Semi-Auxiliary Verbs

French semi-auxiliary verbs
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Verbes semi-auxiliaires

In contrast with auxiliary verbs, which help create compound tenses and moods, semi-auxiliary verbs are used with infinitives to influence their meaning, tense, mood, or aspect. Some French semi-auxiliaries are equivalent to English modal verbs, and most of the top 10 French verbs can or must be used as semi-auxiliaries.

Whenever a verb is followed directly or indirectly by an infinitive and the subject of the two verbs is the same, the first is being used as a semi-auxiliary.

J’espère voir la tour Eiffel.   I hope to see the Eiffel Tower.
J’essaie de lire.   I’m trying to read.
Je vais me brosser les dents.   I’m going to brush my teeth.
J’hésite à te le dire.   I hesitate to tell you.

As you can see, there may be prepositions and/or pronouns in between the semi-auxiliary and the infinitive. The semi-auxiliary can also be conjugated into different tenses and moods.

Je voudrais la voir.   I’d like to see it.
J’ai refusé de lire.   I refused to read.
Je pourrai me brosser les dents.   I’ll be able to brush my teeth.
Je pensais te le dire.   I was thinking about telling you.

Semi-auxiliary verbs

This list is not definitive, but it should give you a good sense of how semi-auxiliaries work. Click the links on the left for conjugation tables, and the links on the right for detailed lessons.

adorer   to adore doing  
aimer   to like, love doing  
aller   to be going to do aller – near future
(s’)arrêter de   to stop doing  
arriver à   to manage to do  
avoir à   to have to avoir lesson
chercher à   to look to do  
choisir de   to choose to do  
continuer à/de   to continue to do  
croire   to believe (that one) does  
désirer   to desire to  
détester   to hate doing  
devoir   to have to do devoir lesson
s’efforcer de   to endeavor to do  
espérer   to hope to do  
essayer de   to try doing  
être à   to be in the process of être lesson
faillir   to almost do faillir lesson
faire   to have someone do faire – causative
falloir   to be necessary to do falloir lesson
hésiter à   to hesitate to do  
jurer de   to swear, vow to do  
laisser   to let something happen  
manquer de   something nearly happened manquer lesson
paraître   to appear, seem to be  
partir   to leave in order to, to go to  
passer   to call/drop in on, call for, go to  
penser   to be thinking of, consider doing  
persister à   to persist in doing  
pouvoir   can, may, might, to be able to pouvoir lesson
préférer   to prefer doing  
prétendre   to claim to  
promettre de   to promise to do  
refuser de   to refuse to do  
risquer de   to risk doing, to possibly do  
savoir   to know how to savoir lesson
sembler   to seem to be  
sortir de   (informal) to have just done s.t  
souhaiter   to hope to do  
tâcher de   to try doing  
tenter de   to attempt doing  
venir
venir de
  to come (in order) to
to have just done
 
venir – recent past
vouloir   to want to do vouloir lesson

 Verbs like dire and permettre are not semi-auxiliaries, because the subject is telling/permitting someone else to do something. With semi-auxiliaries, the subject of both verbs is the same.

 Related lessons

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French semi-auxiliary verbs
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