The French They Never Taught You 13: Translating the Infinitive

February 28, 2015

Infinitives, which consist of "to" plus a verb in English but are a single word in French, are one of the first things that French students learn. To take examples of the three regular conjugations that are part of every beginning French class, aimer is "to like" or "to love," finir is "to finish" and rendre is "to give back" or "to return."


Once you've known that for quite a while, it can be hard to see that à plus an infinitive works differently. Consider these examples:


  • à suivre – to be continued

  • à rendre – to be returned

  • à débattre - to be discussed

  • le document à traduire – the document to be translated

  • les mesures à prendre – the action to be taken


When à is in front of an infinitive, it often makes the infinitive passive in English ("to be continued" instead of "to continue").


This is important for translators into French as well. When you see "the document to be translated" you might be tempted to write "le document à être traduit" instead of the correct le document à traduire.


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