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 
aider à to help to do 
aimer to like, love doing 
aller to be going to doaller – near future
arrêter de to stop doing 
arriver à to manage to doarriver lesson
avoir à to have toavoir 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) doescroire lesson
désirer to desire to 
détester to hate doing 
devoir to have to dodevoir 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 ofêtre lesson
faillir to almost dofaillir lesson
faire to have someone dofaire – causative
falloir to be necessary to dofalloir 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 happenedmanquer 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 topouvoir 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 tosavoir 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 de
 to come (in order) to
to have just done
venir lesson
venir – recent past
vouloir to want to dovouloir 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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