Comment allez-vous? It’s one of the first phrases you’ll hear when you’re learning French. If you’re looking for a less formal version there’s also comment vas-tu? And if you want to get even more casual you can simply ask the well known ça va?
You might be asking what these basic phrases all have in common and it’s simple. They all use the very important verb aller. In a basic sense, the verb aller means ‘to go’ and just like its English counterpart, it gets used a lot as the French language’s favorite verb of motion. Simply put, aller is a must-know verb with a whole lot of different expressions and phrases that come with it. In fact there’s a separate tense in French that requires you to know the verb aller!
With all that in mind, this article is going to give you a thorough rundown of the verb aller, so that you’ll be ready to use it like a native speaker.
To begin, we’ve laid out the conjugation of aller for le présent (the present tense).
|Je vais||I go||Nous allons||We go|
|Tu vas||You go||Vous allez||You go|
|Il va||He goes||Ils vont||They go|
|Elle va||She goes||Elles vont||They go|
|On va||We go/one goes|
You may have noticed that conjugation of aller is highly irregular. In fact, the forms vais, vas, va and vont actually derive from different words than allons and allez. Like the verb être, you have to practice these forms until you have them mastered.
Here are some examples of aller in the present tense:
Je vais en cours
‘I’m going to class’ (highschool or university)
Tu vas au magasin
‘You’re going to the store’
Elle va au Canada
‘She’s going to Canada’
Jusqu’ici tout va bien
‘So far, everything’s going well’
Nous y allons tous les jours
‘We go there every day’
Vous allez à la boulangerie
‘You’re going to the bakery’
Tous les fleuves vont à la mer
‘All rivers go to the sea’
In the majority of situations, you can think of aller the same way you think of the verb ‘to go’ in English. Because ‘go’ implies movement or direction, the verb is often followed by the preposition chez or en or à/au in the same way we use the preposition ‘to’ in English.
Je vais à la mairie
‘I’m going to the town hall’
Il va au concert
‘He’s going to the concert’
Mes amies vont aux Etats-Unis
‘My friends are going to the US’
Vous allez en Belgique en voiture
‘You’re going to Belgium by car’
Nous allons chez ma tante
‘We’re going to my aunt’s house’
Of course, aller has many other uses as well, many of which are very common. One of the most common ways you’ll hear aller used is to make statements or questions about the status or conditions of things.
Il va bien
‘He’s doing well’
Ça va ?
‘How’s it going?’
‘It’s going well’
Notre système va mal
‘Our system isn’t going well’
‘How are you?’
When the verb aller is reflexive it’s also used to say ‘go away’ with the preposition en:
Je m’en vais
I’m going away/leaving
Go away! (informal)
Ils s’en vont
Of course there’s so much more to aller than just le présent, so let’s dive into the imperfect tense. As we’ve mentioned in previous articles, you’ll use l’imparfait to discuss ongoing actionS that haVE already come to an end. This form usually translates to ‘used to’ or ‘was/were.’
Unlike the present conjugation, the conjugation of aller in the imperfective is much more consistent in its forms. There’s only one stem – all- and the verb endings are all very regular.
J’allais en cours
‘I was going to class’
Tu allais au magasin
‘You were going to the store’
Il allait à la banque
‘He was going to the bank’
Elle allait au théâtre
‘She was going to the theatre’
Nous y allions tous les jours
‘We used to go there every day’
Vous alliez à la boulangerie
‘You were going to the bakery’
Elles y allaient à pied
‘They were going on foot’
You should be aware that because of French grammar rules about elision, the je-form (allais) and the pronoun become a single word. This happens with other je-forms as well, so be aware.
je + allais = je allais > j’allais
We’ve discussed the present and the past, so onto the future. The simple future tense of aller uses the verb stem ir- and adds on the regular endings.
J’irai en cours
‘I will go to class’
Tu iras au magasin
‘You WILL go to the store’
Il ira à la banque
‘He will go to the bank’
Il ira au théâtre
‘She will go to the theatre’
Nous y irons demain
‘We will go there tomorrow’
Vous irez à la boulangerie
‘You will go to the bakery’
Elles iront à pied
‘They will go on foot’
When you want to talk about what would be, French uses a different verb form called le conditionnel (the conditional). Often the word si (if) can be seen nearby, but not always. The conditional uses the same stem (ir-) as the future and is followed by the regular endings for the tense. You might recognize these endings because they’re the same as the endings for l’imparfait, but attached to a different verb stem.
J’irais en cours si…
‘I would go to class if…’
Tu irais au magasin
‘You would go to the store’
Il irait à la banque
‘He would go to the bank’
Elle irait au théâtre si…
‘She would go to the theatre if..
Nous y irions demain si…
‘We would go there tomorrow if…’
Vous iriez à la boulangerie
‘You would go to the bakery’
Elles iraient à pied
‘They would go on foot’
One of the most important things to know about the verb aller is that it can also be used as an auxiliary verb to form the compound future. This form looks almost word for word like the English phrase ‘going to’. The verb aller (to go) is followed by the infinitive.
