The French verb vouloir is one of the most common verbs in the language. As it expresses intentions, wills, and desires, vouloir in French is usually translated into English as to want or to wish.
In this post, we’ll first dig into the various meanings of vouloir in French, looking at different ways to build sentences with this word for to want in French. In addition, vouloir is often used in the conditional tense to make polite requests, so we’ll see how to use it to say I would like in French.
As it’s an irregular verb, you will have to learn by heart how to conjugate vouloir in French. But don’t worry, we’ll round out the post with a with a section on vouloir conjugation.
Et maintenant, si vous le voulez bien, commencons! – And now, if you’re willing to, let’s start!
Vouloir in French: meanings
Vouloir is a major verb in French that you will encounter frequently in your conversations. While its first meaning is similar to the English verbs to want and to wish, it can also have other significations, depending on the tense and the mood it is conjugated to.
It can sometimes be translated by will, would like, and even completely different meanings such as to mean or unintentionally. But the best way to understand the difference is to look at some examples. So, here are the meanings of vouloir in French.
To express an intention or a desire
One of the major uses of vouloir is to convey a desire or an intention to do something. That’s why to want in French is usually translated by using vouloir.
The most iconic example is the famous sentence “voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir ?” which is known by all French learners yet not really recommended by French speakers (as it asks so directly, “do you want to sleep with me tonight”)!
Here are some more practical usages:
- I want to learn French. – Je veux étudier le français.
- He wants to sit outside. – Il veut s’assoeir en terrasse.
- She wants to become a doctor. – Elle veut devenir médecin.
A good illustration of this usage is the famous saying “vouloir, c’est pouvoir” (“where there’s a will, there’s a way”) also commonly said as “quand on veut, on peut.”
Another way that vouloir is used to express wanting something is in a common phrase to describe someone ambitious. People may say that “elle en veut,” loosely translating as “she really wants it,” meaning that she wants to make something of herself.
To politely express a desire or a wish
Vouloir in French is often conjugated in the conditional to express strong desires and wishes. In English, it is mostly translated by would like in these contexts.
- I would like to accompany you. – Je voudrais t’accompagner.
- She would like to live in Paris. – Elle voudrait vivre à Paris.
To make a polite request
To make requests, French speakers often use the verb vouloir. If you use it in the present tense, though, you will sound quite bossy. In order to be polite, it should be conjugated with the present conditional, translated into English by would like.
- I would like a coffee, please. – Je voudrais un café, s’il-vous-plaît.
- We would like to book a room for tonight. – Nous voudrions réserver une chambre pour ce soir.
- Would you like some wine? – Voulez-vous du vin ? – Voudriez-vous du vin ?
To express a polite command
Vouloir in French is commonly used in the imperative form to give commands. Here, it’s the equivalent of could you and would you, or simply please, in English.
- Please fasten your seat belts. – Veuillez attacher vos ceintures.
- Please wait. – Veuillez patienter.
- Would you please excuse me? – Veuillez m’excuser.
To demand something
Because vouloir is equivalent to want in French, it is quite logical that this is the verb used to express a demand. In this usage, the action that follows is generally conjugated in the subjunctive, because it remains hypothetical until the demand is actually carried out.
- They want us to leave now. – Ils veulent qu’on parte maintenant.
- She wants it to be finished by noon. – Elle veut que ce soit fini d’ici midi.
Likewise, the intransigence of vouloir can be understood with this common saying, generally stated on its own using the subjunctive vouloir conjugation:
- Whether you like it or not. – Que tu le veuilles ou non.
To express regrets
Sometimes, vouloir can be used to refer to past actions the speaker wishes he or she had done. In this case, vouloir is conjugated with the conditional past tense: j’aurais voulu can translate as I would have liked or I wish that.
- I wish that he were with us. – J’aurais voulu qu’il soit avec nous.
- I would have liked to tell you sooner. – J’aurais voulu te le dire plus tôt.
Other meanings of vouloir in French
Vouloir in French can also have different meanings when used in some specific expressions. That’s the case of sans le vouloir, en vouloir à, vouloir dire, and bien vouloir. Let’s see how we use these expressions built with the verb vouloir.
Sans le vouloir: to express something unintentional
Sans le vouloir literally means without wanting it and is the equivalent of without meaning to or unintentionally.
- We laughed but we didn’t mean it. – On a rigolé sans le vouloir.
- I accidentally saw one of her gifts. – J’ai vu l’un de ses cadeaux sans le vouloir.
En vouloir à/de: to express angry feelings
When vouloir is bookended by the French pronoun en and the French preposition à or de, followed by something or someone, it indicates that this someone or something really gets us angry. En vouloir à somebody means to be angry at someone or to hold a grudge against someone, while en vouloir de something refers to what causes the anger. Used in the first person, je m’en veux de something means to or to blame oneself for something.
- She holds a grudge against everyone! – Elle en veux à la terre entière !
- I blame myself for trusting him. – Je m’en veux de lui avoir fait confiance.
Vouloir dire: to explain a meaning
Vouloir dire, meaning literally to want to say, is simply translated as to mean in English. It is always used with que.
- What do you mean? – Que veux-tu dire ?
- What I mean is that you’re not forced to do it. – Je veux dire que tu n’es pas obligé de le faire.
- It means you won’t come to the party? – Ça veut dire que tu ne vas pas venir à la fête ?
Bien vouloir: to express willingness
A common use of vouloir is in the expression bien vouloir. It’s the equivalent of to be willing to, used to form polite requests, and can also be translated by could you.
- Could you please give me the bread? – Tu veux bien me passer le pain, s’il-te-plaît ?
- He is willing to lend you his laptop. – Il veut bien te prêter son ordinateur.
