The French verb aller is one of the most common French verbs, but it is also an irregularly conjugated verb. When the verb is conjugated, many of its forms do not resemble aller at all. Since it looks so different, many learners do not associate je vais with the infinitive aller. While this is a bit confusing, the verb pops up in a lot of contexts, so you should get plenty of exposure to it, which will undoubtedly decrease the time necessary to learn it. Because of its irregularities, learning this verb well takes time and effort, but will be used often enough to make the time invested worth it.
Meaning of 'Aller'
The verb means 'to go'. However, like in English, this verb has many additional applications, one of which is to express the future. Just like in English one might say 'I'm going to win', the verb 'to go' is one way to express a future action in French: je vais gagner.
In addition to the literal meaning of the verb and expressing future actions, the verb is used in many idiomatic expressions.
Conjugating the French Verb 'Aller'
This verb has an irregular conjugation pattern, and confuses some with the fact that the most common forms of the present tense do not look anything like the infinitive of the verb: je vais, tu vas, il/elle/on va, nous allons, vous allez, ils/elles vont. Despite this inconsistency, the verb is so common that you will pick it up in no time.
The full conjugation pattern for 'aller':
Present participle: allant
Past participle: allé
Auxiliary Verb: être
Using the Verb
Despite the verb's conjugation irregularities, the usage of the verb is pretty regular. In most cases where the English verb 'to go' can be used, the French verb can be used as well. This means the verb can have a literal or figurative meaning.
- Je vais à l'école. (I'm going to school.)
- Tu vas au théâtre? (Are you going to the theater?)
Figurative (Future) Meaning
- Nous allons partir dans cinq minutes. (We're going to leave in five minutes.)
- Ils vont téléphoner lorsqu'on peut venir. (They are going to call us when we can come.)
For speakers of English, the usage of the French verb aller is quite simple in these situations. There are also some idiomatic expressions in which the verb appears, which may take some additional time to get used to.
Some very common idiomatic expressions should be learned right away when first learning this French verb. For example, asking how someone is doing is a common idiomatic expression.
- Comment ça va? (How is it going?)
- Comment va-t-il? (How is it going?)
- Comment vas-tu? (How are you doing?-literally 'How are you going?')
- Allez-y (Let's go!)
- On y va? (Shall we (go)?)
- Ça va sans dire (That goes without saying.)
- Aller chercher quelque chose (to get something)
- Aller avec quelque chose (to match something-note that it is the same in English)
- Aller à quelqu'un (to suit someone well, e.g. a haircut or a piece of clothing)
- S'en aller (to go away)
Being one of the most common French verbs, this is an important verb to master. If you are enrolled in a French class, expect to spend a considerable amount of time with this verb. If you are learning on your own, find some good worksheets or online quizzes to ensure that you get enough practice with the verb to consider it mastered.