lucky)
to have in french

Specific uses of être

In addition, être is essential in French and used on a daily basis, especially to describe people.

Job

  • Tu es vétérinaire = You are a veterinarian
  • Il est avocat = He’s a lawyer

Nationality

  • Est-ce que vous êtes française ? = Are you French ?
  • Elles sont australiennes = They are Australian

Qualities

  • Vous êtes gentils = You are nice
  • Il est intelligent = He’s smart
  • Je suis patiente = I’m patient

Status

  • Je ne suis pas libre vendredi prochain = I’m not available next Friday
  • Elle est mariée / divorcée / célibataire = She’s married / divorced /  single
  • Nous sommes en avance / à l’heure / en retard = We are early / on time / late
to be in french

Être or avoir as auxiliary in compound verb tenses

In addition to being very common verbs in French, être and avoir have distinct functions outside of their simple meanings. Indeed, when used in conjunction with other verbs, these two verbs are called auxiliaries. They then create many compound tenses in French :

  • le passé composé ;
  • le plus-que-parfait (pluperfect) ;
  • le futur antérieur (the future perfect) ;
  • conditionnel passé (the past conditional) ;
  • and le subjonctif passé (the past subjonctive).

When to use avoir as an auxiliary

Avoir is used at the Passé Composé with the majority of the verbs. With avoir, the past participle doesn’t change. We will see shortly the exceptions below.

MangerVouloirPrendre
J’ai mangéJ’ai vouluJ’ai pris
Tu as mangéTu as vouluTu as pris
Il/Elle/On a mangéIl/Elle/On a vouluIl/Elle/On a pris
Nous avons mangéNous avons vouluNous avons pris
Vous avez mangéVous avez vouluVous avez pris
Ils/Elles ont mangéIls/Elles ont vouluIls/Elles ont pris

The same rules apply for the other compound tenses. So, if a verb is using the auxiliary avoir at the passé composé, then it will be the case for : the plus-que-parfait, the conditionnel passé, the futur antérieur, the subjonctif passé. 

Using être as an auxiliary

We use être at the compound tenses for all the verbs of the Maison Etre as well as the reflexive verbs.

In addition, when we use être as an auxiliary, the past participle must agree with the gender and number of the subject. The participle is therefore as an adjective.

How does it work ?

  • An -e is added to past participles of feminine subjects ;
  • An -s is added to past participles of plural subjects ;
  • And for subjects that are both feminine and plural, -e and -s are added to the past participle.
PartirSe lever
Je suis parti(e)Je me suis levé(e)
Tu es parti(e)Tu t’es levé(e)
Il/Elle/On est parti(e)Il/Elle/On s’est levé(e)
Nous sommes parti(e)sNous nous sommes levé(e)s
Vous êtes parti(e)(s)Vous vous êtes levé(e)(s)
Ils/Elles sont parti(e)sIls/Elles se sont levé(e)s

Verbs using both auxiliaries être and avoir

Did you know that some verbs can use être and avoir at the passé composé ? You’ll find the list below to avoid any confusion. Indeed, the meaning will change !

  • Descendre = with être, got off, went down / with avoir, took down
    • Tu es descendu(e) du train = You got off the train.
    • J’ai descendu l’escalier = I went downstairs.
  • Monter = with être, went down / with avoir, took up
    • Elles sont montées = They went upstairs.
    • Nous avons monté nos affaires = We took up our things
  • Passer = with être, passed by / with avoir, spent
    • Je suis passé(e) à la poste = I passed by the post office
    • Elle a passé un mois à Bali = He spent a month in Bali
  • Rentrer = with être, came in / with avoir, brought in
    • Vous êtes rentré(e)(s) tard= You came home late
    • Elle a rentré le linge = She brought in the laundry
  • Retourner = with être, returned / with avoir, turned over
    • Ils sont retourné à Londres = They returned to London
    • Ils ont retourné la table = They turned over the table
  • Sortir = with être, went out / with avoir, took out
    • Elles sont sorties = They went out
    • Il a sorti les poubelles = He took out the garbage
etre and avoir auxiliaries

Get familiar with the French grammar rules and use these verbs often. That will be easy because they’re used daily in conversations. These two verbs are really essential backbones of French.

Would you like to get valuable skills by learning to respond without hesitation in French ? Contact me today to start your amazing French journey !

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