In French, we have two distinct verbs for to live: vivre and habiter. So while these two words are indeed similar enough to have the same English translation, their meanings are still different enough to keep them clear.

In this post we’ll introduce both of these verbs for to live in French. We’ll cover the meanings and uses of each one, with an emphasis on recognizing the differences between habiter vs vivre. To get you using each one, we’ll provide the essential habiter and vivre conjugation tables for the simple present tense.

To sum up their meanings, vivre is more general, in the sense of to exist or to lead a life. Habiter is more specific to a home, along the lines of to reside or to make one’s home. Now let’s get into each one in more detail, starting with our vivre meaning and then moving on to habiter.


Vivre is the French word for to live that’s fairly broad. We use vivre to talk about being alive, or to talk about a lifestyle. We can even use vivre when we talk about a state of being.

We’ll use a few different tenses in our example sentences, but the one you’ll see most is the présent de l’indicatif. So before we move on, let’s just review this present tense vivre conjugation.

je vis nous vivons
tu vis vous vivez
il, elle, on vit ils, elles vivent


Now let’s see each of the different uses of vivre with some examples.

to be alive

  • In the wild, pandas can live to 20 years old. – Dans la nature, les pandas peuvent vivre jusqu’à 20 ans.
  • Neanderthals lived at the same time as our Homo sapiens ancestors. – Les Néandertaliens vivaient en même temps que nos ancêtres Homo sapiens.

to live in a certain manner

  • Our parents’ generation lived more comfortably than ours can hope to live. – La génération de nos parents a vécu plus confortablement que la nôtre peut espérer vivre.
  • Ascetics live with few pleasures. – Les ascètes vivent avec peu de plaisirs.

to follow society’s rules of life

  • My neighbors drive me crazy. They need to learn to live like urbanites. – Mes voisins me rendent fou. Ils doivent apprendre à vivre comme des citadins.
  • Commuting, working, sleeping: this is not living. – Métro, boulot, dodo: ce n’est pas vivre.

to make the most of life

  • I love being married, but honestly, as long as you’re single, live as much as you can! – J’adore être marié, mais franchement, tant que tu es célibataire, vis autant que tu peux !
  • I want to go back to Rio de Janeiro. They really know how to live! – Je veux retourner à Rio de Janeiro. Ils savent vraiment vivre !

to live on, to live off

  • The influencer lives off her daddy’s trust fund. – L’influenceuse vit du fonds fiduciaire de son père.
  • It is difficult to live on the minimum wage. – Il est difficile de vivre avec le salaire minimum.

to survive on, to survive off of

  • The shipwreck survivors lived off coconuts and rainwater. – Les naufragés vivaient de noix de coco et d’eau de pluie.
  • I get the impression that my brother lives on chips and soft drinks. – J’ai l’impression que mon frère vit de croustilles et de boissons gazeuses.

to live on, to persist durably [for conceptual things]

  • Does Ghandi’s ethos still live on in Indian politics? – Est-ce que l’éthos de Ghandi vit toujours dans la politique indienne ?
  • Punk may be dead in London, but it lives on in Manchester. – Le punk est peut-être mort à Londres, mais il vit toujours à Manchester.

to be permanently caught up in thoughts somewhere else

  • My grandfather has been living in the past ever since my grandmother passed away. – ​​Mon grand-père vit dans le passé depuis que ma grand-mère soit décédée.
  • Those politicians live on another planet if they think that’ll be good for the people. – Ces politiciens vivent sur une autre planète s’ils pensent que ce sera bon pour le peuple.

to constantly feel a sentiment

  • Jacinda has been through enough stress, so she quit. – Jacinda a assez vécu de stress, alors elle a démissionné.
  • Mehtap lives in constant fear of earthquakes. – Mehtap vit dans la peur constante des tremblements de terre.

to spend one’s life in a place [plants and animals]

When we talk about the habitat of a living thing, we nearly always use vivre in French to say that it lives there. (We’ll see the exception later on when we go into detail on habiter.)

  • Salmon live in rivers for their first stages of live, and then they live in the ocean. – Les saumons vivent dans des rivières aux premières étapes de la vie, et ensuite ils vivent dans l’océan.
  • This species of chipmunk lives in tunnels under tree roots, whereas this species lives entirely in the forest canopy. – Cette espèce de tamia vit dans des tunnels sous les racines d’arbres, tandis que cette espèce vit entièrement dans la canopie de la forêt.

to spend one’s life in a place [people]

This is where the meanings of vivre vs habiter start to get confusing, since we can sometimes use either one in the same sentence. The nuances of each are a bit different though. Let’s focus first on vivre before moving on to the comparable contexts where we can use habiter.

We use vivre in French when we talk about someone living somewhere in a general sense. The time scale for living somewhere using vivre is relatively long-term, with some sense of permanence.

  • My sister has been living in Arizona since 2000. Now that she has kids, I think she’ll always live there. – Ma soeur vit en Arizona depuis 2000. Maintenant qu’elle a des enfants, je crois qu’elle va toujours y vivre.
  • When our dad was a child, he lived in England, in France, in Malaysia, and in Québec. – Quand notre père était enfant, il a vécu en Angleterre, en France, en Malaisie, et au Québec.


