French Infinitives

French Infinitives are the basic form of a verb before being conjugated.

In English, you can tell the infinitive form of a verb when it is preceded by "to" e.g. to buy, to sell, to act.

In French, the infinitves end in either –ER, -RE, or –IR.
e.g. acheter - to buy, vendre - to sell, agir - to act.

The French infinitive is quite often used where in English one would use the present participle (the –ing form of the word).

Apprendre le français est facile maintenant. - Learning French is easy now.

Acheter une voiture est difficile. - Buying a car is difficult.

The French infinitive will also follow a conjugated verb.

With the use of a preposition, e.g. de (d'), à:

Il essaie d’apprendre le français. - He is trying to learn French.

C’est facile à apprendre. - It is easy to learn.

With no preposition:

Nous aimons aller à la plage. - We like to go to the beach.

Voulez-vous danser avec moi? - Do you want to dance with me?

The infinitive form of the verb can replace the imperative (command) form if the command is not directed at a specific person.

Fermer la porte. - Shut the door. (e.g. This could be spoken to anyone).

Ouvrir la fenêtre. - Open the window.

The French infinitive can also replace the subjunctive tense in two different ways.

If the clauses have the same subject, then the French infinitive can be used:

Using the French infinitive:

Je suis contente de l'avoir fait. - I am happy to be doing it. (e.g. I am happy that I do it.)

Using the Subjunctive tense:

Je suis contente que tu le fasses. I am happy (to know) that you are doing it.

or

Using the French infinitive:

Tu as peur d'échouer. - You are afraid of failing.

Using the Subjunctive tense:

Tu as peur qu’elle échoue. You are afraid she might fail.

If the subject is impersonal (not directed at a person), the French infinitive can replace the subjunctive:

Il faut que tu marches. becomes Il faut marcher. - It is necessary to walk.

Il est bon que tu travailles. becomes Il est bon de travailler. - It is good to work.

A note about word order:

When an object pronoun or adverbial pronoun (y, en) is used, it precedes the French infinitive.

Nous devrions y aller. - We must go there.

In a negative, the ne pas precedes the infinitive as well:

Ne pas ouvrir la porte. - Do not open the door.


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