Mastering the French verb conjugation can be quite a challenge for a language learner. While there’s a number of regular conjugation patterns that can help you tremendously with this process, the avoir conjugation is irregular and you’ll have to learn it by heart.
The basic avoir meaning in English is “to have” but it can be different, depending on the context in which it’s used.
This verb is crucial not only because of its meaning, but also its other uses as an auxiliary verb in compound tenses.
Oh dear, grammar jargon alert! A compound tense requires the use of an auxiliary verb and a main verb (= the verb you actually want to use) in the right form.
Think about an auxiliary as a “helping” verb that accompanies the main verb.
Compare these two sentences:
Je prends mon petit déjeuner sur la terrasse. – “I have (literally: take) my breakfast on the terrace.”
It’s a simple tense. There’s only one verb: the correct form of the verb prendre (“to take”).
Hier, j’ai pris mon petit déjeuner sur la terrasse. – “I had (literally: took) my breakfast on the terrace yesterday.”
It’s a compound tense. There are two verbs: the auxiliary avoir and prendre.
Your choice of an auxiliary verb is between avoir and être (“to be”). Avoir is your go to verb used in the majority of cases. You can find out more about when you should use être instead in this article.
The tenses and moods in this article are paired in a way that helps you notice patterns and remember the avoir conjugation more easily.
The forms of avoir in the present tense (le présent) are the first ones you should learn. Here they are:
|J’ai – I have||Nous avons – we have|
|Tu as – you have||Vous avez – you have|
|Il/elle/on a – he/she/one has||Ils/Elles ont – they have|
Below you can find some examples of how to use avoir in this tense with the expression avoir peur (“to be scared”):
J’ai peur de toi. – “I’m scared of you.”
Il a peur de l’eau. – “He’s scared of water.”
Passé composé is a compound past tense and it uses the forms of the auxiliary verb in the present tense. To create a sentence in the passé composé you need:
- The form of avoir or être in the présent,
- A verb form called participe passé (past participle) of the main verb.
You can find the rules of formation of the participe passé here, if you don’t know them yet. Now, have a look at an example of the passé composé with the verb entendre (“to hear”):
|J’ai entendu – I heard||Nous avons entendu – we heard|
|Tu as entendu – you heard||Vous avez entendu – you heard|
|Il/elle/on a entendu – he/she/one heard||Ils/Elles ont entendu – they heard|
Here are some examples of this tense’s use:
Nous avons entendu les nouvelles. – “We heard the news.”
Vous avez passé l’examen. – “You took the exam.”
J’ai vu mon père. – “I saw my father.”
Some other important forms of avoir are the ones in a past tense, l’imparfait. You can see them all below:
|J’avais – I had||Nous avions – we had|
|Tu avais – you had||Vous aviez – you had|
Il/elle/on avait – he/she/one had
|Ils/Elles avaient – they had|
Avoir tort (“to be wrong/incorrect”) is a very useful expression with avoir:
J’avais tort. – “I was wrong.”
Avoir raison (“to be right/correct”) is another handy phrase:
Nous avions raison ! – “We were right!”
You can learn the difference between the passé composé and the imparfait when expressing actions in the past by following this link.
The forms of avoir in the imparfait are also used to form a compound tense, the French equivalent of Past Perfect in English, le plus-que-parfait.
The formation pattern for the plus-que-parfait is as follows:
avoir/être in the imparfait + participe passé of the main verb
Let’s see how to conjugate in this tense using the example of the verb oublier (“to forget”):
|J’avais oublié – I had forgotten||Nous avions oublié – we had forgotten|
|Tu avais oublié – you had forgotten||Vous aviez oublié – you had forgotten|
|l/elle/on avait oublié – he/she/one had forgotten||Ils/Elles avaient oublié – they had forgotten|
J’avais oublié de te dire ! – “I had forgotten to tell you!”
Vous aviez crié. – “You had shouted.”
Elles avaient mangé. – “They had eaten.” (about a group of females)
Another set of tenses that operate together are the simple tense futur simple and the compound tense futur antérieur.
Let’s have a look at the conjugation of avoir in the futur simple first:
|J’aurai – I will have||Nous aurons – we will have|
|Tu auras – you will have||Vous aurez – you will have|
|Il/elle/on aura – he/she/one will have||Ils/Elles auront – they will have|
Avoir envie de means “to want” (literally: “to have the desire to”):
Vous aurez envie de revenir. – “You’ll want to come back.”
Remember that in French we “have” our age:
Demain, j’aurai 20 ans. – “I’ll be 20 years old tomorrow.”
