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Pouvoir Conjugation: How To Conjugate Can/Able To In French

Pouvoir Conjugation: How To Conjugate Can/Able To In French

Pouvoir conjugation in French

Pouvoir one of the most commonly used verbs in the French language. Pouvoir means can and to be able to. The present tense conjugation of pouvoir is: Je peux (I can), Tu peux (you can, familiar), Il, elle, on peut (He, she, one can), Nous pouvons (We can), Vous pouvez (You can, formal and plural) and Ils, elles peuvent (They can).

Pouvoir conjugation French

Pouvoir is an French irregular verb. This means that when conjugated in the present tense, its endings do not match the ending patterns of other regular verbs in the -ir group.

Pouvoir is also a semi-auxiliary or modal verb. This means that it can precede an in infinitive (to form of a verb). For example, “Je peux venir” (I can come).

This page contains verb conjugation charts for the verb pouvoir in the following tenses: Present indicative (le présent de l’indicatif), compound past (le passé composé), imperfect indicative (l’imparfait de l’indicatif), simple past (le passé simple), near future (le future proche), simple future (le future simple), future tense (le futur antérieur), conditional (le conditionnel présent), past conditional (le conditionnel passé) and the subjunctive (subjonctif présent).

Pouvoir Conjugation Chart

Pouvoir Conjugation Chart
Pouvoir Conjugation Chart

How to use the verb pouvoir

While pouvoir means can or to be able, the underlying underling meaning of this verb always relates to capability.

Basic usage of pouvoir

The most basic usage of pouvoir is to express being able or not able to carry out actions.

  • Je ne peux pas faire le travail maintenant. I can’t do the work now.
  • Elle ne peut pas finir son travail avant six heures. She can’t finish her work before six o’clock.
  • Nous ne pouvons pas acheter la voiture. We can’t buy the car.

Asking questions in the first-person singular (je) form

The two main ways to ask questions in the first-person singular (je) form are as follows. “Puis-je” is a special inversion of “Je peux”.

  • Est-ce que je peux + infinitive; and
  • Puis-je + infinitive

The following is an example of such a question:

  • Est-ce que je peux vous aider? Can I help you?
  • Puis-je vous aider? Can I help you?

Polite requests

The verb pouvoir is used in the conditional tense to make polite requests. The first of the following two example sentences is in the present tense and the second is in the conditional. The second sentence in the conditional is more polite and formal.

  • Pouvez-vous m’aider? Can you help me.
  • Pourriez-vous m’aider? Could you help me?

Reflexive – forme pronominale

In the form of a reflexive verb, se pouvoir means to be possible, may or might. It’s written with the impersonal expression il se peut. 

  • Il se peut que j’aie oublié. It’s possible I forgot.
Pouvoir conjugated in different tenses

Pouvoir conjugation charts

The following are the verb tables for pouvoir in all the major tenses with example sentences.

Present tense

The following table shows the French verb pouvoir conjugated in the present tense (le présent de l’indicatif).

Je peuxI can, am ableJe ne peux pas venir demain.I cannot come tomorrow.
Tu peuxYou can (familiar), are ableTu peux chanter la chanson.You can sing the song.
Il, elle, on peutHe, she, one can, is ableIl ne peut pas conduire.He cannot drive.
Nous pouvonsWe can, are ableNous pouvons assister à la fête. We can attend the party.
Vous pouvezYou can (plural, formal), are ableVous pouvez dîner à la masion.You can have dinner at home.
Il, elle peuventThey can, are ableIls peuvent travailler demainThey can work tomorrow.
Tu peux

Passé composé

The passé composé (compound past) is used to express past actions which occurred at a precise moment in time.

To form the passé composé for pouvoir, combine avoir in the present tense as an auxiliary verb with the past participle of pouvoir. Hence, “J’ai pu” means “I was able to” or “I could”.

J'ai puI was able to, I couldJ'ai pu finir le projet. I was able to finish the project
Tu as puYou were able to, you could (familiar)Tu as pu m'aider.You were able to help me.
Il, elle on a puHe, she, one was able to, couldElle a pu apprendre les verbes.She was able to learn the verbs.
Nous avons puWe were able to, couldNous avons pu conduire la voiture.We were able to drive the car.
Vous avez puYou were able to, could (formal, plural)Vous avez pu voyager en France.You were able to travel to France.
Ils, elles on puThey were able toIls ont pu acheter les skis.They were able to buy the skis.

