Être

Being a French Verb

Être is one of the two most important French verbs (avoir is the other one) and has irregular conjugations in just about every tense and mood. Être literally means "to be," but also serves as an auxiliary verb and is the key to the passive voice.

Être = to be

Whether temporary or permanent, être expresses a sense of being with adjectives, adverbs, and nouns.

Je suis fatigué.   I’m tired.
Il est en retard.   He’s late.
La bibliothèque est une ancienne maison.   The library is an old/former house.

Être = to be someone

When a noun or subject pronoun + être is followed by a profession or some other noun that defines a person, there can be no indefinite article in French.

Ma sœur est médecin.   My sister is a doctor.
Pierre est étudiant.   Pierre is a student.
J’ai été témoin dans ce procès.   I was a witness in that trial.

Être = to be somewhere

Être plus a preposition usually indicates location.

Je suis à Nice.   I’m in Nice.
La France est en Europe.   France is in Europe.

However, être à plus a noun or stressed pronoun means "to belong to" – learn more.

Être = auxiliary verb

Être serves as the auxiliary verb in the compound tenses and moods for about two dozen French verbs.

Tu es parti tôt.   You left early.
Il est tombé hier.   He fell yesterday.
Si j’étais descendu, je ne serais jamais remonté.   If I’d gone downstairs, I’d never have come back up.

  Être is also the auxiliary verb for all pronominal verbs.

Je me suis levé tard.   I got up late.
Elle ne s’est pas habillée.   She didn’t get dressed.

Être = passive voice

Être is used to create all tenses and moods of the passive voice.

Potential French mistake Être ≠ to be

 * In more than a dozen common phrases where we use "to be" in English, French uses avoir instead.

 * When talking about weather, French often uses faire where English uses "be."

Être in grammatical expressions

Être is used in four grammatical expressions:

  1. c’est – this is, that is
  2. est-ce que – turn a statement into a question
  3. être en train de – make a verb progressive
  4. n’est-ce pas – ask for confirmation of a statement

Être in idiomatic expressions

Être is also found in dozens of idiomatic expressions; here are just a few:

 Related lessons

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Être - to be


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