french-verb-sortir

The Versatile Verb Sortir: A Great French Multi-tool

On sort ? (Want to go out?)

J’ai sorti les poubelles. (I took out the trash.)

Sors ! (Get out!)

L’école a préparé une sortie pour les élèves. (The school prepared an outing for the students.)

Yep, all of these sentences use the verb sortir.

Languages can seem fickle when you’re a learner.

After all, some words have one simple meaning with clear-cut usage, while some are more complex and advanced.

Sortir is the latter.

But don’t worry! With this guide, you can get to know everything you need to about one of French’s versatile and multifaceted verbs, from its basic definition down to its advanced usage. And as a bonus, you’ll get a great dose of language knowledge you can apply to other French verbs as well.

Besides, you don’t need to learn everything about sortir all at once. As a French learner, you’ll grow into it!

Bookmark this post and come back to it as your French skills advance.
 


 
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Basics of the French Verb Sortir

First off, let’s start with some basics.

While it’s never a great idea to only look at straight translations from one language to another—after all, even “hello” and “bonjour,” while seemingly equivalents, are distinct in each language due to culture and usage—a translation is a great jumping-off point.

Sortir, then, can be seen as a French equivalent of “to go out.” Of course, now that we’ve got this equivalent, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty.

Sortir as an Intransitive Verb

Sortir can be used as an intransitive verb, that is to say, a verb with no direct object.

Sortir can be used in the physical sense of “to go out,” as in “to go outside.”

Je suis sorti. (I went outside.)

Sortir can be used in a more figurative sense as well. When speaking about dating, for example.

Jeanne et Marc sortent ensemble. (Jeanne and Marc are dating/going out.)

As we’ve already seen, sortir can also be used in the imperative, or as a command, to mean, “Leave!” or “Get out!”

Sortir as a Transitive Verb

Sortir can also be used as a transitive verb, i.e., a verb that has a direct object.

Je sors les poubelles. (I’m taking out the trash.)

Fais sortir le chien. (Let the dog out.)

Sortir with Prepositions

Sortir is one of a handful of verbs whose meanings change when used with certain French prepositions.

Sortir de is used to refer to the place from whence a person is leaving.

Je sors de la douche. (I’m getting out of the shower.)

Marie est sortie de l’école. (Marie has left school [for the day].)

Sortir à is used most frequently when referring to travel, e.g., which highway exit you’re “getting off” at or which train stop you’re “getting out” at.

On sort à Pigalle, puis on change de ligne de métro. (We’ll get off at Pigalle and change metro lines.)

Il faut sortir à la sortie pour Tours. (You need to get off [the highway] at the Tours exit.)

Sortir avecas we saw briefly above, means to “go out with” in the romantic sense. As in English, this is usually used for more juvenile relationships; it would be perceived as strange to say that you were “going out with” your fiancé, for example.

Luc sortait avec Marie au lycée. (Luc went out with Marie in high school.)

Sortir avec can also be used to refer to “going out” as in “going out on the town,” i.e., with friends.

Tu sors en boîte avec qui ce soir ? (Who are you going to the club with tonight?)

Sortir par refers to the manner in which one physically leaves a space.

On entendait mon père arriver, alors Charles est sorti par la fenêtre. (We heard my father coming, so Charles went out through the window.)

Sors par derrière ; la porte de devant est fermée à clef. (Use the back door/go out via the back door; the front door is locked.)

Conjugating the French Verb Sortir

Now that you know when to use it, it’s important to know how to use it. Below is a guide to the conjugations in different moods and tenses of sortir. 

Don’t worry if you don’t know all of these yet—this page can be a reference guide as you learn new moods and tenses.

As a refresher, here are the translations for the different subject pronouns in French:

Je — I
Tu — you (singular, informal)
Il — he
Elle — she
On — one/we
Nous — we
Vous — you (singular formal or plural)
Ils — they (masculine)
Elles — they (feminine)

Simple Tenses and Moods

The Present

Je sors.
Tu sors.
Il/elle/on sort.
Nous sortons.
Vous sortez.
Ils/elles sortent.

Nous sortons en boîte ce soir. (We’re going out to a club tonight.)

The Imperfect

Je sortais.
Tu sortais.
Il/elle/on sortait.
Nous sortions.
Vous sortiez.
Ils/elles sortaient.

Quand on était au lycée, on sortait souvent au cinéma. (When we were in high school, we often went out to the movies.)

The Imperative

Sors.
Sortons.
Sortez.

