I know you can conjugate être and avoir with your eyes closed.
Heck, you can probably do it in your sleep.
After all, être (to be) and avoir (to have) are the bread and butter of French verbs.
They’re classic. They go with everything. Literally.
Past participles can’t get enough of them, and you’re never going to stop using them.
That said, it may be time to start changing things up.
You’re now at the level where “good enough” is no longer enough.
Your intention is no longer just to get by. You want to express yourself, to have an influence on others and to get as close as possible to saying exactly what you mean.
There’s a whole world of advanced French verbs out there, just waiting to add style and sophistication to your vocabulary.
Once you see how smoothly they make your French flow, you’ll never want to stop using them.
So, What Is an Advanced French Verb, Exactly?
Let’s look at a few different ways a verb can qualify as “advanced.”
- A multifaceted verb. Some verbs, like tenir, are introduced early on in one’s French learning career through their primary definition—in this case, “to hold.” But tenir is actually much more versatile than that! It can also mean “to manage” or “to run” (in the sense of running a restaurant, bar or store, for example), “to control” or “to maintain,” depending on the context.
- A verb that does not have an equivalent in English. Because beginner and intermediate French learning usually relies on pointing out equivalencies between French and English, verbs that do not have equivalents in English are rarely introduced until later on. I’m thinking of verbs like tutoyer (to use the casual tu form to address someone) and vouvoyer (to use the formal vous form to address someone).
- A verb that is used almost exclusively in the formal register. Verbs like demeurer (more on it below) are rarely used in casual conversation, so it is not uncommon for French learners to come across them only once they have reached the advanced level.
- A verb that is only conjugated in certain forms. Verbs like falloir (to have to, to need to) are only conjugated in the third person singular form. For example, as il faut (one must). Another example is the verb construction s’agir de (more on that below).
- A verb with color. Verbs like être, avoir, dire (to say) and causer (to cause) can be pretty colorless verbs. They are bland and rather inexpressive because they are used so often. As useful (read: essential) as verbs like être and avoir are to the French language, there are a plethora of advanced verbs that are much more colorful, which is to say more expressive.
Why You Need to Take Your French Verb Usage to the Next Level
To polish up your writing
To start off with, increasing the pool of French verbs you draw from will allow you to create more polished and formal writing. As an advanced French learner, using advanced verbs allows you to move beyond formulaic sentence constructions to a more formal register.
To make your descriptions more specific
Let me give you an example:
Dans un discours consacré à l’échec scolaire, le candidat dit que les inégalités liées aux origines sociales des élèves demeurent. Son adversaire dit que cela n’est pas vrai.
(In a speech dedicated to the problem of failure at school, the candidate said that inequalities linked to the social origins of pupils remain. His opponent says this is not true.)
Compare that to the following:
Dans un discours consacré à l’échec scolaire, le candidat souligne que les inégalités liées aux origines sociales des élèves demeurent. Son adversaire maintient que cela n’est pas vrai.
(In a speech dedicated to the problem of failure at school, the candidate stressed that inequalities linked to the social origins of pupils remain. His opponent maintains that this is not true.)
In the second version, souligner que (to stress that) adds force to the candidate’s words, providing insight into how the words were said; we can imagine him gesticulating and raising his voice.
The use of maintenir que (to maintain that) not only provides a bit of insight into the longevity of the debate, it shows that the opponent has stuck to his guns.
As you can imagine, using more descriptive verbs can also help you to be more persuasive in debates of your own, or to make your opinion clear by showing things in a certain light. Which brings us to our last point…
Again, more color!
Sometimes, there is no alternative to constructing sentences using être or avoir, but most of the time, there are other verbs that are more specific and that add color and style to your French.
As you continue on through advanced French, it’s important to keep filling out your vocabulary and upping the specificity factor for increased ease of expression. Don’t stop with the verbs below—make sure you’re touching up your knowledge on a regular basis.
One easy way to do this is with FluentU.
Bon. C’est parti ! (OK. Let’s go!) On to advanced verbs!
Time to Shine: 26 Advanced Verbs for Polishing Up Your French
Verbs to use instead of être (to be)
Être won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, but here are some alternatives to our favorite standby.
1. représenter — to depict, to show, to represent, to embody
Les garçons représentaient moins de 20% de l’ensemble des élèves.
Less than 20% of the students were boys.
2. constituer — to make up, to constitute
Cette loi constitue une avancée majeure pour les droits de l’homme.
This law is a major advancement for human rights.
3. figurer — to appear, to be present
Votre nom figure sur la liste des adhérents.
Your name is on the members list.
4. s’éléver à — to come to, to amount to
La facture s’élève à 200 euros.
The bill is/comes to 200 euros.
