The Verb Être: Conjugation, Meaning, and Use

Celine Segueg

The French verb être is the equivalent of the English verb to be. Être is one of the most important verbs to learn, since it is used all the time in spoken and written French.

In this post we’ll start with a basic overview of the verb être, touching on its meaning and on its use as an auxiliary verb. Then we’ll dive into être conjugation in order to provide a full reference for this important verb.

Since it’s a post on être conjugation, we’ll include être conjugation tables for all the tenses. We’ll go through past, present, and future tenses as well as more complicated tenses such as the conditional, subjunctive, and every other tense in between.

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Être: To be

The verb être is used in the same way as the verb to be in English. It describes a temporary or permanent state of being. Used on its own, its meaning is the same as in English whether used in infinitive, as in the following examples, or with the different conjugations of être, as we’ll see in subsequent sections.

  • Veux-tu vraiment être avec moi ? – Do you really want to be with me?
  • Le patron semble être à l’aise ce matin. – The boss seems to be relaxed this morning.
  • Il pleut. Le concert va être annulé. – It’s raining. The concert will be cancelled.

Être: Auxiliary verb

The verb être is also frequently used as an auxiliary verb in French, playing a support role to other verbs when conjugated in compound tenses. When used as an auxiliary verb, être is strictly a support verb and no longer means to be.

In English, the equivalent is the verb to have, which works with other verbs’ participles to form other tenses. French also uses to have – avoir as an auxiliary verb with most verbs, in addition to être. Even when we conjugate être in compound tenses, for example, its auxiliary verb is avoir!

Two main families of French verbs use être as the auxiliary verb: reflexive verbs, and verbs of movement. Since the focus of this post isn’t on going deep into these details, we’ll just finish up this section by providing a few examples of être acting as an auxiliary verb. These first examples are with reflexive verbs:

  • Je me suis brûlé sur le tuyau d’échappement. – I burned myself on the exhaust pipe. – I have burnt myself on the exhaust pipe.
  • Tu t’es blessé le genou. – You hurt your knee. – You have hurt your knee.
  • Mon frère s’est rasé la tête. – My brother shaved his head. – My brother has shaven his head.

Note that we’ve chosen the most common French past tense here, the passé composé, to demonstrate the use of être as an auxiliary verb. Its English equivalent is usually the simple past tense, so there’s no auxiliary verb. We’ve also included alternative English translations that use the auxiliary verb to have with a past participle.

These next examples are using French verbs of movement:

  • Nous sommes allés au parc. – We went to the park. – We have gone to the park.
  • Vous êtes arrivés trop tôt. – You arrived too early. – You have arrived too early.
  • Elles sont parties sans dire au revoir. – They left without saying goodbye. – They have left without saying goodbye.

Être conjugation: Introduction

Now that we’ve gone over the basic meaning of être, as well as its role as an auxiliary verb, we’re ready to start introducing the various être conjugation charts.

Être is one of the most irregular French verbs, so many of its conjugations are unrecognizable from one tense to another. Its importance in the French language can’t be underestimated though, so you’ll just need to memorize each tense’s conjugations one by one.

We include all the tenses here, so if you’re looking for one in particular you can just scroll down and find whichever être conjugation table you need. Now let’s dive in!

Être conjugation: Present tense

The simple present tense is the most important in the language, so it’s vital to have this one down as soon as you start learning French. We include all the English translations in this table, since the simple present conjugation of to be is nearly as irregular in English!

Être To Be
je suis I am
tu es you are
il/elle est he/she is
nous sommes we are
vous êtes you are
ils/elles sont they are

Many English speakers use this il/elle conjugation in a common phrase adopted from French: c’est la vie. We see this phrase in pop culture, for example, in so many songs that reference C’est La Vie. Likewise, we see it in other common French constructions, such as the standard formulation for asking questions, est-ce que, the add-on phrase to turn a statement into a question, n’est-ce pas?, and the neutral intros for describing weather and telling time in French.

Être Conjugation: Past tenses

In this section we present être conjugation tables in five different past tenses. The first three are common verb tenses: passé composé, imparfait, and plus-que-parfait. The last two are literary tenses seen mostly in classic texts, that we’re including here for completeness: passé simple and passé antérieur.

