TNs, U06: Basics 3 (Être & Avoir, Continuous Tenses)

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Être and Avoir

Être and avoir (“to be” and “to have”) are the most common verbs in French. Like many common verbs, they have irregular conjugations.

Subject Être ("to be") Avoir ("to have")
je/j' (je) suis (j')ai
tu es as
il/elle/on est a
nous sommes avons
vous êtes avez
ils/elles sont ont

There should be a “z” liaison between ils or elles and ont [il-zɔ̃] or [ɛl-zɔ̃]. The "z" sound is essential here to differentiate between "they are" and "they have", so be sure to emphasize it.

These two verbs are very important because they can act as auxiliary verbs in French, but they differ from their English equivalents. "I write" and "I am writing" both translate to j'écris, not je suis écrivant (the present participle of écrire). This is because être cannot be used as an auxiliary in a simple tense. It can only be used in compound tenses, which you will learn in the "Passé Composé" unit.

Another important distinction is that avoir means "to have" in the sense of "to possess", but not "to consume" or "to experience". Other verbs must be used for these meanings.

Continuous Tenses

English has two present tenses: simple ("I write") and continuous ("I am writing"), but French has no specialized continuous verb tenses. This means that "I write", "I am writing", and "I do write" can translate to j'écris (not je suis écrivant) and vice versa.

However, the idiomatic phrase être en train de is often used to indicate that someone is in the process of doing something.

  • Je suis en train de manger. — I am [in the process of] eating.

Most of the time present tense sentences in French can be interpreted in either the present or the present continuous tense in English. Stative verbs in English are an exception to this and have no continuous form. For instance, J'aime un garçon cannot be translated as "I am loving a boy".

You can learn more about stative verbs here:

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2 months ago


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