The Ups and Downs of the French Verb Monter

Monter is a verb that you run into a lot in French, and no wonder. While its overall sense is “to go up or put up”, it has several other meanings that make it very useful in everyday life.

Intriguingly – and helpfully – nearly of these meanings translate directly into English and are used in similar ways.

Let’s find out what monter is “up” to!

What does the French verb monter mean?

Monter has several meanings, but all of them have a sense of going up. If you look in an online or print dictionary, you’ll usually find a massive list of different subtle definitions. Here are the most important ones to know:

to go from a low place to a high place

Examples: Au sous-sol inondé, l’eau montait jusqu’à mes genoux. Alors, je suis monté sur une chaise.  (In the flooded basement, the water was up to my knees. So, I got up onto a chair.)

to go up/to climb

Examples: Pierre et Jean sont en train de monter l’escalier. (Pierre et Jean are climbing/coming up the stairs.). Le prix du porc a beaucoup monté ces derniers mois. (The price of pork has really gone up these past few months.

to put up/construct

Examples: Au Scouts, nous avons appris à monter une tente. (In Boy Scouts, we learned to pitch a tent.)  Lucas est très maladroit ; c’est sa femme qui a monté leurs meubles. (Lucas is very clumsy ; his wife is the one who put together their furniture.)

to raise (including volume)

Examples : Aux mariages juifs traditionnels, les mariés s’assoient sur des chaises que l’on monte au-dessus de la foule dansante. (At traditional Jewish weddings, the bride and groom sit on chairs that are raised up by the dancing crowd.)  Il a monté le son trop fort! (He put the volume too loud!)

to rise

Examples: Le Burj Khalifa  monte jusqu’à  828 mètres ! (The Burj Khalifa rises 828 high!)  L’eau monte. (The water is rising.). Cet auteur de polaires est vachement doué pour faire monter le suspens ! (This crime novel author is bloody good at mounting suspense.)

to ride (transportation)

Examples: Julien monte dans le train. (Julien gets on the train.).  Erika aime monter à cheval. (Erika loves riding horses.).  As these examples show, the preposition that follows monter  varies depending on the type of transportation. We’ll look at this in-depth a little later in the article.

to/make/create/fund/found

In this sense, monter is usually followed by un projet (de). But in everyday spoken language, it’s often shortened simply to monter . For example, you might hear On a monté une boîte ensemble (We started a business together) instead of the more formal (and clunkier) On a monté un projet de creation d’entreprise

to beat or whisk

If you’re reading cooking instructions in French, that’s what monter would most likely mean in this context. Example: Montez les blancs en neige (Beat the egg whites till stiff.)

to edit a film

In the phrase monter un film, monter means “to edit.” And as a general rule, if monter is being talked about connection with a film, it probably has to do with editing it. Example : Elle a passé les six derniers mois à monter le film. (She’s spent the last six months editing the film.). This said, there could be a bit of confusion if you don’t have the exact context, since monter un film can mean “finance or make the film”, as well, but due to this, you’d more likely hear a more specific verb used, for example financer un film.

Is monter conjugated with avoir or être?

Bike against wall with plants

Monter is a regular -er verb. But things aren’t so simple. Many French verbs that are often conjugated with avoir can sometimes be conjugated with être to suggest, for example, a notion of reflexivity or to differentiate between who is performing or being affected by an action. It’s less clear with monter.

This webpage offers the best explanation I’ve ever seen for when to use avoir or être with monter:

If monter is followed by a preposition, use être as the auxiliary verb.

If monter is directly followed by a noun, use avoir as the auxiliary verb.

For those of you who really love the nitty-gritty of grammar, you can say that monter is conjugated with être if it’s used as an intransitive verb. Monter is conjugated with avoir if it’s used as a transitive verb.

How to conjugate the verb monter

Keeping in mind that, as we just discussed, monter can be conjugated with either avoir or être in its compound tenses (depending on whether it’s being used as a transitive or intransitive verb), here’s how to conjugate the most common tenses of monter:

PresentPassé composé with avoirPassé composé with être
Je monteJ’ai montéJe suis monté(e
Tu montesTu as montéTu es monté(e)
Il/elle/on monteIl/elle/on a montéIl/elle/on est monté(e)
Nous montonsNous avons montéNous sommes monté(e)(s)
Vous montezVous avez montéVous êtes monté(e)(s)
Ils/elles montentIls/elles/ont montéIls/elles sont monté(e)s
ImparfaitFutureConditional
Je montaisJe monteraiJe monterais
Tu montaisTu monterasTu monterais
Il/elle/on montaitIl/elle/on monteraIl/elle/on monterait
Nous montionsNous monteronsNous monterions
Vous montiezVous monterezVous monteriez
Ils/elles montaientIls/elles monterontIls/elles monteraient
SubjunctiveImperative
Que je monteMonte (tu)
Que tu montesMontez (vous)
Qu’il/elle/on monteMontons (nous)
Que nous montions
Que vous montiez
Qu’ils/elles montent