Passé composé

j’ ai été
tu as été
il/elle a été
nous avons été
vous avez été
ils/elles ont été


j’ étais
tu étais
il/elle était
nous étions
vous étiez
ils/elles étaient


j’ avais été
tu avais été
il/elle avait été
nous avions été
vous aviez été
ils/elles avaient été

Passé simple

je fus
tu fus
il/elle fut
nous fûmes
vous fûtes
ils/elles furent

Passé antérieur

j’ eus été
tu eus été
il/elle eut été
nous eûmes été
vous eûtes été
ils/elles eurent été

Être Conjugation: Future tenses

The futur simple tense of être in French is equivalent to the English will be. The futur antérieur is used to express a future action that will be completed before another future action, so for the verb être, the futur antérieur explains what will have been.

The futur simple is quite common in everyday speech, whereas the futur antérieur is more complex and only really gets used when explaining events across a more-convoluted timeframe.

Futur simple

je serai
tu seras
il/elle sera
nous serons
vous serez
ils/elles seront

Futur antérieur

je aurai été
tu auras été
il/elle aura été
nous aurions été
vous auriez été
ils/elles auront été

Être Conjugation: Conditional tenses

When we conjugate être in the conditional tenses, we’re expressing would be or would have been in French.

Conditionnel présent

je serais
tu serais
il/elle serait
nous serions
vous seriez
ils/elles seraient

Conditionnel passé

je aurais été
tu aurais été
il/elle aurait été
nous aurions été
vous auriez été
ils/elles auraient été

Être Conjugation: Subjunctive

The subjunctive isn’t very prominent in English, and doesn’t stand out much even where it exists. It’s quite common in French though, particularly the subjonctif présent tense. Similarly to the other past tenses we saw above, the subjonctif imparfait and the subjonctif plus-que-parfait tenses are essentially only seen in literature.

In French the subjunctive is generally used with certain expressions, mostly in dependent clauses, to express uncertainty by the speaker. Expressions of judgment, possibility, necessity, as well as desire and doubt often require use of the subjunctive. In most instances, the verb in subjunctive is preceded by the word que.

To give an idea of its use in both languages, check out this example with the simple présent, the conditionnel présent, and the subjonctif présent:

  • Le criminel est libre. Il serait préférable qu’il soit incarcéré. – The criminal is free. It would be preferable that he be incarcerated.

Subjonctif présent

je sois
tu sois
il/elle soit
nous soyons
vous soyez
ils/elles soient

Subjonctif passé

j’ aie été
tu aies été
il/elle ait été
nous ayons été
vous ayez été
ils/elles aient été

Subjonctif imparfait

je fusse
tu fusses
il/elle fût
nous fussions
vous fussiez
ils/elles fussent

Subjonctif plus-que-parfait

j’ eusse été
tu eusses été
il/elle eût été
nous eussions été
vous eussiez été
ils/elles eussent été

Être Conjugation: Imperative

The imperative tense is used to give commands.

  • Sois prudent. – Be prudent.
  • Soyons à l’heure. – Let’s be on time.


[tu] sois
[nous] soyons
[vous] soyez

Impératif passé

[tu] aies été
[nous] ayons été
[vous] ayez été

Être: Participles

The present participle of être is generally translated as being.

  • Étant en retard, le garçon est entré en classe timidement. – Being late, the boy entered the class timidly.

The past participle of être in English is been, though the French passé composé is often translated into English as the simple past (without a participle). We’ve already seen this past participle in the compound tenses throughout this post.

  • Tu as été un vrai gentleman toute la soirée. Merci. – You were a real gentleman all evening. Thank you. – You have been a real gentleman all evening. Thank you.

The perfect participle of être is translated as having been.

  • Ayant été intéressée à l’art toute sa vie, elle a trouvé un emploi au Louvre. – Having been interested in art all her life, she found a job at the Louvre.
le participe présent étant
le participe passé été
le participe composé ayant été

Être: Past infinitive

The past infinitive of être is to have been.

  • J’aurais aimé avoir été en France avec toi. – I would have liked to have been in France with you.
infinitif passé avoir été


Être is such a fundamental verb in the French language that it’s important to learn its many different conjugations. Since it’s such an irregular verb, many forms of être may even be difficult to recognize. However, since it’s so commonly used in French, if you spend much time with the language you’ll observe its variations often enough to start integrating them into your own conversations.

We hope you appreciated this post on être conjugation, and that its various tenses will make their way into your spoken and written French!