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French: future tense conjugation

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by tuncaysu, Feb 11, 2013.

  1. tuncaysu New Member


    I am a currently A2 level learner of French and I have the following question. When forming the future tense conjugations in French, we take the future tense stem and add a suffix which is identical to the conjugation of avoir for the pronoun (except av- for nous and vous).

    Is there some linguistic evolutionary basis for this fact, or is it just some kind of coincidence, or neither? It looks really curious to me. I speak no Latin or any other Romance language for that matter. Any insight would be appreciated.

  2. J.F. de TROYES Senior Member

    First I'd like to say to you : welcome on this forum.

    That's right ; the future markers come from Latin : Lexical verb in the infinitive + habeo / habes / habet /habemus/ habetis/ habent ( j'ai, tu as, il/elle a, nous avons, vous avez, ils/elles ont ) , i.e the verb habere used as an auxiliary . Je chanterai can be traced back to : cantare + habeo . Here are some stages of the phonetic shifts : habeo cantare/cantare habeo (Late spoken Latin, 3rd A.D ) > ayyo chantere / chantarayyo (7th A.D) > chanterai ( Old French ) ( Bold letters were stressed ). What is surprising is that classical Latin didn't know such compound future, but a simple future : cantabo, -bis, -it, -bimus, -bitis, -bunt. The simple form was gradually replaced by a compound form first in spoken, then in written Latin. So the future marker in French originates from the the Latin infinitive endings -are, -ere, -ere , -ire ( Depends on the verbs ) and expressing the future from Latin to Romance languages ( It's the same for Italian, Spanish, Portuguese ) starts from using a synthetic form (cantabo ) to come to another new synthetic form ( chanterai ) through an disappeared analytic form ( cantar(e)(h)abeo ).

    Hope it helps.
  3. CapnPrep Senior Member

  4. tuncaysu New Member

    Thanks a lot for the warm welcome - I had been reading random topics here due to google searches - but this was indeed my first post.

    This will probably be just speculation, but do you have any insight into why speakers of Latin (or descendant languages) would associate "to have" with the future - when they have already associated it with the past (with different conjugations)? It is fairly logical to me that for example speakers of German have associated "to become (werden)" with the future, and speakers of English have associated "to want (wyllan)" with the future.

    Thanks again.
  5. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    Look at English: 'I have to sing'. The same construction with the same meaning occurs in Spanish: 'he de cantar'. The infinitive presumably represents a task I have. The use of 'have' with the perfect comes about - in English at least, and probably for the same reasons in Late Latin - from the fact that the past participle is adjectival. 'I have written a letter' comes from an earlier construction meaning 'I have a written letter'.
  6. J.F. de TROYES Senior Member

    First note that the past is marked by a past participle while the infinitive is neutral regarding the tense. Originally the Latin syntactic pattern habeo + infinitive seems to have the meaning of to be able to , close to the core meaning of habere, to hold, to possess : habeo polliceri / polliceri habeo = I can promise. To be able to do something implies the prospect of doing it. In other words habeo was used in this structure as a modal auxiliary ending up in expressing the future tense ( Shall and will are also modals ). By the way old Greek used the same pattern to have + inf. : oudén ékhô légein ( nothing-I have-(to) say with the meaning of I have nothing to say.
  7. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    I feel I should add that:

    1. The "new" way of expressing futurity in late Latin was due in part to the intrinsic weakness of the traditional future-tense suffix -bo, which tended to be confused with the Imperfect suffix - bam.

    2. Our late-Latin speaking ancestors began to think that what was in the future was being felt as an obligation, a burden, a pondus. Hence the rise of a form capable of expressing that the notion of obligation was already "installed" (have) in the speaker. In this, the "new future" was a tense of the Present (time), in that it describes the state of things regarding the Subject of the sentence as the "possessor of a duty". (Curiously, English has developed a way of speaking of the past by means of a tense of the Present (time): the Present Perfect, which represent the "possession of the past" accomplisment).

