Appendix:French defective verbs

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A French defective verb is a verb that is entirely lacking part of its conjugation.

Definition and causes of defectiveness[edit]

There are many reasons why a verb may be lacking some forms. Most grammar treats defective verbs solely as those verbs where the forms are entirely impossible to use (that is, purely impersonal verbs such as pleuvoir (to rain) or grêler (to hail)) and verbs for which certain forms do not exist at all anymore, usually because of homonymy (choir (archaic: to fall), homonymous with choyer). This definition has generally excluded a number of verbs that, for example, have a conjugation that can be easily "completed", but, although not impersonal, are generally used only in the third person singular or plural in practice, as well as many reciprocal verbs that cannot be used in the singular.

Reasons for a verb to be truly defective are varied: the meaning of the verb may prevent its use in certain tenses, it might subsist solely as part of a set phrases or an idiom, or it might have been replaced in most uses by a more regular verb, leading to some forms falling out of uses. Finally, some adjectives that were once past participle of verbs with full conjugations are often used in compound tenses.

Additionally, some verbs are frequently given as defective in some tenses (most frequently the past historic and imperfect subjunctive), when in fact they are still used, although infrequently, in these forms.

Functionally defective verbs[edit]

These are partial lists of verbs or verb meanings that are either almost only used in the third person, or practically lack a specific tense.

Verbs lacking a tense but not considered defective
Verbs used only or overwhelmingly in the third persons.

Verbs that are additionally defective are in bold.

Verbs occasionally reconstructed from a surviving participle

The commonest of these verbs are often quoted with an infinitive in dictionaries, but are rare enough in modern use as to be functionally defective, as they are usually used most in compound forms. Those that descend from fully conjugated verbs may be considered merely archaic or obsolete.

Verbs found only in some set phrases[edit]

This verb's infinitive remains only in the expressions faire accroire (make to believe) and the less frequent laisser accroire (let believe). The latter mostly has been replaced by the eggcorn laisser à croire, while the former is also undercut by faire à croire, criticised since the late nineteenth century, which is still considered a mistake. A related construction with savoir, inherited from Old French, has disappeared from use.
Il appert (it would seem) is the prime remnant of this legalistic verb. Even in that expression it is undercut by apparaître.
This verb is found in the pronominal form se faire bienvenir (to receive a warm welcome). Like its common adjectival from bienvenu, it is often split in two words by authors.
This verb, meaning "matter to" is fully impersonal and found in variation of the formal expression peu lui en chaut (he couldn't care less). The present is the most frequent form, but the infinitive, indicative imperfect (chalait), conditional (chaudrait) and present subjunctive (chaille) are also encountered.
This verb is a dated legal usage meaning "to appear before a court" and is used only in the infinitive and present participle. In all other tenses, comparaître (a reconstruction based on a more frequent verb) is used, and is also displacing it in these two forms.
The only remaining common use of this verb is the idiom sans coup férir (without any resistance).
partir (second group)
This verb, not to be confused with partir (to leave), is used in the expression avoir maille à partir (have an argument with) and as a participle meaning "split in two colors", from heraldry.

Verbs missing part of their conjugation[edit]

