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.

Par exemple…

J’espĂšre 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’hĂ©site Ă  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.

Par exemple…

Je voudrais la voir.   I’d like to see it.
J’ai refusĂ© de lire.   I refused to read.
Je pourrai me brosser les dents.   I’ll be able to brush my teeth.
J’hĂ©sitais Ă  te le dire.   I hesitated to tell 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  
aider Ă    to help to do  
aimer   to like, love doing aimer lesson
aller   to be going to do aller lesson
aller – near future
arrĂȘter de   to stop doing  
arriver Ă    to manage to do arriver lesson
avoir Ă    to have to avoir lesson
chercher Ă    to look to do chercher lesson
choisir de   to choose to do  
continuer Ă /de   to continue to do  
croire   to believe (that one) does croire lesson
dĂ©sirer   to desire to  
dĂ©tester   to hate doing  
devoir   to have to do devoir lesson
s’efforcer de   to endeavor to do  
espĂ©rer   to hope to do  
essayer de   to try doing  
ĂȘtre Ă    to be in the process of ĂȘtre lesson
faillir   to almost do faillir lesson
faire   to have someone do faire – causative
falloir   to be necessary to do falloir lesson
hĂ©siter Ă    to hesitate to do  
inviter Ă    to invite to do  
jurer de   to swear, vow to do  
laisser   to let something happen laisser lesson
manquer de   something nearly happened manquer lesson
paraĂźtre   to appear, seem to be  
partir   to leave in order to, to go to  
passer   to call/drop in on, call for, go to passer lesson
penser   to be thinking of, consider doing penser lesson
persister Ă    to persist in doing  
pouvoir   can, may, might, to be able to pouvoir lesson
prĂ©fĂ©rer   to prefer doing  
prĂ©tendre   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  
tĂącher de   to try doing  
tenter de   to attempt doing  
venir de
  to come (in order) to
to have just done
venir lesson
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.

 Related lessons

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French semi-auxiliary verbs

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