Basic French, Lesson 2: The “Big Four” and pronouns

Today’s French lesson focuses on the “Big Four,” as I like to call them, or the four most common verbs that you’re likely to find in the French language.

These are the “Big Four:”
avoir – to have
être – to be
faire – to do/make/play
aller – to go

And these are the six pronouns that go with them:
Je/J’ – I
Tu – you (sing.)
Il/Elle – he/she/it
Nous – we
Vous – you (formal/plural)
Ils/Elles – they

Technically, a seventh pronoun, On, also exists, and is conjugated the same way as Il/Elle in third person singular. However, it’s a more informal way of saying “We,” as in the royal we, so to speak.

Two notes: Il and Ils are pronounced the name way (like “eel” in English), so the “s” in the plural form is not pronounced unless the next word begins with a vowel (avoir has one of those in it). Second, while Elles is used, it refers to a “they” that are exclusively female.

We’ll start with être first.

1. être – to be
Je suis                                   Nous sommes
Tu es                                     Vous êtes
Il/Elle est                              Ils/Elles sont

In the plural form, many words (nouns and adjective) add an “s” to it to make it plural.

1. Je suis riche.         I am rich.
2. Vous êtes riches. You’re (plural) rich.
3. Nous sommes riches.   We’re rich.

Most of the time, être is used to say “I am” or “it is.”

2. avoir – to have 
J’ai                                       Nous avons
Tu as                                   Vous avez
Il/Elle a                               Ils/Elles ont

“Je” and “ai” combine here to form “J’ai.” Think of it like “cannot” combining to make “can’t.”

In a few cases, “avoir” is the verb to indicate having something in place of être.

J’ai peur. I am afraid (literally, “I have fear.”)
J’ai chaud/froid. I am hot/cold.
J’ai faim/soif.     I am hungry/thirsty.

Also, notice how “ont” and “sont” are similar. When you say “Ils ont,” pronounce the s closer to a z, and keep it the same for “Ils sont.”

Most verbs in past tense will use “avoir” as their stem. There are a few exceptions.

3. faire – to do/make/play (in certain cases) 
Je fais                                 Nous faisons
Tu fais                                Vous faites
Il/Elle fait                          Ils/Elles font

All three conjugations in the singular form are the same thing; think of the name “Faye” in English, and it’s almost identical. “Faites” rhymes with the word “bet” in English.

Je fais mes devoirs.              I do my homework.

NOTE: When referring to the weather, faire is used to mean “is.”

Le temps fait chaud.             The temperature is hot.

4. aller – to go 
Je vais                                   Nous allons
Tu vas                                   Vous allez
Il/Elle va                               Ils/Elles vont

“Vas” and “va” share the same pronunciation. “Aller” is often used in future tense, in a more casual form of saying that you will do something in the future.

Allons au parc!                                    Let’s go to the park!
Elle va payer pour la viande.           She will pay for the meat.

Notice the difference for “font” (faire) and “vont” (aller). No pronunciation changes are needed, but don’t get them mixed up, either.

Hopefully, you’ve learned some basics with this Second Lesson. Bonne chance! (Good luck!)

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