French Vouloir, Pouvoir, and Devoir

Beginner French - Level A2

Overview

It is important to understand and be able to use three irregular French verbsvouloirpouvoir, and devoir — as they are very common as well as useful. They are often taught together because of the similarities in their conjugations.

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French A2

 

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French Vouloir, Pouvoir, and Devoir

In this unit, you’ll learn three more irregular verbs - vouloir, pouvoir, and devoir - meaning “to want,” “to be able to,” and “to have to / to owe ,” respectively. The reason why we learn verbs in groups is because they are conjugated in similar ways. Below you’ll find the conjugation tables for these three verbs with example sentences. Notice the similarities between the three tables. Vouloir and pouvoir are more similar to each other than they are to devoir. The other resources in this module explain their patterns separately.

From this unit forward, you will learn the past participle with each new verb to use in the past tense. Go ahead and review the past tense, or le passé composé.

  

Subject Pronoun

Vouloir

Meaning

Je

veux

I want

Tu

veux

You want

Il/Elle/On

veut

He/She/One wants

Nous

voulons

We want

Vous

voulez

You want

Ils/Elles

veulent

They want

 

Past Participle: voulu

Using vouloir in a sentence can express a particular item you want if it’s followed by a definite or indefinite article, or a particular action if it’s followed by an infinitive.

Examples:

Je veux une boisson.                                       I want a drink.

Il a voulu le désert.                                         He wanted the desert.

Nous ne voulons pas jouer aux cartes.           We don’t want to play cards.

Elles nont pas voulu faire du shopping.        They didn’t want to do some shopping 

Subject Pronoun

pouvoir

Meaning

Je

peux

I can

I am able to

Tu

peux

You can

You are able to

Il/Elle/On

peut

He/She/One can

He/She/One is able to

Nous

pouvons

We can

We are able to

Vous

pouvez

You can

You are able to

Ils/Elles

peuvent

They can

They are able to

  

Past Participle: pu

Most often, pouvoir is followed by an infinitive to express that one can or can not do something.

Examples:

Tu peux aller au cinéma.                    You can go to the movies.

Vous ne pouvez pas partir.                 You are not able to leave.

La petite fille a pu voir les étoiles.      The little girl was able to see the stars.

Nous navons pas pu aller ce soir.     We were not able to go tonight.  

 

Subject Pronoun

Devoir*

Meaning

Je

dois

I must / I owe

Tu

dois

You must/owe

Il/Elle/On

doit

He/She/One must/owes

Nous

devons

We must/owe

Vous

devez

You must/owe

Ils/Elles

doivent

They must/ower

 

Past Participle: dû

*The verb devoir can have several meanings. Understanding devoir depends on the context of each sentence. The translation of devoir when it means “to owe” is typically followed by a noun, while the translation that means “to have to” is typically followed by a verb.

Examples:

Je dois de l’argent.                                                                  I owe some money.

Nous ne devons pas lui téléphoner jusqu'à demain.               We don’t have to call him until tomorrow.

A la fin de la semaine, nous avons dû faire des courses.        At the end of the week, we had to do some grocery shopping.

Elle na pas dû de livres à la bibliothèque.                            She didn’t take any books to the library.

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Directions: Conjugate the verb provided in parenthesis for each of the following sentences in the present tense.

 

  • Tu ____ des surprises pour ton anniversaire. (vouloir)
  • Les animaux _______ souvent dormir. (pouvoir)
  • Je _____ visiter la Tour Eiffel. (devoir)
  • Moi et les autres musiciens ne _______ pas jouer à (pouvoir)
  • ______-vous prendre des photos ? (vouloir)

 

Answers and Translation

 

  • veux / You want some surprises for your birthday.
  • peuvent / Animals are able to sleep often.
  • dois / I have to visit the Eiffel Tower.
  • ne pouvons pas / Me and the other musicians can not perform at 8 o’clock.
  • Voulez / Do you want to take some pictures ?

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