Habiter is a more specific verb than vivre, meaning to live in the sense of to reside or to make one’s home. When we use habiter, we imply a sense of settling somewhere, whether in a region or in a specific dwelling. Habiter is exclusively used to describe where people live, with the exception of individual animals when we describe their house-like home.

Here are the French habiter conjugations in présent de l’indicatif. Habiter is a regular -er verb.

j’habite nous habitons
tu habites vous habitez
il, elle, on habite ils, elles habitent

to live in a dwelling

This is the most common use for habiter in French.

  • My little sister still lives with our parents. – Ma petite soeur habite toujours avec nos parents.
  • Other than the president, who else lives in the White House? – À part le président, qui d’autre habite dans la Maison Blanche ?

to live in an area

When someone’s home is in a given area of a town or region, we can use habiter to say that the general area is our home.

  • I live two metro stops away from my work. – J’habite à deux stations de métro de mon travail.
  • Does Moby live in the same neighborhood as Madonna? – Est-ce que Moby habite le même quartier que Madonna?

to live in a city

This use of habiter is an extension of the previous one, generally used when travelling or otherwise far from the city in question. Again, we choose habiter to say that the particular city is where the person’s home is, rather than where their life is being led.

Note that, although we normally use the preposition à to say that someone or something is in a city, with habiter the preposition is often omitted.

  • My parents live in Lyon, my brother lives in Bordeaux, and me, I live in Marseille. – Mes parents habitent Lyon, mon frère habite Bordeaux, et moi, j’habite Marseille.
  • My boyfriend’s cousin lives in Chamonix. We’re going to crash on her couch to go skiing in February. – La cousine de mon copain habite à Chamonix. On va squatter son divan pour aller skier en février.

for an animal’s “house”

When we talk about animals, we almost always use vivre to describe where they live. An exception is when we’re really describing a specific dwelling for a specific animal, essentially personifying them.

  • Watch out when you go to the cottage. There’s a skunk who lives under the deck! – Attention quand tu vas au chalet. Il y a une moufette qui habite sous la terrasse !
  • I sometimes wonder if my cat lives at my place, or if I rather live in my cat’s home. – Je me demande parfois si mon chat habite chez moi, ou si j’habite plutôt chez mon chat.

Habiter vs Vivre: Are they interchangeable?

So far we’ve seen many different uses for vivre, and a few very similar uses for habiter. There’s definitely a bit of overlap between some of these uses, so when do we know when to use habiter vs vivre?

In fact, in some cases we can use either one and the meaning is essentially the same. In other cases, the meaning changes slightly, tilting from a focus on the home itself in the case of habiter, to a focus on the activities of one’s life in the case of vivre. Let’s see a few examples where we use both vivre and habiter in the same contexts, each demonstrating these specific nuances.

  • My boyfriend lives with me, but I get the impression he lives his life at the library. – Mon copain habite avec moi, mais j’ai l’impression qu’il vit à la bibliothèque.
  • We’ve been living in Toulouse since 2003, but we’ve only been living in this apartment since last year. – Nous vivons à Toulouse depuis 2003, mais nous habitons dans cet appartement seulement depuis l’année dernière.
  • I don’t like sharing a home with other young people who don’t know how to live without their parents. – Je n’aime pas habiter avec d’autres jeunes qui ne savent pas encore vivre sans leurs parents.
  • My sister loves living in Paris, even if she lives in a tiny top-floor apartment with no elevator. – Ma sœur adore vivre à Paris, même si elle habite dans un studio de 18m2 sans ascenseur dans les combles.

Now let’s see a few examples where vivre and habiter are essentially interchangeable. In these cases, we understand that the people live in their homes, both in the sense of leading their lives there and residing there.

  • My parents live in Bretagne, in the same house I lived in as a kid. – Mes parents vivent en Bretagne, dans la même maison où je vivais quand j’étais enfant. – Mes parents habitent en Bretagne, dans la même maison où j’habitais enfant.
  • I lived for a year in Montreal during my studies. – J’ai vécu un an à Montréal lors de mes études. – J’ai habité un an à Montréal lors de mes études.
  • Our kids still live with us. – Nos enfants vivent toujours avec nous. – Nos enfants habitent toujours avec nous.
  • Did you know that in the Bassin de l’Arsenal, in the heart of Paris, many people live on boats? – Savais-tu que dans le Bassin de l’Arsenal, au cœur de Paris, beaucoup de personnes vivent sur des bateaux ? – Savais-tu que dans le Bassin de l’Arsenal, au cœur de Paris, beaucoup de personnes habitent sur des bateaux ?

Conclusion: Vivre vs Habiter

Today’s post took an in-depth look at the two common verbs for to live in French: vivre and habiter.

We started off with their basic differences, noting that vivre is much more general in scope, while habiter is much more specific. Vivre can refer to where or how someone leads their life. Habiter, on the other hand, really refers to the specific place where someone lives, namely their home.

We went through the numerous nuanced uses for both vivre and habiter, offering examples for each one in context. Since we saw that many of these uses have some overlap, we finished up our post with a section showing contexts where the nuances of vivre vs habiter become pretty minimal.

The conclusion we can draw from those examples is that when the meanings are close, we’re sometimes fine just choosing either one. For most contexts, however, the rest of our post’s examples have shown that we really need to choose the right French verb between vivre vs habiter.

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