Hour 19 of Alpha Teach Yourself French in 24 Hours (ATYF) is quite interesting. It is all about infinitives, right up to the point where it devolves into shopping vocabulary.
Before getting into the uses of the infinitive, both the review and the new uses, the text reminds the reader of the forms of two special verbs, pouvoir and devoir. This is only natural, since these two can be often found governing infinitives. It also brings up the impersonal falloir, since it can be similar in meaning to devoir.
Ever wished that you could smack that sarcastic English-speaker upside the head as they make some snide remark about the difference between “can” and “may”? Well, you won’t need to feel that rage towards a French speaker. Pouvoir would be used in either case. Whew! And pouvoir does a little bit more, too.
Let’s recap forms:
- Present Indicative: je peux, tu peux, il peut, nous pouvons, vous pouvez, ils peuvent
- Present Subjunctive: je puisse, tu puisses, il puisse, nous puissions, vous puissiez, ils puissent
- Future Stem: pourr-
- Participles: pu (past), pouvant (present)
In the present, pouvoir means “can” or “able”, while in the future it means “will be able”. In the conditional it means “might” (present) or “could have”/”might have” (past). ATYF says that in the passé composé, it means “was able”. However, when you want to express “can”, but mean “have the right to”, use avoir le droit de, instead.
If, instead of “can” or “may” you want “must” or “should”, devoir is here to help. Standing alone it means “to owe”, as in money. But with an infinitive, it indicates obligation, intention or even probability.
- Present Indicative: je dois, tu dois, il doit, nous devons, vous devez, ils doivent
- Present Subjunctive: je doive, tu doives, il doive, nous devions, vous deviez, ils doivent
- Future Stem: devr-
- Participles: dû (past) or due (past, fem.), devant (present)
In the present, devoir means “have to” or “must”, while in the future it means “supposed to”. In the conditional it means “should” or “ought to” (present) or “should have”/”ought to have” (past). ATYF says that in the passé composé, it means “must have”, with the implication that it probably did.
As every time it has been mentioned, this is only available in the third person singular:
- Present Indicative: il faut que + subjunctive
- Present Subjunctive: il faille que + subjunctive
- Future: il faudra que + subjunctive
- Imperfect: il faillait que + subjunctive
- Passé Composé: il a fallu que + subjunctive
- Falloir has no present participle
When used in an affirmative sense in the present, it is equivalent to devoir – “must” or “have to”. And it can be used with an indirect object pronoun to make a statement about need (who has the need). Negated it means “must not”.
Here are some uses that we haven’t seen before:
- Infinitive as Noun: Usually this is seen combined with an article (always masculine), as in le boire “drinking”, le manger “eating”, le coucher “bedding down”, le lever “getting up”, le devoir “duty” or le rire “laughter”.
- Infinitives as Noun: Sometimes, this is more like the English gerund, with no article, as with this ATYF example – Apprendre, c’est comprendre. “To learn is to understand.”
- To Replace The Subjunctive: When the subject of the subjunctive clause is the same as the subject in the main clause, when possible, the subjunctive is replaced by the infinitive. This involves changing the conjunction to an equivalent preposition, which is not always possible (when it is not, the subjunctive clause remains unchanged):
- pour que → pour
- afin que → afin de
- avant que → avant de
- sans que → sans
- à moins que → à moins de
- de pour que → de pour de
- bien que “although” (requires subjunctive, even with same subject)
- quoique “although” (requires subjunctive, even with same subject)
- pourvu que “provided that” (requires subjunctive, even with same subject)
- Infinitive as Command: In legal language and directions (as with cookbooks or manuals), it is common to replace imperatives with an infinitive.
And that is the end of the lesson for the day. As I said before, there was quite a bit of shopping vocab. They left out my favorite, though – the book store!