As an intermediate in French, there’s a good chance you know about Je dois and you’re getting to grips with the awkward expression Il faut que.
If that’s you, allow me to introduce you today to how to say things like “You just have to click that button” and “All that’s left to do is…”. If that sounds useful to you, continuez à lire or watch the video below.
Du coup, si vous êtes prêts, allez, c’est parti !
Il suffit de
Alors, the first term to tell you about today is Il suffit de + the infinitive of a verb.
I think of this as You just need to + the verb you want to use or Simply + infinitive and I come across it when listening to or reading instructions.
- Après avoir téléchargé la mise à jour du système, il suffit de redémarrer votre appareil.
- After downloading the system update, simply restart/reboot your device.
- Il suffit de cliquer sur le bouton dans le coin inférieur droit pour terminer.
- Simply click on the button in the bottom right corner to finish.
It’s an expression which only conjugates with the impersonal pronoun il, just like il y a, il faut que, and il fait beau for the weather, and the verb is suffire which translates literally to to suffice.
I also sometimes see it with a pronoun to refer to the specific person that needs to perform the action:
- Il vous (me/te/lui/nous/leur) suffit de remplir le formulaire et de signer en bas.
- You just need to fill out the form and sign at the bottom.
And it’s de signer because it’s an abbreviation of Il vous suffit de signer.
Avoir + verb. 3 levels of complexity
Next are 3 that are all related because they all use the verb avoir and each one is slightly more complex than the last so make sure you don’t skip ahead.
Avoir à + infinitive
First up we have avoir + un nom (a noun) + à + infinitive.
Essentially, and I’m probably over-simplifying it, this is an alternative to using devoir, i.e. je dois. Its structure is just different.
- J’ai du travail à faire ce soir.
- Je dois faire du travail ce soir.
It’s pretty straightforward to get our anglophone heads around because J’ai du travail à faire translates word-for-word to I have some work to do.
- Tu m’as dit que tu avais des vidéos à exporter, et qu’ensuite tu serais libre.
- You told me you had some videos to export, and that then you’d be free.
Like in English, this structure of avoir + nom + à + infinitif has two meanings: one to express obligations, as we’ve just seen, and the other, to express availability or possibility:
- Il a des choses à boire chez lui.
- He’s got things to drink at his place.
Depending on the context it could be he’s obliged to drink those things or that he’s got them and so makes them available to us.
N’avoir qu’à + infinitive
Kicking up the complexity one or two notches, we have N’avoir qu’à + infinitif.
So, you have the verb avoir wrapped in ne que which is contracted to n’ and qu’ because they are followed by vowels.
Ne que means only or in this case just and combined with avoir we get to just have to…
It’s almost identical in meaning to il suffit de but I hear it in different contexts. Il suffit de seems more formal hence why I hear it in instructions, whereas n’avoir qu’à I hear out loud in conversations.
I heard it first in a restaurant with a group of friends. We were getting impatient and one suggested:
- Si on veut commander, on n’a qu’à appeler le serveur.
- If we want to order, we just have to call the waiter over.
N’avoir plus qu’à
And now if we make our final jump in complexity, we add the negation word plus into the mix to get n’avoir plus qu’à + infinitif. Quite the mouthful but I’ll walk you through it.
First, it can be thought of as another translation of I just have to but it’s often more than that too. Think of it as all that’s left (for me to do) is to + action. The emphasis is really on the fact that it’s the very last thing to do.
- Maintenant que tout le travail est fait, je n’ai plus qu’à profiter du temps en famille.
- Now that all the work is done, all that’s left for me to do is to enjoy the time with my family.
- « Tu as besoin d’aide ? » « Ah c’est gentil. Mais non, j’ai préparé tous les ingrédients et on n’a plus qu’à les laisser cuire dans la casserole. »
- “Do you need any help?” “That’s kind. But no, I’ve prepared all the ingredients and all that’s left to do is to let them cook in the pan.”
Voilà voilà, there you have it: how to say just have to in 4 different ways: il suffit de in 2 flavours, avoir quelque chose à faire, n’avoir qu’à faire quelque chose, and n’avoir plus qu’à faire quelque chose.
Of course this has just been a high level introduction. So don’t about rereading several times or watching the video. And try to make your own sentences in the comment section! I’ll read them and get back to you.