The verb être in French is one of the most useful and critical verbs you will ever need. It’s used to express a lot of concepts in the language. Just like the English verb “to be”, être is probably one of the most used verbs in the French language.
It’s also used to form other verb constructions like the passé composé (the most used past tense in modern French), but we will get into that later. Today, we will focus on the present tense.
Être is an irregular verb. Therefore, it doesn’t follow the conjugation rules for regular verbs. But hey, what would languages be like if there were no exceptions? So, without much further ado, let’s get started!
Conjugations of Être
English has three conjugations of “to be”, which are am, is, and are. Well, French has a few more of its equivalent, making a total of six. You can look at the conjugations of être below.
je suis I am
tu es you are (second person singular informal)
il/elle/on est he/she is
nous sommes we are
vous êtes you are (second person singular formal or second person plural)
ils/elles sont they are
Remember tu and vous can be used interchangeably when referring to the second person singular. The only difference is the verb conjugation (es vs êtes).
The same concept applies to on. Even though it means we in most cases, we use the conjugation est and not sommes.
Pronunciation and Contractions
If you still haven’t read my post on French pronunciation, you can do so here. Moving forward, it’s important to master pronunciation before learning more advanced concepts.
Watch the video below and notice the pronunciation of both the subject pronouns and the verbs. Repeat after the teacher as many times as necessary.
Did you notice the pronunciation of vous êtes? The s in vous sounds like z. It’s what we call le liaison. It’s very common in French. We will cover that subject in more detail shortly.
When conjugating être, we don’t use contractions in standard French. However, in everyday French, people tend to use a few contractions. For example, je suis is shortened to j’suis and tu es to t’es. Let’s not worry about that now, though.
Uses of Être as the Main Verb
Être can be used both as a main verb or as an auxiliary for other tenses. We will not talk about its uses as an auxiliary verb today since that is a different topic. Here we will focus on its uses as the main verb in a sentence.
The most common uses of être are to express the following concepts:
- With adjectives in general
Let’s take a look at some examples using être.
Je suis grand (I’m tall)
Elle est jeune (She’s young)
Il est américain (He’s American)
Nous sommes italiens (We’re Italian)
Note: Notice that nationalities are not capitalized in French. Only proper nouns are capitalized, so you will have to rely on the context.
Vous êtes médecin (You are a doctor)
Ils sont acteurs (They’re actors)
Note: We don’t use articles with professions in French.
Je suis au travail (I’m at work)
Tu es à l’école (You’re at school)
Elles sont au magasin (They’re at the store)
Nous sommes vendredi (It’s Friday)
On est 15 mai (It’s May 15)
Note: For dates, we normally use nous sommes or on est. Don´t translate literally since it doesn´t make sense in English.
Il est 15h (It’s 3 p.m.)
Il est 9h (It’s 9 a.m.)
Note: To express time in French, we always use il est. Also, keep in mind the French use a 24h system instead of using a.m. or p.m.
Cet ordinateur est à lui (This computer is his)
La voiture est à moi (The car is mine)
Note: To express possession with être, we have to use a stressed pronoun like moi, lui, etc.
With Adjectives in General
Je suis content (I’m happy)
Elle est responsable (She’s responsible)
Ils sont fatigués (They’re tired)
Some Expressions with Être
Let’s take a look at some common French expressions that use this verb.
être à l’heure (to be on time)
être en retard (to be late)
être d’accord (to agree)
être au courant (to be aware of)
être à l’aise (to be at ease)
être en colère (to be angry)
être de bonne humeur (to be in a good mood)
être au chômage (to be unemployed)
être à l’intérieur (to be inside)
Remember we have to conjugate the verb correctly. Think of the subject. Is it singular/plural and/or masculine/feminine? Remember grammatical genders matter in French.
There you have it. Today we learned the importance of the verb être as well as its most common uses. We learned it can either be the main verb or an auxiliary verb in a sentence.
We also learned how to conjugate it. Remember it’s an irregular verb. We will talk more in-depth about the subject in a later post.
Try to practice the pronunciation and conjugation of this verb as much as you can. It takes some practice but is necessary.
As always, feel free to leave your comments and questions below. Au revoir!