The French Verb Être and Its Conjugations

We’ll look at the French verb être and how it is conjugated in some common tenses.

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Être is one of the most common verbs in French, making it very important to learn! The French verb être is the equivalent to the verb “to be”. It’s essential for talking about how you feel, as well as if you want to describe both people and things.

Imagine you’re talking to someone you know and they ask “ça va ?” or “how’s it going”.

You might reply “je suis fatigué !” or “I am tired!” if you’ve had a long day. Or perhaps you’re excited about a new restaurant that’s opened up in the area, in which case you’d say: “je suis ravi d'essayer le nouveau restaurant !”

in this article we will look at singular and plural forms of être, and how this affects the conjugation. We will also explore its conjugations in the present tense, as well as how to use it in the past and future.

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The French verb être

Firstly, it’s important to remember that être is an irregular verb. This means that its conjugations don’t follow a standard pattern. You’ll have to memorize all of the different conjugations for each gender, tense, and mood in French. We hope that with this guide, however, you’ll be able to do just that!

Conjugations of être in present indicative

You’ll probably most frequently find conjugations of être in the present indicative. It’s a combination of the present tense and the indicative mood, meaning that we’re talking about something happening in the present, and the indicative mood is the standard grammatical mood you’ll find in French.

It just means that you’re stating something as a fact. You can use être to describe the state of a person, such as a trait of character or their emotions.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • Je suis grande. (I am tall.)
  • Je suis contente. (I am happy.)

In the above examples, the conjugation of être is “suis”, because it matches the subject pronoun “je”, or “I”. We’ll look at a table below which shows all of the different conjugations of être for subject pronouns in the present indicative.

Present indicative of être

Subject pronoun + conjugation in French Subject pronoun + conjugation in English
Je suis I am
Tu es You are
Il/Elle/On est He/she/one is
Nous sommes We are
Vous êtes You are
Ils/Elles sont They are

Singular conjugated forms of être

We are going to see that all the singular conjugated forms of être in the present tense end with either “s” or “t”. However, when we speak, we don’t pronounce these last letters!

Check out the examples below:

  • Je suis contente. (I am happy.)
  • Tu es fatigué? (Are you tired?)
  • Elle est impatiente (She is impatient.)

When do we use ils?

We use ils when we talk about a group of men. We also use it when we refer to a mixed group of men and women.

For example:

  • Marie et Sophie = Elles sont françaises.
  • Pierre et Thomas = Ils sont français.
  • Marie, Pierre, Sophie et Thomas = Ils sont français.

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Busuu is here to help! With free online lessons and learning resources, you will be able to learn to say "Elles sommes" (They are) which is the plural form of “être”, combined with common words and phrases in French in no time!

How does être change with tense?

We’ve looked at être in the present tense, but how does the verb change when it sits in a different moment in time, like the past or the future? Let’s explore this further…

You’ll probably want to be able to talk about what people and objects used to be, as well as what they are now. If you want to talk about something which happened once (such as a one off event), then you use the passé composé – the past tense.

Here’s a table to help you memorize the verb in this tense:

Compound past tense of être

English “to be” French être conjugation
I was J’ai été
You were Tu as été
He/she/one was Il/elle/on a été
We were Nous avons été
You were (plural) Vous avez été
They were (masculine/feminine) Ils/elles ont été

What happens if you want to talk about something which happened in the past, but are continuous events rather than events that happened once? You’ll need the imperfect tense to help you do that. Let’s look at conjugations of imperfect être:

Imperfect of être

English “to be” French être conjugation
I used to/was j’étais
You used to/were tu étais
He/she/one used to/was il/elle/on était
We used to/were nous étions
You used to/were (plural) vous étiez
They used to/were (masculine/feminine) ils/elles étaient

What happens if you want to talk about something that might happen to someone in the future? Let’s have a look at a conjugation table for the simple future:

Simple future of être

English “to be” French être conjugation
I will be je serai
you will be tu seras
he/she/one will be il/elle/on sera
we will be nous serons
you will be (plural) vous serez
they will be (masculine/feminine) ils/elles seront

Wrapping-up on the French verb être and its conjugations

We hope that you now have a better idea of how to use the irregular French verb être, or “to be”.

It’s useful in so many situations where you need to describe traits of character, emotions, or events that have happened to people in the past or that will happen in the future.

Just remember that because the verb is irregular, you’ll need to learn each of these conjugation tables by heart – but don’t worry, it will come with regular use and practice!

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