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 The verb être

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 The auxiliary verbs: 2 - être


Auxiliaries are functional verbs that are added to other verbs in order to form particular tenses.

2.  Etre 

Etre - to be - is a verb with three functions. It is the most common, and also the most irregular, of French verbs.

►Firstly it is a lexical verb in its own right, meaning "to be
Example: Il est trois heures moins le quart - It is a quarter to three

►Secondly it is an auxiliary which combines with the past participle of a dozen or so French verbs to form composite tenses such as the perfect or the past perfect:  aller, venir, monter, descendre, entrer, sortir, arriver, partir, rester, tomber, naître, mourir (and devenir, rentrer, remonter, repartir etc.) except when these verbs are used transitively; and also with reflexive verbs.
Examples:
Je suis allé en France l'année dernière- I went to France last year.
Les marchés se sont effondrés - The markets have collapsed.
Les promeneurs étaient arrivés au sommet - The walkers had reached the summit.

►Thirdly it is the auxiliary used to form passive tenses in French. For each active tense of a verb, the passive is formed with the appropriate tense of être followed by the past participle: thus, for example,
The present passive is formed with the present tense of être and a past participle.
Example: Il est cassé  - It's broken
► The perfect passive (passé composé passif) is formed with the perfect tense of être and a past participle.
Example: Ma chambre a été repeinte*  -  My bedroom has been repainted
► The future passive  (futur passif) is formed with the future tense of être and a past participle.
Example: Le contrat sera renouvelé  pour un an - The contract will be renewed for a year
► The past conditional passive  (passé conditionnel passif) is formed with the past conditional tense of être and a past participle.
Example: Elle aurait été déçue* - She would have been disappointed

* See Past tenses for the rules on agreement of the past participle
 

Verb tables: Etre

Note: For each tense, a sample English equivalent is given for the first person singular. This represents the most common translation of the tense in question, but not the only possibility.

Table 1.
Tenses (indicative) :
Person Present
(I am)
Future
(I will be)
Imperfect
(I was / was being)
1st Singular. je suis je serai j'étais
2nd Singular tu es tu seras tu étais
3rd Singular il / elle / on ... est il (..) sera il (..) était
1st plural nous sommes nous serons nous étions
2nd plural vous êtes vous serez vous étiez
3rd plural ils / elles sont ils seront ils étaient

Table 2
Tenses (indicative):
Person Preterite
(I was)
Perfect (passé composé)
(I have been)
Pluperfect
(I'd been)
1st Singular. je fus j'ai été j'avais été
2nd Singular tu fus tu as été tu avais été
3rd Singular il (..) fut il (..) a été il avait été
1st plural nous fûmes nous avons été nous avions été
2nd plural vous fûtes vous avez été vous aviez été
3rd plural ils furent ils ont été ils avaient été

Table 3
Tenses (indicative):
Person Future perfect
(I will have been)
Conditional
(I would be)
Past conditional
(I would have been)
1st Singular. j'aurai été je serais  j'aurais été
2nd Singular tu auras été tu serais  tu aurais été
3rd Singular il aura été il serait  il aurait été
1st plural nous aurons été nous serions  nous aurions été
2nd plural vous aurez été vous seriez  vous auriez été
3rd plural ils auront été ils seraient  ils auraient été

Table 4
Imperative
Person (be)
Present participle
2nd Singular sois . étant
1st plural soyons . .
2nd plural soyez . .

Table 5
Tenses (subjunctive) :
Person Present
(may be)
preterite
(might be)
Perfect (parfait)
(may have been)
1st Singular. sois fusse aie été
2nd Singular sois fusses aies été
3rd Singular soit fût ait été
1st plural soyons fussions ayons été
2nd plural soyez fussiez ayez été
3rd plural soient fussent aient été

Further subjunctive cases - such as a pluperfect subjunctive - can theoretically be formed, though to all intents and purposes these are never used in modern French.


Examples:
Paris is the capital of France.
 - Paris est la capitale de la France
Tomorrow we'll be in Bordeaux.
 Demain nous serons à Bordeaux.
The president was surrounded by his guards
  Le président était entouré de ses gardes
The film has been very badly received by the critics.
 Le film a été très mal reçu par les critiques.
He will have been surprised by the result.
 Il aura été surpris par le résultat..
It's possible that this is (may be) the book we're looking for.
 Il se peut que ce soit le livre que nous cherchons.
Please be reassured.
 Soyez rassurés s'il vous plaît !.

► Continue to the auxiliary avoir


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