The French Infinitive isn’t quite as straightforward as some may think. We totally understand, and with that in mind we put together this super easy guide to help you out!
Let’s walk through the 7 different situations in which you will come across the French Infinitive.
Dressed Up as Noun
Whether it’s playing the part of the subject or the object within a sentence, the infinitive can appear as a noun. If translated into English this noun form corresponds to the present participle.
Être ou ne pas être (To be or not to be)
Replaces an Imperative
Have a look at some French recipes or any instruction manual, and you’ll come across a number of commands which are in fact imperatives but written in an infinitive form.
Saupoudrer du sel pour la garniture (Sprinkle salt for garnish)
Crafting Past Infinitives
If you’re wanting to talk about an action that happens before the action that the main verb is describing, then you’ll be using the past infinitive.
The past infinitive is formed in the following way: auxiliary verb (être or avoir) + past participle.
To dig a little deeper, past infinitives play either of these four different roles within a sentence:
- Affecting Adjectives in Main Clause
- Affecting Verb in Main Clause
- Showing gratitude
- Accompanying the preposition après
Here are two examples. Can you try placing them in their correct above category?
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)
Note: In negative sentences, the negation is before the infinitive.
Watch the video below for a quick recap on what Infinitives look like:
Replaces a Subjunctive
When you want to express uncertainty or something subjective, then the subjunctive is your friend. Here are the two instances in which infinitives are used instead of the subjunctive.
- When the Main Clause and the Subordinate Clause of a sentence have the same subject.
Klaus est déçu de ne pas être là (Klaus is disappointed to not be there)
- When the sentence’s subject is not explicitly stated but implied
Elle doit manger (She must eat)
Prepping The Preposition
In French, sentences that include a preposition 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)
When There’s a Dilemma
In interrogative sentences wherein a dilemma arises, you’ll want to use an infinitive.
Quel jus boire? (Which juice to drink?)
Following the Verb
There is never a point in French when two conjugated verbs follow each other. Most times, you will find an infinitive after a conjugated verb; for example: J’aime voyager (I like to travel).
However, in sentences where there are two verbs (but not in a row, of course!) the infinitive is placed after the main conjugated verb and after the eventual preposition following it.
Genya doit manger les légumes (Genya has to eat the vegetables)
On another note, if there is negation in a sentence then the negative components are placed around the conjugated verb and come before an eventual preposition.
Je ne vais pas travailler cette semaine (I am not going to work this week)
And that brings our chapter on French Infinitives to an end!
Why not try our quiz below to put what you’ve learnt today to the test?
See you next lesson – and in the meantime, don’t forget to practice! If you need any help don’t hesitate to get into contact with one of our online French Tutors.