French Grammar: The Past Infinitive

French Grammar: The Past Infinitive

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French Grammar: The Past Infinitive
la grammaire française: l’infinitif passé

  • The infinitive form of a verb conveys the basic meaning of that verb.
  • The infinitive AVOIR or ÊTRE + Past Participle of Main Verb = the PAST INFINITIVE form.


The infinitive form of a French verb is the form that ends with [-ER], [-IR], or [-RE]. Each of these infinitive endings is the equivalent of  “to …”  (i..e. to speak, to read, to take, etc.) in English. Often, an infinitive verb is conjugated when used in a sentence. But French infinitives are used in a variety of other ways, too.

In French, the PAST INFINITIVE is used to talk about an action that happened before the action of the main verb. This construction is often used when the subject of both actions is the same. Direct translations of this construction into English usually sound odd, so it’s more common to loosely translate these constructions instead of translating word for word.

The rules that govern the use of either the infinitive AVOIR or the infinitive ÊTRE are the same rules that apply to Compound Past Tenses.

Il regrette avoir manqué la réunion.
He regrets to have missed the meeting. –> He regrets having missed the meeting.

Après être arrivés, nous avons défait nos bagages.
After having arrived, we unpacked our luggage. –> After arriving, we unpacked our luggage.

In addition to talking about actions that have actually happened, the PAST INFINITIVE is also used to talk about actions that didn’t happen or that haven’t happened yet.

J’aurais voulu assistir au concert.
I would have liked to attend the concert.

Il l’aura fini par demain.
He will have finished it by tomorrow.

The French PAST INFINITIVE is commonly used in four different ways: (a) Following the preposition après; (b) To convey thanks or appreciation; (c) To modify the verb in a main clause; (d) To modify the adjective in a main clause. Here’s an explanation of each usage.

a. Following the preposition après:

Après avoir fait les devoirs, ils sont sortis.
After having done the homework, they (masculine) went out.

b. To convey thanks or appreciation:

Nous vous remercions de nous avoir ramenés à la maison.
We thank you for giving us a ride home.

c. To modify the verb in a main clause:

Elle ne souvient pas d’avoir été ici avant aujourd’hui.
She doesn’t remember having been here before today.

d. To modify the adjective in a main clause:

Je suis tellement heureuse d’avoir atterri!
I’m so happy to have landed!


Prière d’être partis par ce soir.
Kindly be gone by this evening.

Je suis ravi d’avoir reçu ce prix.
I am honored to have received this award.

Le président s’est assis après avoir fait son discours.
The president sat down after giving his speech.

Elle n’aimait pas avoir été mis dans l’embarras.
She didn’t like having been put on the spot.

L’enfant s’est couché après s’être brossé les dents.
The child went to bed after brushing his teeth.