Conjugating French Semi-Auxiliaries


Semi-auxiliaires are verbs that can be used to construct specific verbal expressions.  In general and not unlike their counterparts in English, those verbs create specific frames.

When used in this manner, the verbs lose the meaning they possess when used singly, and become “modifying” auxiliaries.

All these verbs, except connaìtre, can be built with an infinitive (verb + infinitive) as object. Example:  savoir nager / knowing how to swim

The verbs are:

Aller / To go to, can indicate:    intention, imminent future

Example: Je vais à la poste. / I am going to the post office.

Devoir / To have to can also mean: must, supposed to, should, should have; and indicate: obligation, intention, probability, advice, anticipation, rebuke


Je dois quitter le pays. / I must leave the country.

Il doit passer ce soir. / He should come by tonight.

Faire / To make ( To make + action) indicates the subject provokes the action but does not perform it him/herself.

Example: J’ai fait construire une piscine. / I had a pool built.

Other uses:

faire voir / to show

Example: Je lui ai fait voir mes notes. / I showed him my notes.

faire savoir / to make known, to teach or to say

Example: Il nous ont fait savoir qu’ils arrivaient. / They told us they were arriving.

Laisser / To leave and similar verbs (see table below)

laisser quelqu’un + infinitive + quelque chose /  to let someone + infinitive + something

Example: Je l’ai laissé porter le panier./ I let him carry the basket.

regarder quelqu’un + infinitive + quelque chose /  to watch someone + infinitive + something

Example: Nous avons regardé la chouette manger la souris. / We looked at the owl eat the mouse.

voir quelqu’un + infinitive + quelque chose /  to see someone + infinitive + something

Example: Tu l’as vu sortir de la voiture aprés l’accident. / You saw him exit the car. after the accident

apercevoir quelqu’un + infinitive + quelque chose /  to see someone + infinitive + something

Example: Il l’a aperçu parler à sa voisine. / He saw her talk to his neighbor.

écouter quelqu’un + infinitive + quelque chose  / to listen to someone + infinitive + something

Example: Vous avez écouté le professeur parler de ses experiences. / You listened to your professor talk about his experiences.

entendre quelqu’un + infinitive + quelque chose /  to hear someone + infinitive + something

Example: Je l’ai entendu chanter ce matin. / I heard him sing this morning.

sentir quelqu’un + infinitive + quelque chose /  to feel someone + infinitive + something

Example: Ils sentent le train passer au dessus d’eux. / They feel the train pass over them.

The above verbs are followed by an infinitive but only with the meanings outlined above:

Pouvoir / To be able to can also mean: can, could, may, could have; and indicate: ability, success, permission, freedom, capacity, advice, rebuke


Je peux passer l’examen. / I can pass the exam.

On peut traverser la route au passage clouté. / One may cross the street at the crosswalk

Connaître and Savoir: 2 verbs that are translated the same way but mean different things in French.  Both can be used as semi-auxiliaires.

Connaître / To know (more precisely to be acquainted with)

can indicate:    knowing a person, an animal, a place, or a situation

Shorthand: the knowledge in question is incomplete or unsure

Example: Je connais ton ami. / I know your friend.

Savoir / To know

can indicate:    knowing a topic, a thing completely… Never, ever a person,

an animal or a place!

Shorthand: the knowledge in question is complete or certain

Example: Je sais mes tables de multiplication. / I know my multiplication tables.

Savoir is also used to construct sentences with subordinated clauses.  Connaitre is never used that way.

Example: Je sais quand il est arrivé./ I know when he arrived.

Vouloir / To want to can indicate: will, good will, intention

Example: Je veux manger. / I want to eat.

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