Using the verb “avoir” in idiomatic expressions in French
Now that you have learned how to conjugate the verb “avoir,” here are some other ways that you can use this verb in everyday speech.
The verb “avoir” is not only used to talk about possessions, as we have already done with our lesson on animals and family members, but also in certain expressions where we would use the verb “to be” in English.
I am thirsty.
She is hungry
They are lucky
You are fifteen years old.
Instead, the verb for “to have” is used in French. You say that you have hunger, thirst, lucky, and most importantly, years for when you are talking about age.
Avoir chaud = to be hot
Avoir froid = to be cold
Avoir faim = to be hungry
Avoir soif = to be thirsty
Avoir de la chance = to be lucky
Avoir raison = to be right
Avoir tort = to be wrong
Avoir peur = to be scared
Avoir…… ans = to be ….. years old
How to use these expressions
To use these expressions, conjugate your verb (avoir) first.
Let’s say you want to say in French “I am hungry.” If you want to say “I am hungry,” we are using the first person singular (I). So start with the first person singular subject pronoun I in French, since you are talking about yourself.
Then use the first person singular form of the verb avoir:
Then follow your subject pronoun and verb j’ai with faim.
And there you have the correctly conjugated form for saying “I am hungry” in French!
What if you want to talk about your friend Marie and how scared she is while everyone is watching a horror movie? The expression “to be scared” in French is avoir peur. And since we are talking about what someone else is doing, and it’s just ONE person we are talking about, we need to use the third person singular she, or elle, form of the verb “avoir.”
So start with your subject:
The third person singular verb form for elle would be simply the letter a. So now you have your subject and your verb.
Then follow it with the word peur to say that Marie is scared.
Marie a peur.
Talking about age
When you tell someone how old you are in English, we use the verb “to be.”
I am fifteen years old. (first person singular)
My mother is forty years old. (third person singular)
However, in French and other Romance languages such as Spanish and Italian, the verb “to have” is used instead. You say that you have x number of years.
To tell someone your age in French, you conjugate the verb avoir, just as you would when telling someone that you’re hungry, thirsty, etc.
So let’s say we want to say in French “I am fifteen years old.”
To start with, we would be using the first person singular je (or simply I in English), since you yourself are the subject of the sentence.
And the first person singular form of the verb avoir is ai
Next we need to put in the number for fifteen, which is quinze. Then we follow it with the French word for years, ans.
J’ai quinze ans.
If you wanted to talk about how old your brothers are, for another example, we would be using the third person plural they form of the verb avoir, or ils, since we are talking about your brothers and ils is used for all-male subjects. So write your subject, which is mes frères, since our sentence is about your brothers.
Now for the third person plural form of avoir, which is simply the letter ont.
Mes frères ont
Next we need a number. Let’s say in this example that your brothers are all twenty years old. So we need the French word for twenty, vingt. Then we follow that with the French word for years, simply ans.
Mes frères ont vingt ans.
And there you have it! “My brothers are twenty years old,” in French!