Can you guess on the basis of the previous tenses how the forms of futur antérieur are created? You’ll need:
avoir/être in the futur simple + participe passé of the verb you want to use
Here’s an example of conjugation for the verb you know very well by now, avoir:
|J’aurai eu – I will have had||Nous aurons eu – we will have had|
|Tu auras eu – you will have had||Vous aurez eu – you will have had|
|Il/elle/on aura eu – he/she/one will have had||Ils/Elles auront eu – they will have had|
Vous aurez eu des réponses à la fin de l’année. – “You will have had answers by the end of the year.”
What’s the difference between this tense and the futur simple? Futur antérieur refers to actions that should be or will be completed by a certain time.
Have a look at two more examples:
Tu auras fini avant son arrivée. – “You will have finished before his arrival.”
Après-demain à cette heure-ci, il aura obtenu les résultats du bac. – “By this time the day after tomorrow, he will have obtained his baccalaureate exam results.”
So far I’ve mentioned the tenses in the indicative mood in French (l’indicatif) but the technique of pairing in the French conjugation works for le subjonctif (the subjunctive) too. In fact, it works for all four subjonctif moods:
- subjonctif présent (present subjunctive) and subjonctif passé (past subjunctive)
- subjonctif imparfait (imperfect subjunctive) and subjonctif plus-que-parfait (past perfect subjunctive)
For the purpose of this article, I’ll only discuss the first pair as it’s much more frequently used and more level appropriate.
Here’s the avoir conjugation chart for the subjunctive mood, subjonctif présent:
|J’aie – I have||Nous ayons – we have|
|Tu aies – you have||Vous ayez – you have|
|Il/elle/on ait – he/she/one has||Ils/Elles aient – they have|
The subjunctive mood is used to express subjective or uncertain actions and ideas. Have a look at the following example:
Je veux que tu aies confiance en moi. – “I want you to trust me.”
We say je veux (“I want”), but do you know the rest of the vouloir conjugation (“to want”)? If not, check out this guide to the French verb vouloir. You can also learn about other verbs with the -oir ending in the comprehensive guide to the -oir verb conjugations.
There’s a number of expressions that require the use of subjonctif, such as il faut que (it’s necessary that/it must be that):
Il faut que nous ayons une vision. – “We must have a vision” (It’s necessary for us to have a vision.)”
Do you remember the expression avoir peur in French (“to be scared”) we discussed earlier? The derivative expression avoir peur que (“to be scared that”) requires subjonctif too:
J’ai peur que tu aies besoin de moi. – “I’m scared that you need me.”
(Avoir besoin de means “to need”.)
You can find more expressions that require the French subjunctive mood here.
As you’ve probably guessed, the right form of the avoir conjugation in the subjonctif présent is required when we want to use the subjonctif passé:
avoir/être in subjonctif présent + participe passé of the verb you need
Below you can find an example of this French conjugation for the verb voir (“to see”):
|J’aie vu – I’ve seen||Nous ayons vu – we’ve seen|
|Tu aies vu – you’ve seen||Vous ayez vu – you’ve seen|
Il/elle/on ait vu – he/she/one
|Ils/Elles aient vu – they’ve seen|
Il est le plus bel homme que j’aie vu dans ma vie. – “He’s the most beautiful man I’ve seen in my life.”
Subjonctif is often used after the superlative adjective, meaning after the highest degree of an adjective such as “the most beautiful”.
Je ne pense pas que vous ayez compris. – “I don’t think you’ve understood.”
Je regrette qu’ils ayons perdu ce match. – “I’m sorry that they lost this match.”
Knowing the French “to have” conjugation in different tenses is very useful, especially that there’s a number of handy phrases with avoir. I have sneaked in some of them into this article already. Here are some more that you should learn by heart:
- avoir l’air de – “to seem, to appear”
Il a l’air d’être parfait. – “He seems perfect.”
- avoir sommeil – “to be sleepy”
J’ai sommeil. – “I’m sleepy.”
- avoir de la chance – “to be lucky”
Nous avons eu de la chance. – “We were lucky.”
- avoir froid and avoir chaud – “to be cold” and “to be hot”
Vous n’avez pas froid/chaud? – “Are you not cold/hot?”
- avoir faim and avoir soif – “to be hungry” and “to be thirsty”
J’aurai faim/soif avant midi. – “I will be hungry/thirsty before noon.”
You’ve learnt today how to conjugate avoir in different tenses and moods. Learning the forms in pairs makes the task much easier. Here’s a summary of the avoir conjugation with the verb donner (“to give”) for the compound tenses:
|First person singular||J’ai||J’ai donné|
|Second person singular||Tu avais||Tu avais donné|
|FUTUR SIMPLE||FUTUR ANTÉRIEUR|
|Third person singular||Elle aura||Elle aura donné|
|SUBJONCTIF PRÉSENT||SUBJONCTIF PASSÉ|
|First person plural||Nous ayons||Nous ayons donné|
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