5. atteindre — to reach, to get to
Ma mère atteindra ses 60 ans l’année prochaine.
My mom will be 60 years old next year.
6. rester — to remain
Les conditions restent favorables.
The conditions are (still) favorable.
7. demeurer — to remain, to dwell, to reside
La musique peut exercer une influence si puissante sur une personne qu’elle ne peut qu’en demeurer émue.
Music can have such a powerful influence on a person that s/he cannot but be moved.
8. s’agir de (used in the expression il s’agit de) — to be, to be about
J’ai lu un article dans lequel il s’agit du gaspillage alimentaire.
I read an article that is about wasting food.
Verbs to use instead of avoir (to have)
9. éprouver — to experience, to feel, to have
Sarah éprouve toujours des difficultés à trouver la maison de Jennifer.
Sarah always has difficulties finding Jennifer’s house.
10. disposer de — to have available, to have at one’s disposal
Charles dispose d’assez d’argent pour mener à terme son projet.
Charles has enough money to finish his project.
11. recueillir — to get, to obtain, to receive
La candidate a recueilli 20% des votes.
The candidate has (received) 20% of the votes.
12. posséder — to have, to contain
La maison de Scott et Laura possède un très beau mobilier.
Scott and Laura’s house has/contains very beautiful furnishings.
Verbs to use instead of dire (to say)
He said. She said. They said. We said. Easy to understand, but a bit boring. Try these verbs instead.
13. affirmer (que) — to affirm, say with certainty
Il affirme que les commerçants de la region s’en sortent « plutôt bien » cette année.
He affirms that the region’s shopkeepers are doing “pretty well” this year.
14. préciser (que) — to explain, to clarify
Le président a précisé que la loi ne s’appliquera que l’année prochaine.
The president clarified that the law would only be applied next year.
15. prétendre (que) — to maintain, to purport, to claim
Les résidents prétendent que le maire a utilisé un langage inapproprié dans sa réponse lorsqu’il a laissé entendre que les impôts n’augmenteront pas.
The residents maintain that the mayor used poor word choice in his response because he made it seem that the taxes would not increase.
16. souligner (que) — to emphasize, to stress, to highlight, to underscore
Le médecin a souligné qu‘une alimentation trop grasse et sucrée est nocive pour la santé.
The doctor stressed that a diet too fatty and sugary is bad for one’s health.
Verbs to use instead of il y a (there is or there are)
There are other ways to say “there are.”
17. trouver (as on trouve — literally “one finds”)
On trouve plusieurs variétés de plantes dans cette forêt.
There are several species of plants in this forest.
18. exister (as il existe — a bit more formal than on trouve, this translates to “there exists”)
Il existe plusieurs raisons pour laquelle je ne suis pas allée au concert la semaine dernière.
There are many reasons why I did not go to the concert last week.
Verbs to use instead of causer or être à cause de
Remember when you learned the difference between à cause de (because of, with a neutral to negative connotation) and grâce à (thanks to) and it totally blew your mind? These alternatives to causer and être à cause de are sure to have the same effect.
19. déclencher — to trigger
Ce genre d’extremisme pourrait déclencher une guerre.
(This kind of extremism could trigger a war.)
20. engendrer — to engender, to bring about
Sa duplicité engendre des conflits dans le groupe.
His duplicity engenders conflict in the group.
21. mener à — to lead to
Cela ne doit pas mener à la conclusion que la loi est inutile.
This should not lead to the conclusion that the law is useless.
22. déchaîner — to unleash
En Europe, l’immigration est un sujet qui déchaîne les passions.
In Europe, immigration is a subject that unleashes passion. (Which is to say, it is a widely debated topic.)
23. amener — to bring about
Ce travail est destiné à amener les changements.
This work is destined to bring about changes.
24. entraîner — to lead to, to involve
Une carence de vitamin C peut entraîner des infections.
A vitamin C deficiency can lead to infections.
25. occasionner — to cause, to bring about
Les travaux risquent d’occasionner une gêne aux clients.
The construction work might cause a disturbance to the clients.
26. aboutir à — to end up with, to lead to
La réunion a abouti à un compromis.
The meeting led to a compromise.
There you have it! Use these advanced French verbs to get you out of your comfort zone and up to the next level.
Think of these verbs as firm handshakes.
Use them, and you’ll be sure to exude not only competence, but confidence as well.
And one more thing...
If you like learning French on your own time and from the comfort of your smart device, then I'd be remiss to not tell you about FluentU.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews, documentary excerpts and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native French videos with reach. With interactive captions, you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:
Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you've learned in a given video with learn mode. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning, and play the mini-games found in our dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
All throughout, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a totally personalized experience. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.