French Verb Sortir

Rachel Hanson
Il est difficile de s'en sortir.

The French verb sortir is one of the most common verbs in the French language. The verb means 'to leave' or 'to go out'. It can also be followed by a variety of prepositions that change it's meaning slightly. It is helpful to think of sortir as the opposite of entrer so as not to confuse it with other verbs like partir, that also mean "to leave."

Conjugating the French Verb Sortir

The French verb sortir is a difficult one for French learners because its meaning can change depending on the preposition by which it's followed. In addition, it can serve as both a transitive and intransitive verb. (When sortir is used as a transitive verb it generally means to take out.) As if that weren't confusing enough, it's an irregular French verb and can also be used a pronomial (reflexive) verb. It is part of a small group of -ir verbs that include verbs like partir, dormir, mentir, sentir, and servir-which are all conjugated irregularly.

Typically, to conjugate any -ir verb, you take the root form (or "radical" form) and add the appropriate ending which with sortir would be sort. However, in the case of sortir, you drop the last letter of the root in the singular so instead of sort, you use sor and then add the appropriate endings:

je sors
tu sors
il sort

However in the plural, the entire root is kept (sort) but typical -er endings are added:

nous sortons
vous sortez
ils sortent

What's the best way to memorize this complicated maze of rules? Just keep using the word. Since it is one of the most commonly used French verbs, practicing its usage will help you get used to the atypical conjugation.

Sortir in the Past Tense

Sortir can be conjugated with both être and avoir depending on its usage. Like all "coming and going" verbs, sortir is conjugated with être in the past tense to mean that you went out. The important thing to remember is that être + sortir never takes an object. For example:'Je suis sorti hier soir.' I went out last night.

However, if you want to talk about something that got taken out yesterday, you conjugate sortir with avoir:

'Est-ce que tu as sorti les détritus?' Did you take out the garbage?

Meanings of Sortir

You may see the French verb sortir in a variety of contexts all of which mean that someone (or something) is going out. Sometimes the English speaker would also substitute the verb "to leave" in place of sortir and while can be correct, it is much easier to remember sortir simply as "going out."

Intransitive Verb Sortir

The instransitive verb sortir means "to go out." You can sortir with friends, sortir for a night on the town, or sortir without your umbrella! You would not sortir on vacation, sortir to go traveling abroad, and if you were leaving a party to go home, you wouldn't sortir then either! The word "intransitive" means that there is no object of the sentence. (Hint: You don't need to worry about whether or not sortir is intransitive in the present tense. . .only in a compound past tense.)

Transitive Verb Sortir

The transitive verb sortir means that there is a subject, the verb itself, and then an object. Adding an object to sortir changes the meaning from "to go out" to "to take out." For example, one can take out one's books or possessions-teachers tell their students to sortez vos cahiers/vos stylos/vos livres. One can also take out another person, the garbage, or just about anything else. (Hint: When you are talking about something you took out in the past, use avoir as the auxiliary verb.)

Sortir with Prepositions

There are a variety of prepositions that when added to this verb, change the meaning a little:

  • sortir de-to get out of
  • sortir en-to go out in
  • sortir en + present participle-to ____ out (To run out, to walk out, etc.)
  • sortir de (slang)-to just have done something
  • sortir par-to get out by way of

Reflexive (Pronomial) Sortir

Sometimes sortir can take a reflexive pronoun to imply that you got yourself out of something. While se sortir means to literally get yourself out of something tangible, s'en sortir implies that you are getting yourself out of a difficult situation (not necessarily tangible.) For example,La musée est énorme. Je ne me sors pas! (The museum is so enormous I can't find my way out.)

Je n'ai aucune idée comment elle va s'en sortir! (I have no idea how she is going to get herself out of this one.)

Sortir Conjugation Reference Chart

Sortir Conjugations
Present Tense Imperfect Intransitive Past Transitive Past
je sors je sortais je suis sorti(e) j'ai sorti le/la
tu sors tu sortais tu es sorti(e) tu as sorti le/la
il/elle sort il sortait il est sorti/elle est sortie il/elle a sorti le/la
nous sortons nous sortions nous sommes sorti(e)s nous avons sorti le/la
vous sortez vous sortiez vous êtes sorti(e)(s) vous avez sorti le/la
ils/elles sortent ils/elles sortaient ils/elles sont sorti(e)s ils/elles ont sorti le/la

You'll notice that the two columns of the conjugation table that refer to the past tense are divided into one column with the auxiliary avoir and one column with the auxiliary être. This auxiliary is chosen by the transitivity of the verb (see below for transitive and intransitive uses of sortir).

If the verb is intransitive, the auxiliary is être because it is a verb of movement; if the verb is transitive, the auxiliary is avoir because a direct object receives the action of the verb. This choice of auxiliary can be confusing, but with a little practice with direct objects, you'll see that the distinction is very easy to learn if you look at whether or not there is a direct object.

Since sortir is one of the most common French verbs, you will have plenty of occasions to practice and use it in all its forms!

French Verb Sortir