Verbs & subject pronouns

The verb

In French, the verb is the most important element of a statement or question, because it gives so much information (person, number, gender, tense etc.). The infinitive ( l’infinitif ) is the unconjugated form of the verb, for example, to be is an English infinitive, the French equivalent is être. French infinitives are single words, they do not contain the element to.

Here are some infinitives : être (to be) ; avoir (to have) ; manger (to eat) ; regarder (to look) ; chanter (to sing) ; partir (to leave) ; voyager (to travel) ; travailler (to work) ; prendre (to take) ; tenir (to hold) ; parler (to speak) ; vouloir (to want) ; apercevoir  (to glimpse) ; apprendre (to learn) etc.

Conjugations ( les conjugaisons ) are the verb forms that belong to particular subjects. For example, I am and he is are conjugations of the English infinitive to be, I and he are subject pronouns. Depending of the situation we use different forms of the same verb. For example, we can change the infinitive verb être (to be)  and write : je suis (I am)j’étais (I was)je serai (I will be)

When studying French, you must understand subject pronouns before you can begin learning how to conjugate verbs, because the forms of verbs change for each subject pronoun.

For example, here’s the conjugations of the verb chanter (to sing) in the present tense :

je chante  I sing

tu chantes  you sing

il/elle/on chante  he/she/one sing

nous chantons  we sing

vous chantez  you sing

ils/elles chantent  they sing


Subject pronouns

As in English, conjugated verbs are preceded by either a common noun (a person, animal, place, thing or idea), a proper noun (a name) or a subject pronoun. Subject pronouns are used in place of a noun, in English they correspond to I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they. 

Here are the French subject pronouns :

Singular :                                Plural :

Je/J’    I                                 Nous    We

Tu    You                               Vous    You

Il    He/It                               Ils    They (m.)          

Elle    She/It                         Elles    They (f.)

On    One/We/They



Je becomes J’ before a vowel sound or a h, for example : j’ai un frère (I have a brother) ; j’habite à Lyon (I live in Lyon).  Also you have to know that, as the rest of the subject pronouns je/j’ is capitalized ( Je/J’ ) only when it begins a sentence, whereas the English I is always capitalized.


Tu vs Vous

Tu is the French equivalent for “You” in its singular form.

Vous is the French equivalent for “You” in its plural form. But also in French, we use vous to talk to just one person when we want to be polite or formal.

To learn more about the distinction between tu and vous click here !


Il (he) and Elle (she)

Remember that all French nouns have gender and number. Every noun is either masculine or feminine, and either singular or plural. The subject pronoun of a conjugated verb corresponds to the gender and number of the noun (a person or thing) that it replaces. So since we don’t have such a thing as “it” in French, il and elle can also refer to a thing not just a person :

la voiture est dans le garage  the car is in the garage  -> elle est dans le garage  it is in the garage 

le chien est dans le jardin  the dog is in the garden  -> il est dans le jardin  it is in the garden

le voisin est gentil  the neighbor is nice  -> il est gentil  he is nice

la voisine est gentille  the neighbor is nice  -> elle est gentille she is nice



On is used in French to convey the English indefinite subjects one, we, people and they :

Alors, on va au cinema ?    Okay, so we go to the movie theater ?

En vacances, on est de bonne humeur.      On holidays people are in a good mood

In modern speech, French people often replace nous by on :

Vous avez faim ?  Are you hungry ?

Oui, nous avons faim  or  Oui, on a faim  Yes, we are hungry

Remember, on always takes a il/elle verb form (third person, singular), although it refers to several persons :

il/elle/on mange  he/she/we eat

il/elle/on chante  he/she/we sing

il/elle/on part  he/she/we go


Ils and Elles

In English they is used to talk about a group of persons (whether they are men or women) or a group of things. But in French we distinguish between the “masculine they” (Ils) and the “feminine they” (Elles) so depending on who or what you’re talking about you have to use ils or elles :

les hommes sont français = ils sont français  the men are French = they are French

les femmes sont françaises = elles sont françaises  the women are French = they are French 

les arbres (m.) sont grands = ils sont grands  the trees are tall = they are tall 

les valises (f.) sont lourdes = elles sont lourdes  the suitcases are heavy = they are heavy

Please note that a mixed-gender group always take the masculine form :

mon frère et ma sœur sont en Italie = ils sont en Italie  my brother and my sister are in Italy = they are in Italy

j’ai un oncle et deux tantes, ils sont très gentils  I have an uncle and two aunts, they are very nice 


To learn more about the subject pronouns you can also watch this video : 


Now that you know how subject pronouns work you can start learning about French conjugation by clicking here !