Sortez d’ici tout de suite ! (Get out of here immediately!)

The Future

Je sortirai.
Tu sortiras.
Il/elle/on sortira.
Nous sortirons.
Vous sortirez.
Ils/elles sortiront.

Le film se termine à 17h, donc ils sortiront bientôt. (The film ends at 5pm, so they’ll come out [of the cinema] soon.)

The Conditional

Je sortirais.
Tu sortirais.

Il sortirait.
Nous sortirions.
Vous sortiriez.
Ils sortiraient.

Je sortirais avec toi si tu me demandais gentiment. (I would go out with you if you asked me nicely.)

The Subjunctive

… que je sorte.
… que tu sortes.

… qu’il/elle/on sorte.
… que nous sortions.
… que vous sortiez.
… qu’ils/elles sortent.

Je pense qu’elle déprime depuis la rupture—il faut qu’elle sorte de chez elle. (I think she’s depressed since her breakup—she needs to get out of the house.)

Compound Tenses and Moods

When conjugating with compound tenses and moods, the most important thing to be aware of is using the appropriate auxiliary verb. As sortir is a member of the Dr. Mrs. Vandertramp verb club, it’s conjugated with être. As a result, the passé composé and other compound tenses such as the past conditional and the pluperfect are all conjugated with être.

The Passé Composé

Je suis sorti(e).
Tu es sorti(e).

Il/elle/on est sorti(e).
Nous sommes sorti(e)s.
Vous êtes sorti(e)(s).
Ils/elles sont sorti(e)s.

Nous sommes sortis par derrière. (We went out through the back [door].)

Note that the past participle is in agreement with the subject when using être as an auxiliary. If you’re female, you would write, “Je suis sortie.”

Compound Tenses with Prepositions

This is French grammar, so of course, there will be exceptions! When conjugating sortir as an intransitive verb, the above holds true. However, when using sortir as a transitive verb, this is not always the case.

For example, when using our above transitive verb example in the past, sortir is conjugated with avoir as the auxiliary instead of être:

J’ai sorti les poubelles. (I took out the trash.)

Note that the past participle does not agree with the subject or the object of the verb.

Of course, you can just memorize this rule, but if you’re interested in knowing a bit more about why this is true, here’s a more linguistic explanation.

Linguistic Explanation of Object + Past Participle Agreement with Sortir

The easiest way to understand why sortir is sometimes used with avoir and sometimes with être is to understand what the use of the auxiliary verb être actually means in a semantic context.

Essentially, the use of être as an auxiliary in place of the more common avoir means that the subject and the object of the verb are the same.

Wait, what?

OK, let’s have a look at a verb where this is clear to see:

Je me suis levée. (I got up.)

In the case of a reflexive verb, it’s easy to see that the subject and object of the verb are the same, because of the reflexive pronoun. However, if you think about what the sentence actually means, it’s also clear to see that semantically, the subject and object of the verb are the same: I did the getting up, and I am what’s up at the end of the sentence.

Because the object is not stated, it’s assumed. This is also the case for all Vandertramp verbs, like naître (to be born), descendre (to go down) and partir (to leave). In all of these cases, the subject is understood to also be the object of the verb.

In the sentence “Je suis sorti,” for instance, you can see that I am what went out, and I am also what’s out at the end of the sentence.

The use of the auxiliary être also means that the subject will agree with the past participle. This is because, in French, whenever the object of the verb comes before the past participle, the past participle will agree with it. Of course, the object of the verb generally comes after the verb. In general, the only time that it will come before the verb is when the object is replaced with a pronoun.

Je les ai vus. (I saw them.)

Because the subject and the object of a Vandertramp or reflexive verb are seen as being the same, the subject of any composed past tense Vandertramp verb will be in agreement with the past participle—the subject, in these cases, is the object.

Nous sommes sorties entre filles. (We went out as girls/for a “girls’ night.”)

However, when the French verb sortir becomes transitive, and another object is used—for example, poubelles (trash)—the same does not hold true:

J’ai sorti les poubelles. (I took out the trash.)

I am what went out, but the trash is what’s out at the end of the sentence. Avoir is used instead of être in these cases, and the past participle will not agree with the subject, because there is an object that is distinct from the subject.

 

Studying one individual French verb in depth, especially a multi-use one like sortir, can greatly improve your general understanding of other French verbs.

As you take a closer look at other verbs, feel free to hang on to this article so that you can refer to it as your understanding and use of French expands and grows!

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