Passive Infinitive

French passive infinitive
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Infinitif passif

French infinitives are usually described as equivalent to "to (verb)"; for example:

However, this isn’t always correct. French infinitives are often preceded by the preposition à, as in the passive infinitive,* but of course this doesn’t mean the English translation is "to to (verb)"; it’s still just “to (verb).”**

As its name so usefully suggests, the passive infinitive construction is used when the infinitive has a passive role, rather than an active one.

Par exemple…

Active: Je dois lire beaucoup de livres.   I have to read a lot of books.
Passive: J’ai beaucoup de livres à lire.   I have a lot of books to read.

In the active construction, the infinitive lire is connected to the subject je: I have to read a lot of books, I am the one who has to read them.

In the passive construction, the subject isn’t actually connected to the infinitive. I have a lot of books, and they are available for someone to read them, but the relationship here is passive. Though it’s not really grammatical, it can help to mentally translate the passive infinitive as "to be read."

The French passive infinitive is used after many different indefinite, negative, and impersonal phrases.

Indefinite adjectives

J’ai d’autres choses à faire.   I have other things to do.
Elle connaît chaque chien à nourrir.   She knows every dog to feed (that is to be fed).

Indefinite articles

Nous cherchons un terrain à acheter.   We’re looking for a piece of property to buy.
Est-ce que tu as des livres à me prêter ?   Do you have some books to lend me?

Indefinite pronouns

Il veut quelque chose à manger.   He wants something to eat.
Je vais trouver quelqu’un à nous aider.   I’m going to find someone to help us.

Negative adjectives

Il ne me reste aucun livre à lire.   There remain no more books to read.
Tu n’as nulle question à poser ?   You have no questions to ask?

Negative pronouns

Je n’ai rien à faire.   I have nothing to do.
Nous n’avons personne à voir.   We have no one to see.

Number + noun

J’ai deux choses à faire avant la réunion.   I have two things to do before the meeting.
Il a cinq films à regarder.   He has five movies to watch.

Partitive articles

Il veut du pain à griller.   He wants some bread to toast.
J’ai trouvé des dégâts à signaler.   I found some damage to report.


Voici le nouveau resto à essayer.   Here’s the new restaurant to try.
C’est difficile à comprendre.   It’s hard to understand.

 The presentatives c’est and il est are more complicated – they may be followed by à or de, depending on how they’re used. Learn more: Impersonal expressions.


J’ai beaucoup de lettres à écrire.   I have a lot of letters to write.
Il a une poignée de graines à planter.   He has a handful of seeds to plant.

Sentence fragments

maison / voiture à louer   house / car for rent
maison / voiture à vendre   house / car for sale
bail à céder   lease for sale

 * For other constructions with à + infinitive, see Verbs with à.

** And sometimes there’s no preposition in the English translation, as in Pouvez-vous partir à 9h ? – Can you leave at 9am?

 Related lessons

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Livres à lire, livres à vendre - French passive infinitive

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