Imperfect tense

The imperfect indicative (l’imparfait de l’indicatif) is used to express past actions which occurred at undefined times.

For the verb pouvoir, the imperfect is formed by combining the stem of the first-person plural (nous) form of the verb in the present tense with the appropriate ending.

Hence, “Je pouvais” translates to “I was able to”, “I used to be able to”, “I could”.

Je pouvaisI was able to, used to be able to, couldJe ne pouvais pas ouvrir la porte.I couldn't open the door.
Tu pouvaisYou were able to, used to be able to, could (informal)Tu pouvais conduire tous les jours. You were able to drive every day.
Il, elle, on pouvaitHe, she, one was able to, used to be able to, couldElle pouvait travailler chaque semaine. She was able to work every week.
Nous pouvionsWe used to be able to, were able to, couldNous pouvions aller en France une fois par an.We were able to go to France once yearly.
Vous pouviezYou were able to, used to be able to, could (formal, plural)Vous pouviez faire le trajet en moins d'un heure. You used to be able to do the trip in less than one hour.
Ils, elles pouvaientThey were able to, used to be able to, couldIls pouvaient venir de temps en temps. They used to be able to come from time to time.
Tu pouvais

Passe simple

The passé simple (simple past) is a literary past tense that equates grammatically to the passé composé and is mainly used in literature and writings.

Je pusI was able, couldJe pus finir le projet.I was able to finish the project.
Tu pusYou were able, could (familiar)Tu pus apprendre tous les verbes.You were able to learn all the verbs.
Il, elle, on putHe, she, one was able, couldIl put prononcer le mots difficiles. He was able to pronounce the difficult words.
Nous pûmes
We were able, couldNous pûmes lire le roman.We were able to read the novel.
Vous pûtes
You were able, couldVous pûtes acheter le billet d'avion.You were able to buy the plane ticket.
Ils, elles purent
They were able, couldIls purent vendre la maison.They were able to sell the house.

Near future tense

The near future tense (le future proche)is a future tense that’s to express future events which have a high degree of certainty.

It is formed by combining the present tense of aller (to go) with the infinitive of pouvoir plus another infinitive.

Thus, for the verb pouvoir, “Je vais pouvoir + infinitive” means “I am going to be able to + verb.” For example: “Je vais pouvoir chanter la chanson” (I’m going to be able to sing the song).

Je vais pouvoirI'm going to be able toJe vais pouvoir faire le voyage.I'm going to be able to take the trip.
Tu vas pouvoirYou're going to be able to (familiar)Tu vas pouvoir acheter la voiture.You're going to be able to buy the car.
Il, elle, on va pouvoirHe, she, one is going to be able toElle va pouvoir voyager en Argentine.She's going to be able to travel to Argentina.
Nous allons pouvoirWe are going to be able toNous allons pouvoir profiter du beau temps.We're going to be able to enjoy the nice weather.
Vous allez pouvoirYou are going to be able to (formal, plural)Vous allez pouvoir jouer du violon devant le publicYou're going to be able to play the violin in front of the audience.
Ils, elles vont pouvoirThey are going to be able toIls vont pouvoir faire du vélo cet après-midi.They're going to be able to go for a bike ride this afternoon.

Future tense

The simple future (le futur simple) tense expresses future events. The tense is formed by adding the appropriate ending to the stem -pourr. Hence, “Je pourrai” means “I will be able to”.

Je pourraiI will be able toJe pourrai acheter la voiture si j'ai assez d'argent. I will be able to buy the car if I have enough money.
Tu pourrasYou will be able to (familiar)Tu pourras faire le voyage si tu as assez de temps.You will be able to take the trip if you have enough time.
Il, elle, on pourraHe, she, one will be able toIl pourra lire le roman s'il va à la bibliothèque.He will be able to read the book if he goes to the library.
Nous pourronsWe will be able toNous pourrons finir le projet si nous restons au bureau. We will be able to finish the project if we stay in the office.
Vous pourrez You will be able to (formal, plural)Vous pourrez gagner de l'argent si vous travaillez.You will be able to earn money if you work.
Ils, elles pourrontThey will be able toIls pourront dîner au restaurant s'ils finissent leur travail.They will be able to eat out if they finish their work.
Je pourrai

Past future tense

The past future tense (le futur antérieur) is used to describe actions that will have occurred in the future.

