How to use the infinitive in French
What are infinitives?
Infinitives are the basic form of a verb, before any changes for tense or people are made - like jouer (to play) or faire (to do).
All French infinitives end in either
-er, -ir or -re:
- jouer - to play
- finir - to finish
- vendre - to sell
Using infinitives to talk about the future
To talk about what you are going to do in the future, use a form of aller (to go) followed by an infinitive:
- Je vais manger un sandwich - I’m going to eat a sandwich.
- Tu vas aller au marché? - Are you going to go to the market?
- Il va prendre beaucoup de photos - He’s going to take lots of photos.
Using infinitives after aimer, détester and préférer
You can also use an infinitive after opinion verbs such as aimer, détester and préférer. They are usually translated with a gerund (a verb ending with -ing) in English:
- J’aime habiter à Newcastle - I like living in Newcastle.
- Tu préfères jouer au foot ou au tennis? - Do you prefer playing football or tennis?
- Elle déteste boire du café parce que c’est dégoûtant – She hates drinking coffee because it’s disgusting.
You can also use these verbs with a noun and no infinitive:
- J’aime les chats - I like cats.
- Je déteste le foot - I hate football.
- Je préfère la natation - I prefer swimming.
How to use infinitives after modal verbs
Modal verbs express ability, permission, obligation or desire (things you want to do). Examples of modal verbs in English are ‘can’, ‘must’ or ‘want’. An infinitive is always needed after modal verbs such as devoir (to have to), pouvoir (can/to be able to) and often (but not always) after vouloir* (to want) and falloir (to be necessary).
- Je dois faire plus de sport - I have to do more sport.
- Tu voudrais regarder un film? - Would you like to watch a film?
- Il faut manger beaucoup de fruits - It’s necessary to eat lots of fruit.
- On peut aller au cinéma - You/one can go to the cinema.
Je voudrais, meaning 'I would like', is the conditional form of vouloir and is a very useful phrase.
*Vouloir and falloir can be also be followed by a noun, eg:
- Je voudrais une glace - I would like an ice cream.
- Il faut de la patience - Patience is necessary/needed.
Find out how much you know about infinitives and other verbs in French with this short quiz.
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