Key verbs in French

An illustration of how avoir and être, two very commonly used French verbs, are conjugated

In French, as in any language, there are hundreds of verbs, but there are certain verbs you will come across and use more than others.

The most common ones in French are as follows:

avoirto have
  • Item 1
  • Item 2
êtreto be
allerto go
faireto do/make
vouloirto want
devoirto have to
pouvoirto be able to
connaître/savoirto know

Auxiliary verbs – what are they?

Auxiliary verbs are most commonly used when forming the perfect and pluperfect in French and they come from avoir and être. They are called auxiliaries because they support the main verb you want to write in a past tense.

You will either use them in their present or imperfect tense form, and add on a past participle.

SubjectAvoir - presentAvoir - imperfect
j’ – Iaiavais
tu – you (informal)asavais
il/elle/on - he/she/we aavait
nous – weavonsavions
vous – you (formal, plural)avezaviez
ils/elles – theyontavaient
SubjectÊtre - presentÊtre - imperfect
je – Isuisétais
tu – you (informal)esétais
il/elle/on - he/she/we estétait
nous – wesommesétions
vous – you (formal, plural)êtesétiez
ils/elles – theysontétaient

Here are some examples:

  • j’ai fait mes devoirs - I did my homework
  • j’avais fait mes devoirs - I had done my homework
  • il est parti en vacances - he went on holiday
  • il était parti en vacances - he had gone on holiday