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Basic French Verb Subjects

Updated on April 21, 2010


French Verb Subjects

Basic subjects of the French Language:

1. JE(I)
2. TU (You, informal, singular)
3. IL, ELLE, ON (He, She, informal "we" or the impersonal subject "one")
4. NOUS (we)
5. VOUS (You formal and/or plural)
6. ILS, ELLES (They)

These are the basic subjects for all French verbs divided in the six groups of conjugation. Here is how they are used and when to use them:

1.    JE (FIRST PERSON)this corresponds to the subject “I” in English. This is used to denote first person narration or actions we do ourselves. This subject governs a specific conjugation for a verb, the first-person singular form. EXAMPLE:

a.      Je suis intelligente. (I am smart)

2.    TU (SECOND PERSON SINGULAR)—within the French language, there are two different ways to express the second person. This subject is used to express the second person singular. When you say “tu” to someone, this means that you are only talking to one person individually, and not collectively like we say a collective “You” to talk to a group of people in English. ATTENTION!: This is also the familiar or casual form of the subject “you.” In French, there is a polite and familiar way to address someone. If the person we are addressing is younger than us, a friend, or family, we use the subject “tu.” Whoever you are addressing will let you know when you can begin saying “tu” to them. “Tu” governs the second person singular form of verb conjugations. EXAMPLE:

a.    Tu es beau. (You are handsome.)

3.    IL, ELLE, ON (THIRD PERSON) “Il “ is the masculine form of the third person that corresponds to the subject “he”.  “Elle” is the feminine form of the third person that corresponds to the subject “she.” “On” is an informal way to say “We,” but more often is used in a more neutral way. It is the impersonal third person form as well. All three of these subjects take verbs conjugated in the same tense: the third person singular. EXAMPLE:

a.     On va au marché. (We are going to the market)

b.    On donne des medicaments aux malades. (One gives medicine to sick people—third person impersonal form)

4.    NOUS (COLLECTIVE SUBJECT)—When we want to express ourselves collectively doing something, we use the “nous” form. It corresponds to the subject “We” in English. This is the ‘formal’ way to say “we,” see #3 for the informal, familiar way to express the subject “we.” EXAMPLE:

a.    Nous sortons le vendredi soir. (We go out on Friday nights.)

5.    VOUS (SECOND PERSON FORMAL/PLURAL)—using this form of the subject « you » is meant to denote respect or unfamiliarity. Use this form when addressing people in high authority, elders, bosses, coworkers, strangers, and teachers. This form can be used as a collective “you” also, like we say “You all” in English. When speaking to a large group of people, use the subject “vous.” EXAMPLES:

a.    VOUS AS A FORMAL YOU—Vous êtes un bon prof. (You are a good teacher [formal address])

b.    VOUS AS COLLECTIVE—Vous m’entendez, classe ? (You hear me, class ? [talking to a collective group])

6.    ILS, ELLES—“Ils” is the masculine form of “they” used when speaking of a group of males or masculine nouns, or a group of males and females or mixed masculine and feminine nouns. “Elles” is the feminine form of “they” used when talking strictly about all females or feminine objects. If a group is a females except for one, we would use the “Ils” form because the masculinity takes dominance. Both of these subjects are conjugated in the third personal plural form of a verb. EXAMPLES:

a.    Ils sont blonds. (They [masculine] are blond.)

b.     Elles sont blondes.(They [feminine] are blonde.)

Now you know the basic subjects of French verbs!


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