The past future for the verb pouvoir is formed by combining avoir in the simple future tense with the past participle pu. Hence, “J’aurai pu” translates to “I will have been able to”.

J'aurai puI will have been able toJ'aurai pu finir le projet d'ici la fin du moi. I will have been able to finish the project by the end of the month.
Tu auras puYou will have been able to (familiar)Tu auras pu me le dire d'ici la fin du jour. You will have been able to tell me by the end of the day.
Il, elle, on aura puHe, she, one will have been able toElle aura pu le faire avant samedi.She will have been able to do it by before Saturday.
Nous aurons puWe will have been able toNous aurons pu dîner avant les autresWe will have been able to have dinner before the others.
Vous aurez puYou will have been able to (formal, plural)Vous aurez pu constuire la maison d'ici l'année prochaine. You will have been able to build the house by next year.
Ils, elles auront puThey will have been able toJ'aurai pu te raconter toute l'histoire d'ici la fin de la soirée.I will have been able to tell you the entire story by the end of the evening.

Conditional tense

The two main usages of pouvoir in the conditional tense (le conditionnel présent) are for expressing hypothetical situations and making polite requests.

For the verb pouvoir, it is formed by adding the appropriate ending to the stem -pourr. Hence, for the verb pouvoir, “Je pourrais”means “I could”.

Je pourraisI couldJe pourrais faire le voyage si j'avais assez de temps.I would take the trip if I had enough time.
Tu pourraisYou could (familiar)Pourrais-tu m'aider?Could you help me?
Il, elle, on pourrait He, she, one couldIl pourrait acheter la voiture s'il avait assez d'argent. He could buy the car if he had enough money.
Nous pourrionsWe couldNous pourrions acheter la maison si nous avions assez d'argent. We could buy the house if we had enough money.
Vous pourriezYou could (formal, plural)Pourriez-vous m'aider?Could you help me?
Ils, elles pourraientThey couldIls pourrait venir chez nous s'ils ne travaillaient pas. They could come to our house if they weren't working.
Je pourrais

Past conditional

The past conditional (le conditionnel passé) is used to express regrets. For the verb pouvoir, it is formed by combining avoir in the present conditional with the past participle.

Hence, “J’aurais pu + infinitive” translates to “I could have ___ed”. For example, “J’aurais pu finir” translates to “I could have finished”.

In the example sentences, below, the past conditional is combined with the pluperfect (plus-que-parfait) to create anteriority.

J'aurais puI could haveJ'aurais pu acheter la voiture si j'avais eu assez d'argent.I could have bought he car if I'd had enough money.
Tu aurais puYou could have (familar)Tu aurais pu acheter la maison si tu avais eu assez d'argent.You could have bought the house if you'd had enough money.
Il, elle, on aurait puHe, she, one could haveIl aurait pu faire un voyage s'il avait eu assez de temps. He could have taken a trip if he'd had enough time.
Nous aurions puWe could haveJ'aurais pu faire du ski s'il y avait eu assez de neige. I could have skied if there had been enough snow.
Vous auriez puYou could have (formal, plural)Vous auriez pu me le dire avant!You could have told me earlier!
Ils, elles auraient puThey could haveIls auraient pu regarder un film si le cinema avait été ouvert.They could have watched a movie if the cinema had been open.


The French subjunctive mood (le subjonctif présent) is use to express wishes, emotions and doubts. The verb pouvoir has an irregular subjunctive stem: puisse. Hence, “que je puisse” translates to “that I can”.

que je puissethat I canIl doute que je puisse prononcer le mot.He doubts I can pronounce the word.
que tu puissesthat you can (familiar)Je suis content que tu puisses venir.I am happy you can come.
qu'il, elle puissethat he, she canIl ne pense pas qu'elle puisse chanter la chanson. I don't think she can sing the song.
que nous puissionsthat we canTu es heureux que nous puissions venir. You are happy we can come.
que vous puissiezthat you can (formal, plural)Je ne pense pas que vous puissiez acheter cette voiture.I don't think you can buy this car.
qu'ils, elles puissentthat they canJe suis ravi qu'ils puissent faire ce projet. I'm delighted they can do this project.

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David Issokson

David Issokson is a lifelong language enthusiast. His head is swimming with words and sounds as he speaks over six languages. Of all the languages he speaks, he's the most passionate about French! David has helped hundreds of students to improve their French in his private online lessons. When procrastinating working on FrenchLearner, David enjoys his time skiing and hiking in Teton Valley, Idaho.

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