- I don’t know if he will be willing to do it. – Je ne sais pas s’il va bien vouloir le faire.
How to conjugate vouloir in French
Now that you understand how vouloir is used in French, it’s time to have a look at its conjugation. Vouloir is an irregular verb, so it doesn’t always follow the standard conjugation pattern of other French verbs ending in ‑ir.
For a recap of how we conjugate verbs in French, read our detailed guide on French conjugation.
In this section on vouloir conjugation we’ll focus on the most common tenses that you need to know. For completeness, we’ll finish up with the rest of the tenses.
Vouloir conjugation: Présent de l’indicatif
One of the most useful tenses and moods of vouloir in French is the présent de l’indicatif, the indicative present.
|Vouloir présent de l’indicatif||To want in French present indicative|
|Je veux||I want|
|Tu veux||You want|
|Il, Elle, On veut||He, She wants|
|Nous voulons||We want|
|Vous voulez||You want|
|Ils, Elles veulent||They want|
Vouloir conjugation: Passé composé
The passé composé is a compound tense that is often used in French. We recommend you read this post about this major French past tense to know how to form it and when to use it. The passé composé needs to be used with an auxiliary verb: for vouloir, it’s always formed with the auxiliary verb avoir.
In English, vouloir conjugated in the passé composé is translated to wanted.
|Vouloir passé composé|
|Tu as voulu|
|Il, Elle, On a voulu|
|Nous avons voulu|
|Vous avez voulu|
|Ils, Elles ont voulu|
Vouloir conjugation: Imparfait
Vouloir, conjugated with the French imperfect tense l’imparfait, follows the rules of the regular -ir verbs. For a full explanation of this tense, we also have a full post to teach you how to use the imparfait in French.
In English, vouloir conjugated in the imparfait is translated to wanted or wished.
|Il, Elle, On voulait|
|Ils, Elles voulaient|
Vouloir conjugation: Conditionnel présent
In most polite forms, vouloir in French is conjugated in the present conditional tense, le conditionnel présent. Here again, it follows the rules of the regular -ir verbs. In English, vouloir conjugated in the conditionnel présent will often be translated as would like or wanted.
|Vouloir conditionnel présent|
|Il, Elle, On voudrait|
|Ils, Elles voudraient|
Vouloir conjugation: Conditionnel passé
Used to talk about past events, the French vouloir conjugation in the past conditional tense, or le conditionnel passé, is irregular. In English, it is usually translated as would have liked, though sometimes it’s translated simply as wish.
|Vouloir conditionnel passé|
|Tu aurais voulu|
|Il, Elle, On aurait voulu|
|Nous aurions voulu|
|Vous auriez voulu|
|Ils, Elles auraient voulu|
Vouloir conjugation: Futur simple
Another common tense for vouloir in French is le futur simple. Read our complete post about the French future tense if you’re not yet familiar with its usages and conjugation. Good news, this time again, vouloir conjugated in the simple future tense follows the regular rules for -ir verbs. In English, it is translated as to want or would like.
|Vouloir futur simple|
|Il, Elle, On voudra|
|Ils, Elles voudront|
Vouloir conjugation: Subjonctif présent
The last common vouloir conjugation that we’ll cover individually is the present subjunctive tense, le subjonctif présent. Vouloir follows the regular pattern in the nous and vous conjugations, while for the other grammatical persons the irregular stem is veuill-. Check out our post on subjunctive conjugation for a full explanation of this tense.
|Vouloir subjonctif présent|
|Il, Elle, On veuille|
|Ils, Elles veuillent|
Vouloir conjugation: Additional conjugation tables
So far, we’ve covered the main tenses where it’s likely that you’ll actually need to conjugate vouloir. For completeness, we’re including the remaining tenses in the following tables. For explanations of any of them, please refer to our big post on all the French verb tenses.
The vouloir present participle is voulant. The past participles are ayant voulu, and voulu (or its variants voulue, voulus, and voulues). The infinitif passé is avoir voulu.
|Subject||Impératif présent||Impératif passé|
|Tu||veuille, veux||aie voulu|
|Vous||veuillez, voulez||ayez voulu|
|Je||avais voulu||aurai voulu|
|Tu||avais voulu||auras voulu|
|Il, Elle, On||avait voulu||aura voulu|
|Nous||avions voulu||aurons voulu|
|Vous||aviez voulu||aurez voulu|
|Ils, Elles||avaient voulu||auront voulu|
|Subject||Passé simple||Passé antérieur|
|Il, Elle, On||voulut||eut voulu|
|Ils, Elles||voulurent||eurent voulu|
|Subject||Subjonctif passé||Subjonctif imparfait||Subjonctif plus-que-parfait|
|Je||aie voulu||voulusse||eusse voulu|
|Tu||aies voulu||voulusses||eusses voulu|
|Il, Elle, On||ait voulu||voulût||eût voulu|
|Nous||ayons voulu||voulussions||eussions voulu|
|Vous||ayez voulu||voulussiez||eussiez voulu|
|Ils, Elles||aient voulu||voulussent||eussent voulu|
Vouloir is a major verb in French, definitely among the ten most common. It’s often translated as to want and to wish in English, as its main usage is to express desires and wishes. Conjugated in the conditionnel présent and the conditionnel passé, vouloir also allows the speaker to make polite requests.
Watch out for its conjugation: vouloir is an irregular verb and some of its tenses and moods don’t follow the rules of other verbs ending with -ir. For the most part, however, our vouloir conjugation isn’t too complicated, and in any case it’s such a common verb that you’ll soon master its important tenses. As we’ve seen in this post: vouloir, c’est pouvoir!