Infinitive verbs in French

In French, Infinitive verbs hold a special place, serving as the foundation upon which the language is built. In this article, we will look into what French infinitive verbs are and how they are used.


What are infinitive verbs in French?

Infinitive verbs are the basic, unconjugated forms of verbs in French. They are often compared to the base form of verbs in English, where no tense, subject, or mood is specified. Instead, infinitive verbs are like the raw material from which all other verb forms are crafted. In French, infinitive verbs are typically formed by removing the “-er,” “-ir”, or “-re” endings from regular verbs. For example, the infinitive form of the verb “parler” (to speak) is simply “parler”.


How are infinitive verbs used?

One of the key uses of infinitive verbs in French is to express actions or ideas in their most basic, abstract form. They lack the specificity of conjugated verbs, making them versatile tools for communication. For instance, consider the sentence “J’aime parler” (I like to speak). Here, “parler” functions as an infinitive verb, representing the general idea of speaking without specifying who is speaking or when it is happening.

Infinitive verbs are also essential when constructing sentences with multiple verbs, such as in complex sentences or after modal verbs like “can,” “must,” or “should.” In these cases, the second verb remains in its infinitive form. For example, “Je dois manger” (I must eat) showcases the infinitive verb “manger” after the modal verb “dois”.

Another crucial role of infinitive verbs in French is their use after prepositions. Prepositions are words that link nouns, pronouns, and phrases to other words in a sentence. Some common prepositions that are followed by infinitive verbs include “pour” (for), “sans” (without), and “avant de” (before). For example, “Il est parti sans dire au revoir” translates to “He left without saying goodbye,” where “dire” (to say) remains in its infinitive form.

Furthermore, infinitive verbs are used in French to give commands or instructions. The imperative mood, used for issuing commands, relies on infinitive verbs to convey direct orders. For instance, “Parlez plus lentement” (Speak more slowly) uses the infinitive verb “parler” to command someone to speak in a particular manner.

In addition to their structural significance, infinitive verbs also play a vital role in artistic expression in French. They can be employed in poetry and prose to create a sense of timelessness or to convey abstract concepts. French writers often use infinitive verbs to evoke emotions and paint vivid imagery.


Examples of French infinitive verbs

Here is a list of examples demonstrating how infinitive verbs are used in French:

  1. Basic Infinitive Verb: Parler (to speak)

    • Je veux parler français. (I want to speak French.)
  2. After Modal Verbs:

    • Elle peut danser. (She can dance.)
    • Ils doivent étudier. (They must study.)
  3. After Prepositions:

    • Pour réussir, il faut travailler dur. (To succeed, one must work hard.)
    • Ils sont venus sans prévenir. (They came without warning.)
  4. In Commands (Imperative Mood):

    • Mange tes légumes ! (Eat your vegetables!)
    • Écoutez la musique. (Listen to the music.)
  5. In Infinitive Phrases:

    • J’aime chanter et danser. (I like to sing and dance.)
    • Il préfère lire que regarder la télévision. (He prefers to read rather than watch TV.)
  6. As Noun Complements:

    • Lire est ma passion. (Reading is my passion.)
    • Son rêve est de voyager dans le monde entier. (His dream is to travel the world.)
  7. In Expressions of Purpose:

    • J’étudie pour réussir mes examens. (I study to pass my exams.)
    • Elle travaille dur afin d’obtenir une promotion. (She works hard in order to get a promotion.)
  8. In Causative Constructions:

    • Il a fait réparer sa voiture. (He had his car repaired.)
    • Elle a fait nettoyer la maison. (She had the house cleaned.)
  9. In Infinitive Clauses:

    • Il est content de venir. (He is happy to come.)
    • Elle est triste de partir. (She is sad to leave.)
  10. In Infinitive Expressions of Obligation or Necessity:

    • Tu dois étudier pour réussir. (You must study to succeed.)
    • Il est nécessaire de prendre des mesures. (It is necessary to take action.)

These examples showcase the diverse range of contexts in which infinitive verbs are used in French, highlighting their importance in conveying various meanings and functions within the language.