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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.|
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|
|aider à||to help to do|
|aimer||to like, love doing|
|aller||to be going to do||aller – near future|
|arrêter de||to stop doing|
|arriver à||to manage to do||arriver lesson|
|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||croire lesson|
|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|
|inviter à||to invite 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|
|to come (in order) to|
to have just done
venir – recent past
|vouloir||to want to do||vouloir lesson|
When using a semi-auxiliary verb with a direct object, that object always goes with the infinitive rather than the semi-auxiliary. Therefore, there is never any agreement with avoir verbs here.
Word order with semi-auxiliary verbs
Note that 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.
Similarly, verbs like entendre and voir are not semi-auxiliaries, because the subject is perceiving someone else doing something. These are known as verbs of perception.
- Auxiliary verbs
- Modal verbs
- Periphrastic tenses
- Verbs of perception
- Word order with semi-auxiliary verbs
- Top 10 French verbs
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