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French Past Infinitive - Infinitif passé

Introduction to the French past infinitive


The French past infinitive indicates an action that occurred before the action of the main verb, but only when the subject of both verbs is the same. The past infinitive sounds awkward in English - we usually change it to another tense or reword the sentence completely, as you can see here:

   Je veux avoir terminé avant midi.
   I want to have finished by noon. > I want to finish by noon.

   Il regrette d'être parti.
   He regrets having left. > He regrets leaving.

Using the past infinitive

There are four main uses of the French past infinitive:

1) To modify the verb in the main clause:

   J'aurais préféré t'avoir vu hier.
   I would have preferred seeing you yesterday.

   Il se rappelle d'être venu ici il y a un an.
   He remembers coming here a year ago.

2) To modify the adjective in the main clause:

   Je suis ravi de t'avoir vu.
   I'm delighted to have seen you.

   Il est content d'être venu ici il y a un an.
   He's happy that he came here a year ago.

3) After the preposition après:

   Après t'avoir vu, j'étais heureux.
   After seeing you, I was happy.

   Après être venu ici, il a acheté une voiture.
   After coming here, he bought a car.

4) To express gratitude:

   Je vous remercie de m'avoir aidé.
   I thank you for helping me.

   Merci de m'avoir envoyé la lettre.
   Thank you for sending me the letter.

Word order with the past infinitive

In everyday French, negative adverbs do not surround the infinitive; they both precede it:

   Excusez-moi de ne pas être venu.
   Excuse me for not coming (not having come).

   Je suis ravi de ne jamais avoir raté un examen.
   I'm delighted that I've never failed a test (to have never failed a test).

In formal French, however, they may surround it.

   Veuillez m'excuser de n'avoir pas assisté à la réunion.
   Please excuse me for not attending the meeting.

As with the other compound tenses, object and adverbial pronouns precede the auxiliary verb of the past infinitive:

   Après t'avoir vu...
   After seeing you... (After having seen you...)

   Il se rappelle d'y être allé.
   He remembers going there (having gone there).

Practice: Test on the past infinitive

Go on to page 2 to learn how to conjugate the past infinitive.
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