The French verb falloir is an unusual verb as it exists in the third person singular only, with ‘il’, meaning it. The general meaning would be ‘it is necessary’, but sometimes we can translate it as ‘we must’. It is an irregular verb.

Present tense
Il faut – it is necessary.
Il faut partir à l’heure. – We must leave on time.
Il te faut une voiture. – You need a car.

Perfect tense/passé composé
Il a fallu – It was necessary, it has been necessary.
Il a fallu retourner en ville. – We had to go back to town.
Il vous a fallu vendre la maison. – You had to sell the house.

Imperfect tense
Il fallait – It was necessary, it used to be necessary.
Il fallait toujours faire une réservation à l’avance. – It was always necessary to make a reservation in advance.

Future tense
Il faudra – It will be necessary.
Il faudra prendre l’autobus. – We’ll have to go by bus.
Il te faudra passer un examen. – You will have to sit an exam.

Conditional tense
Il faudrait – It would be necessary.
S’il pleuvait, il fallait rester en classe. – If it was raining, we had to stay in class.

Wherever possible, we can use the infinitive after ‘il faut‘. If ‘il faut que‘ is used it has to be followed by the subjunctive.

Il faut que les enfants sachent nager. – The children must be able to swim.
Il faut que tout le monde puisse entendre la musique. – Everyone must be able to hear the music.

With thanks to Elizabeth Allen

Read more on irregular verbs and on learning French

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