The French verb avoir (meaning 'to have') is an extremely important verb for French students. It is the verb used in many everyday phrases, as well as idiomatic expressions. It's also used as an auxiliary verb in several tenses. Unfortunately though, avoir can throw a curveball or two to the beginning French student since avoir is used in many places in French where 'to be' would be used in English.
Avoir Conjugation and Meaning
Although avoir is an irregular verb, its frequency in usage can help you learn the forms and use them correctly.
Present participle: ayant
Past participle: eu
Auxiliary Verb: avoir
Meaning of Avoir
This French verb is literal in most present tense contexts. Many things that you have, both literally and figuratively, can be expressed using the French verb avoir.
- J'ai une nouvelle amie. (I have a new friend)
- Il a trop d'amis. (He has too many friends)
- Nous n'avons pas beaucoup d'amis. (We don't have many friends)
- J'ai deux mains et dix doigts. (I have two hands and ten fingers)
- Tu as une maison à la campagne? Chouette! (You have a house in the country? Cool!)
- Vous avez beaucoup de fromages délicieux en vente. (You have many delicious cheeses for sale)
In addition to the everyday meaning of avoir, this verb is used in many French idioms. In these phrases, the meaning 'to have' disappears, and students must simply learn what the entire phrase means.
Idiomatic Expressions with the French Verb Avoir
There are many idioms in French that use avoir. Although they must be memorized most French students don't have too many problems with them because they are so common and are used very frequently.
Il y a
Il y a means both there is or there are. Notice that the translation of avoir in this expression is not 'to have', but 'to be'. This expression is extremely common, and is used in several different tenses. A few examples are:
- Il y a beacoup de vin dans ta cuisine! (There is a lot of wine in your cooking!)
- Il y a eu un accident. (There has been an accident.)
- Il y aura d'autres enfants à l'école avec toi. (There will be other children at school with you.)
Describing Personal Experiences, Wants and Needs
Several expressions that detail personal experiences use the verb avoir. For example, to say 'I am afraid', in French, you would say: j'ai peur. Similarly, expressing hunger, thirst, and an uncomfortable temperature are all expressed with the verb avoir:
- j'ai faim (I'm hungry)
- j'ai soif (I'm thirsty)
- j'ai chaud (I'm hot)
- j'ai froid (I'm cold).
Avoir as Auxiliary Verb
In French, there are two verbs that serve as auxiliary verbs in the compound tenses: être and avoir. While the former is used with a select few verbs that indicate a change of state, avoir is the more common of the two auxiliary verbs. In essence, beginner students can assume that all verbs use avoir as an auxiliary verb until they have learned the list of verbs that take être instead.
The first compound tense that French learners concentrate on is the passé composé. In this tense, verbs that do not have a change of state are paired with avoir:
- J'ai trop mangé. (I ate too much)
- Il a vendu beaucoup de livres. (He sold a lot of books)
- Ils ont pris le train ce matin. (They took the train this morning)
In addition, avoir can be used in additional past tenses (such as the plus-que-parfait or the conditional past): si j'avais travaillé fort, j'aurais réussi (If I had worked hard, I would have succeeded).
With its intricacies of use, which often conflict with English verb usage, avoir can be a difficult verb for beginners. Start with the conjugations and the most common expressions--the rest will come in time.