Using “de” with French Verbs Posted by on May 29, 2015 in Grammar

One of my biggest problems when I started learning French was prepositions (quoi?? a preposition is a word showing relation to another word in the clause. Par exemple: I always color outside the lines.). They can be very tricky because new learners will always want to translate their native language into French, and it just doesn’t always work. They don’t always seem to be logial, so prepositions need to be learned in context.

– Mad at someone? In French, you’re mad against someone. (fâché contre quelqu’un)

– Eating out of someone’s hand? Try again. In French, it’s manger dans (in!) la main de quelqu’un!

– Listening to the radio? Tu écoutes la radio, not Tu écoutes à la radio. The “to” preposition we use in English is ‘already included’ in the verb. Écouter = to listen to, so there’s no reason to translate “to” in your sentence.

– Want to buy me a drink? Great! Tu me payes un verre. No need to say payer pourpayer already means to pay for!


It’s just as tough for English learners, too. Do you know what a phrasal verb is? It’s using a preposition with a verb, and depending on the preposition, the verb’s meaning can change. Just look at the image at the top. Look on, look ahead, look back, look through – they all mean different things! Now try translating them into French. Not so easy.

Today we’re going to look at the preposition “de” in 2 different contexts: verb + de + infinitive and verb + de + direct object.


Verb + de + infinitive

It’s very common in French that if you want to use verbs in a row, they may need to be separated with a preposition (de or à – we’ll get to à another time).

       J’ai essayé d’appeler ma mère, mais la ligne était occupée.
       I tried calling my mother, but the line was busy.

Note the usage of de between essayer and appeler!

Essayer is one of those verbs that takes de if there’s another verb following it.


The bad news? There are no rules. The good news? I’m giving you a list! Memorize these verbs and use de with them! There are more, but here’s a list of common ones:

accepter de to accept or agree to
achever de to finish ___-ing
s’agir de to be a question of ___-ing
avoir peur de to be scared of ___-ing
cesser de to stop ___-ing
se contenter de to be happy ___-ing
continuer de to continue ___-ing
décider de to decide to
demander  (à quelqu’un) de to ask someone to
dire (à quelqu’un) de to tell (someone) to do something
empecher de to keep from ___-ing
essayer de to try to
s’excuser de to apologize for ___-ing
finir de to finish ___-ing
offrir de to offer to
oublier de to forget to
promettre de to promise to
refuser de to refuse to
se souvenir de to remember



Verb + de + direct object

Un complement d’objet direct (a direct object) is the person or thing that receives the action of the verb.

       J’ai mangé une pomme.
       I ate an apple.

What did I eat? Une pomme. This is the direct object.


Certain verbs in French require you to put de between the verb and the direct object. This is especially tricky because it’s not always the case for English. Below I’m giving you a list of some of these verbs. Just as with the previous bunch, there aren’t any rules, so they must be memorized.

       J’ai besoin de la clé.

I need the key.

Note the de between the verb phrase and the direct object.

Here are some verbs that require de before a direct object. It’s especially helpful to know these when learning the relative pronoun dont! It’s “la clé dont j’ai besoin,” and not “la clé que j’ai besoin.” Why? The verb is avoir besoin de, and the de becomes dont when using a relative pronoun.

s’agir de to be a question
s’approcher de to approach
avoir besoin de to need
avoir envie de to want
changer de to change
féliciter de to congratulate
jouer de to play (an instrument)
manquer de to lack
se méfier de to distrust
se moquer de to make fun of
s’occuper de to be busy with
se plaindre de to complain about
profiter de to take advantage of
se rendre compte de to realize
se souvenir de to remember
tenir de to resemble/take after
se tromper de to mistake


Any tips to help memorization or use easier? It’s different for everyone, of course, but here are some suggestions:

  1. When I was learning these, I asked a native French speaker to record the list of verbs for me. Then, I would listen to it often until knowing that se souvenir needs de with it. If you learn best through listening, this is an easy way to make this second nature to you.
  2. Want to see these words in action? The verbs in the list that require de with the direct object can all be used with the relative pronoun dont. Go to Google and type together a string of words using dont so you can see the words used in context. For example, earlier I mentioned ‘la clé don’t j’ai besoin‘ – try typing in “dont j’ai besoin” in Google and check it out in.
  3. Similar to the method above, give it a shot using the verb without a relative pronoun. Use other tenses and different subjects and see what you can find. For example: “Jimi Hendrix joue de” or “il s’est moqué de” or “elle veut que tu t’occupes de” You don’t need to be advanced to do this. Just type in what you can do to see what you do know to see how you can use these words in real language (not just what you learn in class).


Do you have any other memorization tips?

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About the Author: Josh Dougherty

Just your typical francophile. If you have any topics you'd like me to discuss, feel free to let me know!


  1. Déborah:

    Très utile- merci!


    Hi I am CHANTAL GBADO. I’ m a west AFRICANS from BENIN. I’ m very interested in your French tutorial. And I would like more speaking using ing er, ion, ian to better speak, and talk fluently.

  3. Valerie Hendley:

    I love this lesson. Can i put a link to it for my online course or will it be a breech of copywrite?

    • Josh Dougherty:

      @Valerie Hendley Thank you! No, by all means, go for it 🙂

  4. shyla senewirathna:

    you very clearly brought out a difficult grammar lesson in French.Actually this grammat lesson is very very difficult for most French students.but I think I will understand it very well because of your clear explanation.thank you vrry much for that.I’m shyla from Galle in Sri Lanka