    3. It is true that modern Romance languages are similar in the way they express the Future tense and the Conditional tense, but we should also remember that in some of them — like Italian — the endings attached to the root of the verb are the forms of the "Past" ("Passato Remoto): (parlare + ebbi, parlare + avesti, parlare + ebbe, parlare + avemmo, parlare +aveste, parlare + ebbero ——>parlerei, parleresti, parlerebbe, parleremmo, parlereste, parlerebbero.)
    In others, the choice of the tense of the auxiliary "habere" was less drastic and in French, for example, we have the forms of the "Imperfect".

  8. CapnPrep Senior Member

    The link between "becoming" and future tense may be fairly logical, but the actual syntactic structure (Ich werde singen, lit. "I become sing") is still pretty opaque. So at some point we just have to accept that grammaticalization can do strange things to a language…

    The notion of "wanting" may have played a role in Romance, too. It has been proposed (e.g. Gratwick 1972) that habeo absorbed the senses of aveo (which was already defective, and became homophonous with habeo in spoken Latin). This would mean that habeo could express potentiality ("can", as explained by J.F. de Troyes), obligation ("must", as explained by entangledbank and Giorgio Spizzi), and volition ("want to"), all three of which have a prospective sense that could develop into a pure future.

    Gratwick, A. S. (1972) "Habeo and Aveo: The Romance Future". CQ 22(2):388–98.
  9. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    Upon re-reading my post I realize it was not clear that when I wrote "the endings attached to the root of the verb are the forms of the Past..." I was referring to the (Present) Conditional mode. I apologize for that.

  10. AquisM Senior Member

    Hong Kong
    Actually, does anyone know of a Romance language like Italian that doesn't use the imperfect to form the conditional? I know that Spanish, Portuguese, French and Catalan do use the imperfect.

    Also, on a related note, how did the periphrastic 'go to' future come to be? It's used in Portuguese, Spanish and French (amongst others), yet in Catalan, its equivalent is used for the preterite.
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2013
  11. Epilio

    Epilio Senior Member

    Spanish - Spain
    Catalan also uses that periphrasis to express a future action upon adding the preposition. It is not the same Jo vaig menjar (I ate) than Jo vaig a menjar (I am going to eat).
  12. AquisM Senior Member

    Hong Kong
    True, but the lack of a is found in Portuguese and French too. How did these two very similar structures evolve to be so different in meaning? And did they evolve from the same roots, or is it pure coincidence?
  13. J.F. de TROYES Senior Member

    I'll just make it clear that what you are saying refers to the conditional ( parlerei ; je parlerais, I'd speak) , the future endings coming from the infinitive + the present tense of habeo ( ho, hai, ha ) in Italian as well : parlerò , parlerai, parlerà... :)
  14. jmx

    jmx Senior Member

    Spain / incorrect Spanish
  15. CapnPrep Senior Member

    Here is a thread specifically about the formation of Romance conditional forms:
    All Romance languages - Creation of the Conditional Tense

    Here is an All Languages thread about "go"-futures:
    "go" as a future auxiliary

    This structure is found widely outside of Romance, and conversely, as you have noted, not all Romance languages have it (or it means something completely different), so it is unlikely to go back continuously to VL/proto-Romance.
  16. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    Hullo, J.F. de TROYES

    That's what I tried to make clear, with apologies, in my post #9.

    GS :)
  17. francisgranada Senior Member

    Also in Spanish, Portuguese, Sardinian and Neapolitan (vurria, restarria ...).

    It's interesting that in Sardinian this construction remains analytical, e.g. "you would/should speak":
    1. tue dias faeddare, literally (Sp) "tú debías hablar“, (It) “tu dovevi parlare”
    2. tue aias de faeddare, literally (Sp) "tú habías de hablar“, (It) "tu avevi di parlare“

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