When one thing happens before another, you can use the French past infinitive to talk about the earlier action. In English, the past infinitive is very stilted, so it’s usually loosely translated into more idiomatic phrasing.
|Je suis heureux d’avoir terminé.||I’m happy to have finished.
> I’m happy that I finished, about finishing.
|Es-tu gêné d’être tombé ?||Are you embarrassed to have fallen?
> Are you embarrassed that you fell, about falling?
|Elle regrette d’être sortie sans manteau.||She regrets having gone out without a coat.
> She regrets going out without a coat.
The past infinitive isn’t limited to things that actually happened – you can also use it to talk about something that didn’t happen, or that hasn’t happened yet.
|J’aurais aimé être né en France.||I would have liked to have been born in France.
> I would have liked to be born in France.
|Après avoir terminé, nous pourrons manger.||After having finished, we can eat.
> After we finish, we can eat.
|J’espère t’avoir trouvé un emploi avant vendredi.||I hope to have found you a job before Friday.
> I hope to find you a job before Friday.
|Je suis sûr de l’avoir terminé avant 14h00.||I’m sure to have finished it by 2pm.
> I’m sure I’ll finish it by 2pm.
Past Infinitive with a Different Subject
In the above examples, it’s clear that the two actions are done by the same person. To signal that the performer of the action of the past infinitive is different, use an object pronoun.
|Veuillez m’excuser d’être parti tôt.||Please excuse me for having left early.
> Please excuse me for leaving early.
|Je vous suis reconnaissant d’être venu à la conférence.||I’m grateful to you for having come to the conference.
> I’m grateful to you for coming to the conference.
With merci de and prière de, you don’t even need a subject.
|Merci de m’avoir répondu.||Thank you for having responded to me.
> Thank you for responding to me.
|Prière d’avoir terminé avant midi.||Please be finished by noon.
> Please finish by noon.
Note that if you use the regular infinitive rather than the past infinitive with merci de, you’re making a request:
|Merci de me répondre.||Please respond, I thank you in advance for responding.|
Word Order with the Past Infinitive
As with the infinitive, negative adverbs stay together in front of the verb.
|Je suis déçu de ne pas avoir gagné.||I’m disappointed at not having won.
> I’m disappointed at not winning, that I didn’t win.
Object and adverbial pronouns precede the auxiliary verb like they do for all compound tenses and moods.
|Je suis rentré après t’y avoir vu.||I went home after having seen you there.
> I went home after seeing you there.
|Quiz: Past infinitive|
- Past infinitive conjugations
- Introduction to verbs
- Object pronouns
- Adverbial pronouns
- Negative adverbs