Je vais faure cuire le poulet
I’m going to cook the chicken
Tu vas aller au magasin
You’re going to go to the store
Il va visiter sa famille
He’s going to visit his family
Elle va être trempée
She’s going to get soaked
Nous allons presenter l’idee
We’re going to present the idea
Vous allez travailler pour nous
You’re going to work for us
Ils vont venir
They’re going to come
Elles vont partir
They’re going to leave
You’re more likely to encounter the true future tense (le futur simple) in texts and higher registers. However, in casual speech the compound future is much more commonly heard.
Up until now, we’ve only mentioned about half the tenses of the aller conjugation. However, there are several other tenses that use an auxiliary verb/helping verb, like the compound future we just mentioned.
Of all the compound tenses in French, you will encounter the passé composé the most often. This is used to talk about past events, the same way that English uses the simple past (e.g. he went, you said, they came). While the imperfect is used to refer to ongoing events, the passé composé normally refers to single events.
For the verb aller, the passé composé is conjugated using the auxiliary verb être instead of avoir. This is followed by the past participle of aller – allé.
Unlike the verbs that use avoir, the past participle of aller must match the gender and number of the subject.
- allé – masculine singular subject
- allée – feminine singular subject
- allés – masculine plural subject
- allées – feminine plural subject
Je suis allé en cours
I went to class (male)
Tu es allée au magasin
You went to the store (female)
Il est allé à la banque
He went to the bank
Elle est allée au théâtre
She went to the theatre
Nous y sommes allés hier soir
We went there last night
Vous êtes allés à la boulangerie
You went to the bakery
Elles sont allées à pied
They went on foot (females)
While the passé composé allows people to talk about events that happened in the recent past, the plus-que-parfait is used to discuss events in the more distant past. If you talk about something in the past and need to refer to something happening before that, then you use the plus-que-parfait. Normally, in English this includes the verb had.
I was going to the cafe even though I had already drank two espressos.
In this sentence, was going refers to the imperfect, while had drank refers to something even earlier than the act of going. Generally, you can think of le plus-que-parfait as the tense that uses the verb had. In order to make the pluperfect in French, you just add the past participle of aller to the verb être conjugated in the imperfect.
As with the passé composé, the past participle changes according to the gender and number of the subject.
J’étais allé en cours
I had gone to class (male)
Tu étais allée au magasin
You had gone to the store (female)
Il était allé à la banque
He had gone to the bank
Elle était allée au théâtre
She had gone to the theatre
Nous y étions allés hier soir
We had gone there last night
Vous étiez allés à la boulangerie
You had gone to the bakery
Elles étaient allées à pied
They had gone on foot (females)
As mentioned earlier, French has two future tenses. As we’ve already mentioned the compound future uses aller as a helping verb, so for the compound future you’ll need to use the verb aller twice. First you’ll need the conjugated form of aller and then the infinitive. As with the passé composé and le plus-que-parfait, only the helping verb is conjugated.
- Je vais aller… I’m going to go…
- Tu vas aller… You’re going to go….
- Il/Elle va aller… S/he’s going to go…
- Nous allons aller… We’re going to go…
- Vous allez aller… You’re going to go….
- Ils/Elles vont aller… They’re going to go…
Along with the verb forms that were mentioned above, French also uses the subjunctive mood. Unlike the previously mentioned forms, the subjunctive isn’t actually a tense. In actuality, it’s a verbal mood that’s used to express doubt, possibility, requests and uncertainty in a given situation. Very often (although not always) verbs in the subjunctive come after the conjunction que.
If you’d like to get a deeper and more in depth explanation on the subjunctive mood, you can read more about it here.
So we’ve laid out the conjugation of aller in the subjunctive mood in the table below:
|(que) j’aille||(that) I go||(que) nous allions||(that) we go|
|(que) tu ailles||(that) you go||(que) vous alliez||(that) you go|
|(que) il aille||(that) he goes||(que) ils aillent||(that) they go|
|(que) elle aille||(that) she goes||(que) elles aillent||(that) they go|
|(que) on aille||(that) we/one goes|
Il faut que j’aille
I have to go (It’s necessary that I go)
Il veut que tu ailles au musée
He wants you to go to the museum (He wants that you go to the museum)
Je doute qu’elle aille vite
I doubt that she’s going quickly
Je veux que nous allions
I want us to go (I want that we go)
Il demande que vous alliez
He asks that you go
Quel dommage qu’ils aillent aujourd’hui
What a shame (that) they’re going today
Of all the verbs in the command, you are most likely to encounter those of aller. Different forms of aller can be heard as filler-words, place holders and words of encouragement.
Allons au cinema
‘Let’s go to the cinema’
‘Go!’ / ‘Let’s go!’ (in sports)
While saying allons is common when it’s followed by destination, the phrase allons-y meaning ‘let’s go’ in a general sense has been falling out of favour. You’re more likely to hear the phrase ‘on y va’ although it’s a bit more informal.
It’s also worth noting that the imperative forms may change when followed by a preposition.
‘Go on’ (lit. go there)
That’s a brief rundown on the verb aller of you. With this you should be able to understand the most common meanings of aller and also know it as an auxiliary verb in forming the near future tense. Likewise, you can now recognize the most common conjugations of aller with ease.
Now that you know all that, on y va!
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