This verb, meaning "to burn", mostly fell out of usage in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, leaving only its imperfect, subjunctive and infinitive with a modicum of liveliness. An equally literary and rare arder was reconstructed from these forms, and has a complete conjugation. A form ardoir also existed. The commoner words ardeur and ardant are related.
  • Indicative imperfect: ard+first-group endings
  • Subjunctive present: ard+first-group endings
Like many verbs relating to animal cries (it means "to bray"), this verb, though it is often applied to people (meaning "to holler"), is primarily used in the third persons, where it has the conjugation of traire. However, the only tenses commonly encountered are the infinitive, indicative present, imperfect, future and conditional.
  • Indicative
    • Present: brait, braient (rare: brais, brais, brayons, brayez)
    • Imperfect: bray+first-group endings
    • Future/conditional: brair+first-group endings
Although it may be most common in the third persons, the other forms of those tense that are in uses are not unknown. Its most well-known use in the future (which is otherwise exceptional) is in the traditional Charles Perrault version of Little Red Riding Hood: "Tire la chevillette, [et] la bobinette cherra." The major tenses are the past participle, infinitive, indicative present and past historic. One could presumably easily reconstruct missing forms from the more complete déchoir or échoir (although strictly speaking, the verb is probably conjugated like asseoir, hence the variation in the future tense), but this is not usually done.
  • Indicative
    • Present: chois, chois, choit, choyons, choyez, choient
    • Past historic: chus, chus, chut, chûmes, chûtes, churent
    • Future/conditional (rare): cherr/choir+first-group endings
clore and derived verbs
Clore is only common in the infinitive, indicative present, and past participle, although grammars typically give only the past historic, indicative and subjunctive imperfect as unused. Its derived verbs other than éclore and enclore (that is, déclore and reclore) have similar conjugation gaps (see Appendix:French irregular verbs#Verbs_in_-ore).
  • Participle: clos, closant
  • Indicative
    • Present: clos, clos, clôt, closons (unused), closiez (unused), closent
    • Imperfect (unused): clos+first-group endings
    • Past historic (unused): clos+second-group endings
    • Future/conditional (rare): clor+first-group endings
  • Subjunctive
    • Present (rare): clos+first-group endings
    • Imperfect (unused): clos+second-group endings
  • Imperative (rare): clos, closons, closiez
This verb is never used outside the third person, and has no imperative. It also has several alternative forms. It is frequently given as missing the indicative and subjunctive imperfect, but this appears to be an oversimplification based on the fact the tenses are missing from choir.
  • Participle: échu, échéant
  • Indicative
    • Present: échoit (legal, archaic: échet), échoient
    • Imperfect: éché+first-group endings (alternative: échoy+first-group endings)
    • Past historic: échut, échurent
    • Future/conditional: échoir+first-group endings (uncommon alternative: écherr+first-group endings)
  • Subjunctive
    • Present: échoie, échoient
    • Imperfect: échût, échussent
This verb is only used in the infinitive and past participle: forclos.
Although the conjugation of this verb could conceivably be aligned on that of rire, it has long been supplanted in most of its conjugation by a causative periphrasis: faire frire since it is an unaccusative verb. The only tenses encountered are the singular present indicative, the future, conditional, and, much less commonly, the compound tenses.
  • Indicative
    • Present: fris, fris, frit
    • Future/conditional: frir+first-group endings
Meaning "to be inappropriate", this verb has the conjugation of seoir (see below), but is mostly restricted to the indicative present third person singular(il messied), with other forms used much less commonly.
This archaic verb is mostly restricted to the infinitive and past participle (occis), but its conjugation can be readily completed with that of circoncire, and some of these forms have been used by respected authors.
This verb, meaning "hear, listen" is very rare outside the infinitive and compound tenses. In modern use, there is a tendency to reconstruct other forms as a second-group verb. Its second-person imperative oyez, used in public announcement in historic fiction, is probably the best-known form. The original, obsolete conjugation is very rarely resurrect by some, and is given below:
  • Participle: ouï, oyant
  • Indicative
    • Present: oie, oies, oie, oyons, oyez, oient
    • Imperfect: oyais, oyais, oyait, oyions, oyiez, oyaient
    • Past historic: ouïs, ouïs, ouït, ouïmes, ouïtes, ouïrent
    • Future/conditional: orr+first-group endings
  • Subjunctive
    • Present: oie, oies, oie, oyions, oyiez, oient
    • Imperfect: ouïsse, ouïsses, ouït, ouïssions, ouïssiez, ouïssent
This verb is conjugated like connaître, but unlike croître, is not used in those tenses where it is homographic with pouvoir, namely the compound tenses and past participle, past historic, and subjunctive imperfect.
It is exceptional to find this verb outside the infinitive. When this is the case, it conjugates like acquérir.
Used to describe the cry of the male deer, this verb has the same conjugation as braire above, but is rarer as it has been mostly replaced by réer and bramer.
This verb is still rarely used in the infinitive or indicative present. It conjugates like rendre in the present indicative. It has been replaced by semoncer.
This is a rare example of a verb whose infinitive is one of the forms that are almost never used. It is used only in the third persons and mostly in the meaning "to be appropriate". Its participles sis (located), séant (law: sitting) and seyant (fitting) have taken distinct meanings of their own.
  • Indicative
    • Present: sied, siéent
    • Imperfect: seyait, seyaient
    • Future: siéra, siéront
  • Subjunctive
    • Present (rare): siée, siéent
For a discussion of the status of this verb and its derivatives, see Appendix:French irregular verbs#Verbs_in_-traire


  1. ^ Only in the sense "to matter"
  2. ^ Still in use in the infinitive for contusionner in the 19th century.
  3. ^ Based on other verbs with a participle in -olu, one would except *dévoudre.
  4. ^ In the meaning "to render speechless by surprise"
  5. ^ The adjective was borrowed directly from Latin, uses of perclure are always analogical reconstruction.
  6. ^ Adjectival use itself is nonstandard outside the expression tissu de; the usual adjective is tissé.

See also[edit]