The infinitive

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 after aimer, détester and préférer

You can 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.‎

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.‎

Click here to find out more about using the simple future tense


Find out how much you know about infinitives and other verbs in French with this short quiz.