Entendre in French: Definition & Conjugation

Instructor: Lucy Barnhouse
The verb 'entendre' is regular but has two meanings. It can mean simply 'to hear,' but can also mean 'to understand.' It is the latter meaning that makes the verb part of many common French idioms. This lesson will discuss the conjugation of the verb as well as its definitions.

Entendre: Conjugation

Good news: entendre is a regular verb belonging to the third group of French verbs, those ending in -re. Since it's regular, there are no nasty surprises in conjugating it. Here's how the verb is conjugated in the present tense:

first person j'entends nous entendons
second person tu entends vous entendez
third person il/elle entend ils/elles entendent

You'll want to be careful speaking or writing with entendre (ahn-TAHN-drö) as it's used in a variety of contexts. It can be used to talk about hearing and understanding. The word also appears in some common idioms.

Entendre: Hearing

Hearing the noise of the world

The primary definition of entendre is 'to hear.' It is from this definition that its secondary meanings, to listen attentively and to understand, are derived. The expression Je vous entends, for example, can be used to affirm 'I can hear you,' 'I'm listening,' or 'I understand.' You might use this phrase when talking on a phone with a bad connection or listening to an explanation of a complex topic.

Here are a couple examples of how you might use the verb entendre in its sense of 'to hear':

  • Tu entends la mer? / Can you hear the sea?
  • Nous entendons sa voix! / We can hear his/her voice!

Note that you wouldn't say 'Nous entendons la radio' to say 'We're listening to the radio.' For this and other situations involving active listening, you would use the verb écouter. You might use entendre to express exasperation at being able to hear a radio set that is turned up too high: Nous entendons la radio jusqu'ici!

Entendre: Understanding

Entente Cordiale
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The most famous example of this definition of the verb entendre is the Entente Cordiale signed between Great Britain and France in 1904. Many greeted this 'friendly understanding' with skepticism, but it would be influential in Anglo-French cooperation during WWI.

The use of entendre in the sense of understanding turns up in many French idioms, or common figures of speech. It can be used with the subjunctive mood to express an expectation. For example, you might say to a friend,J'entends que tu me suives, 'I expect you to follow me.'

Other idiomatic uses of entendre employ the passé composé form of the verb entendu, but without an auxiliary. To say 'Of course!' in French, you would say Bien entendu! (BYEHN ahn-tahn-dü). Take the following exchange, for example:

Jeanne: Tu veux encore m'accompagner au cinéma ce soir?

Laure: Bien entendu!

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