Updated: Sep 7, 2020
Many verbs in French can be followed by a second verb in the infinitive.
There are three ways that verbs can be linked together:
- with no preposition
- with the preposition à
- with the preposition de
Here, we will be looking at verbs linking with no preposition.
1. Modal verbs
When modal verbs are followed by a second verb, the second verb must be in the infinitive.
A modal verb indicates modality (i.e: likelihood, ability, permission, request, capacity, suggestions, order, obligation or advice).
There are six modal verbs you need to know in French.
Devoir (to have to, must)
Je dois ranger ma chambre. I have to tidy my bedroom.
Elle doit être contente. She must be happy.
Pouvoir (to be able to, can, may)
Je ne peux pas venir. I cannot come.
Nous pouvons voir qu'il est là. We can see that he is here.
Savoir (to know how to, can)
Elle sait jouer de la guitare. She knows how to play the guitar.
Est-ce que tu sais conduire? Can you drive?
Vouloir (to want)
Nous voulons faire les magasins. We want to go shopping.
Ils ne veulent pas partir. They do not want to leave
Falloir (to be necessary) and Valoir mieux (to be better)
Il faut faire quelque chose. It is necessary to do something.
Il vaut mieux rentrer. It is better to get back.
Note that these last two modal verbs are impersonal verbs . They can only be used with the pronoun il.
2. Common verbs
There is a list of common verbs that use an infinitive without a preposition. These are mainly verbs to convey an opinion, but there are a few other verbs too.
adorer (to love)
aimer (to like, to love)
aimer mieux (to prefer)
désirer (to want, to desire)
détester (to hate)
envoyer (to send)
espérer (to hope)
faire (to make)
laisser (to let)
préférer (to prefer)
sembler (to seem)
e.g: Vous aimez aller au restaurant. You like going to the restaurant.
3. Verbs relating to seeing or hearing
écouter (to listen to)
entendre (to hear)
regarder (to look at, to watch)
voir (to see)
e.g: Je les ai regardé danser. I watched them dance.
4. With ALLER
After the verb aller (to go), verbs can be in the infinitive to structure the near future.
e.g. Je vais faire mes devoirs ce soir. I am going to do my homework tonight.
5. With FAIRE
Using an infinitive after the verb faire (to do/ to make) is called a causative construction. In this instance, the subject does not do the action itself, but has someone or something else do it instead.
In English, it corresponds to "to make something happen" or "to have something done".
e.g. Je fais manger ma fille à 19 heures. I make my daughter eat at 7 pm.
e.g. Il a fait repeindre son salon. He had his living room repainted.
Note that faire can be followed by faire, which can seem a little strange.
e.g. Je lui ai fait faire la cuisine. I made her do the cooking.
Other interesting things to know about these verbs
1. Some of these verbs can be combined and mean something different. Here are the most common combinations:
aller chercher (to go and get/ to fetch)
laisser tomber (to drop)
vouloir dire (to mean)
Note: entendre parler de means to hear about
2. It is also possible to see phrases using a succession of infinitives.
Il veut pouvoir le faire. He wants to be able to do it.
Ils ont dû entendre parler de l'accident. They must have heard about the accident.
Nous avons aimé pouvoir entendre parler français. We have liked being able to hear speaking French.
For French A Level students with any exam board:
This workbook is excellent to practise all the grammar you need to know in the first year of your A-level course.
For French GCSE students with any exam board:
The handbook on the left gives you easy to understand descriptions and rules for all the grammar aspects you need to know at GCSE level. The workbook on the right contains a series of activities to help you practise these aspects. Answers are provided at the back so you can check your work.
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