In French, infinitives form the base and are the first step we understand about verbs in the language. This is the purest, unconjugated part through which you later conjugate new constructions and make sentences.
There are three endings with which the infinitive verbs may appear – er, ir and re. The next step for us is to see how these infinitive forms are used.
Type 1: Dressed Up as Noun
Whether it’s in place of a subject or an object within a sentence, the infinitive can appear as a noun. If we translate the sentence, then in English this noun form is the present participle.
Être ou ne pas être (To be or not to be)
Type 2: Replace an Imperative!
Check out some French recipes or instruction manual of the new hair dryer you bought, there will be some commands which are imperatives but written in infinitive. It’ll have a touch of impersonal to it.
Saupoudrer de sel pour la garniture (Sprinkle salt for garnish)
Type 3: Crafting Past Infinitives
If you talk about an action that happens before another that the main verb describes, then the past infinitive is used.
Auxiliary verb (être or avoir) + ending of past participles = past infinitive
Let’s dive a bit deeper into this aspect.
- Affecting Adjectives in Main Clause
- Affecting Verb in Main Clause
- Showing Gratitude
- In Partnership with Preposition Après
Look at some examples below and try placing them in the categories above.
Après avoir lu un roman, ils sont allés manger
(After reading a novel, they went to eat)
Il était malheureux de perdre la partie
(He was unhappy to lose the game)
Remember for negative aspect, the negation is before the infinitive.
Type 4: Helping with Subjunctive
When you want to express uncertainty or something subjective, then subjunctive is your friend.
Main Clause = Subordinate Clause = Subject (all are same)
Il était excité d’être à l’heure (He was excited to be on time)
Subject gets inexplicitly stated
Elle doit manger (She must eat)
Type 5: Prepping the Preposition
Sentences with preposition in French sometimes have more than one verb and those can appear in infinitive form.
Pierre a oublié de fermer le robinet (Pierre forgot to close the tap)
Type 6: Questions, Exclamations Are All In
As the title suggests, these parts can accompany infinitives.
Quel jus boire? (Which juice to drink?)
Type 7: Follow the Verb
There is never a point in French that two verbs which are conjugated would follow each other. Many dual verb constructions have verbs such as devoir (to have to do something), vouloir (to want to) etc. If a sentence consists of an object, adverbial pronoun or reflexive, then they are positioned within to verbs but after the preposition. The negative conjugation will however precede the preposition.
Je ne vais pas travailler cette semaine (I am not going to work this week)
On a note of closure, other than the order of words mentioned when infinitive comes into picture, here is a last one to keep in mind: if a sentence has the presence of both pronouns and negation, then the negative part comes before.
Infinitives might come across as basic but remember it’s the basic things that lead to something glorious. Our experienced French Tutor can help you out in learning all about French Infinitives. See you next chapter!