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Impersonal verbs - Easy Learning Grammar French

What is an impersonal verb?
An impersonal verb is one that does not refer to a real person or thing and where the subject is represented by it, for example, It’s going to rain; It’s ten o’clock.
  • Impersonal verbs are only used with il (meaning it) and in the infinitive. They are called impersonal verbs because il does not really refer to a real person, animal or thing, just like it and there in English in the examples below.
Il pleut.It’s raining.
Il va pleuvoir.It’s going to rain.
Il y a un problème.There’s a problem.
Il pourrait y avoir un problème.There could be a problem.
  • There are also some very common verbs that can be used in this way in addition to their normal meanings, for example, avoir, être and faire.
InfinitiveExpressionMeaning
avoir + nounil y athere is (singular)
there are (plural)
être + timeil estit is
faire + nounil fait jour
il fait nuit
it’s daylight
it’s dark
falloir + nounil fautwe/you etc. need it takes
falloir + infinitiveil fautwe/you etc. have to
manqueril manquethere is … missing (singular)
there are … missing (plural)
paraîtreil paraît queit appears that
it seems that
rester + nounil restethere is … left (singular)
there are … left (plural)
sembleril semble queit appears that
it seems that
valoir mieux + infinitiveil vaut mieuxit would be better to
Il y a quelqu’un à la porte.There’s somebody at the door.
Il est deux heures.It’s two o’clock.
Il faut partir.I’ve/We’ve etc. got to go.
Il manque cent euros.100 euros are missing.
Il reste du pain.There’s some bread left.
Il vaut mieux ne rien dire.It would be better to say nothing.
  • Several impersonal verbs relate to the weather.
InfinitiveExpressionMeaning
faire + adjectiveil fait beau
il fait mauvais
the weather’s lovely
the weather’s bad
faire + nounil fait du vent
il fait du soleil
it’s windy
it’s sunny
geleril gèleit’s freezing
neigeril neigeit’s snowing
pleuvoiril pleutit’s raining
Grammar Extra!There is another group of useful expressions that start with an impersonal il. These are followed by a form of the verb called the subjunctive.
il faut que 
Il faut que je parte.I’ve got to go.
il est nécessaire que 
Il est nécessaire que le comité prenne une décision rapidement.The committee has to take a decision quickly.
il est possible que 
Il est possible qu’il vienne.He might come.
il est dommage que 
Il est dommage que tu ne l’aies pas vu.It’s a shame you didn’t see him.
Key points
  • Impersonal verbs can only be used in the infinitive and the il form.
  • il faut, il y a, il est and il fait with expressions relating to the weather are very common.

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