Today we will be learning how to conjugate our first verb in French: the verb avoir meaning “to have.”
For avoir, you are already familiar with one of its forms from our lesson on animals: j’ai. Remember when you used j’ai to talk about animals you have? That was the first person form of the verb “to have,” which translates to “I have” in English.
j’ai = I have
Conjugate? Huh, what’s that?
So what does it mean to “conjugate”? This simply means changing the verb form depending on the subject of the sentence. We do this all the time in English, we just don’t notice it. In fact, in that last sentence alone, I conjugated two verbs (and one verb in this sentence):
we (don’t) notice (do is a helping verb, the actual verb is “notice”)
In those first two examples, I used the present form of the verbs “to do” and “to notice,” respectively in the “we” form. Present form indicates something happening at this very moment. In the last example, I used the past tense of the verb “to conjugate” in the first person (I) form.
Conjugating Verbs in English
Verb forms in English are pretty straightforward for most verbs. For the most part, the verb ending does not change much from subject to subject in the present form (past tense and all the other verb forms can get wonky, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it!). The verb forms don’t change except when we add “s” for the “he/she” (third person singular) form instead. That’s how most of our verbs are used in English.
You all run
You all cook
You all look
You all drive
However, there are also irregular verbs. Irregular verbs are verbs that do NOT follow the usual pattern of conjugation. These verbs can have very different forms, and they also tend to be the verbs we use the most in everyday speech.
Let’s take the verb “to be.”
You all are
Except for the plural forms (“we,” “you all,” and “they”), none of the verb forms look anything alike!
How about the verb “to have”?
You all have
If it hadn’t been for the “she/he” form, this would have ALMOST been a regular verb. But it isn’t.
So how about this conjugating verbs in French?
So we have already learned that French verbs take on different forms depending on the subject of the sentence. When using verbs in French, you have two parts:
subject pronoun + verb
Some English examples:
I love (I is the subject pronoun, love is the correct verb form for that subject pronoun)
She wants (She is the subject pronoun, wants is the verb form you would use with “she”)
You watch (you is the subject pronoun, watch is the verb form you would use with “you”)
French subject pronouns are as follows:
Je = I (NOT capitalized unless it is the first word of a sentence)
Tu = You
Il / elle / on = he/she/one
Nous = we
Vous = you
Ils / elles = they
And now for the verb avoir:
Wait wait, why are there two “you”s in French? And two “they”s?
Remember in our first lesson about greeting people, how you learned both comment vas-tu and comment allez-vous for “how are you”? That is because the tu form of verbs are used for friends and people who are close to you. Vous is for people you don’t know well. We do not have a “vous”-like verb form in English. We tend to use “you” for people we don’t know well AND also for family and friends.
And the reason there are two “they”s in French is because ils is used for both a group of boys and girls AND a group of all boys and elles is used for a group of all girls.