Which preposition to use with monter + transportation

subway station

As I mentioned earlier, one of the meanings of monter is the idea of getting on/into/taking some kind of transportation. You can use monter with everything from a plane, car, train, horse, and so on, but unfortunately, not all forms of transportation use the same preposition.

Most often, you’ll see three prepositions used with monter and a form of transportation: dans, à, and en.  For example: monter dans le train, monter en train, monter à cheval. Here’s when to use each.:

monter dans – literally getting into a form of transportation

Example: <<Au revoir,>> Daniel nous a dit, puis il est monté dans le train. (“Goodbye,” Daniel said, then he got onto the train.)

monter à – This is used with things you ride on top of, not inside.

WordReference puts this really well, defining it as “to straddle” something.  Nous sommes montés a vélo et puis nous sommes partis ! (We got on our bikes and off we went !  Or Alice aime monter à cheval mais je préfère monter à vélo. (Alice likes horseback riding but I prefer riding a bike.) . Note that if you want to specifically draw attention to the way someone is getting on top of something, you would say it this way, instead: monter sur le dos du cheval (to get onto the horse’s back).

And keep in mind that this is just one meaning of monter à. If the phrase isn’t used with transportation, it can mean “to go up to”. For example, Ce weekend, Hugues et moi allons monter à Paris . (This weekend, Hugues and I are going up to Paris.)

monter  en – to travel by a certain means of transportation, or, in the case of a car (voiture), to get in the car.

Monter en is usually a sort of vague suggestion, rather than a deep look at the process of actually entering a vehicle. A rough equivalent in English would be “went by car/plane/train etc.”

You’ll often see monter en separated from the mode of transportation in a sentence. For example: Ils monteront à Lille en train. (They’ll go up to Lille by train.). 

Although monter en voiture is an exception, meaning simply “to get in the car,” you can also use monter dans la voiture

You can see examples of both being used when you do an online search for “monter en voiture.” Among other results, what comes up are many videos posted by native French speakers about training their dogs to get into the car. Monter dans seems to be used slightly more often than monter  en in these videos, and no wonder, since we’re specifically focusing on the act of the dog getting into the car, not the general idea of a dog riding in a car.

Some words related to monter

Here are some words that are tied to monter by etymology as well as meaning.

une montagne – a mountain. This word and monter evolved from the same Latin term, and both, of course, still have something to do with height and ascension.

Le Mont – Mount (the name of a mountain). Example: Le Mont Saint-Michel

le montage – to put together, to edit, etc. – Montage can have many different meanings depending on the context. In a phrase like montage de meubles, it means “putting together”; in a phrase like montage d’un film, it means “editing a film.”

remonter – to go up again/bring up again. This word is most commonly used in everyday language with the phrase remonter le moral de (qqn) –to cheer someone up.  Example: Merci pour la carte. Ça m’a vraiment remonté le moral. (Thank you for the card. It really cheered me up.) You can read about some other uses of remonter here.

surmonter to overcome something. Example: Il faut surmonter sa peur. (You must overcome your fear.). Surmonter can also mean “to be physically above everything”. Ex: Le pignon du toit est surmonté par la statuette d’une chouette. (On top of the gable is a small statue of an owl.)

une montée – a slope/climb/rise. Example: Quand tu es à Philadelphie, n’oublie pas de faire la montée des marches devant le Museum of Arts – tu seras comme Rocky! (When you’re in Philadelphia, don’t forget to do the run up the stairs in front of the Museum of Arts -you’ll be like Rocky!)You can see more about how this word is used here.

Common monter phrases

empty theatre with open curtains

Here are some phrases with monter that you’ll often come across:

à monter soi-même – something you have to put together yourself/some assembly required. You’ll often see this on websites or packaging for furniture.  Example: Cette étagère est à monter soi-même. (Some assembly required (for this shelf).)

monter à bord – to get on board a ship or other vehicle.

monter sur scène – to get on stage, to go before the public.  Edith Piaf est montée sur scène pour la première fois en 1935, mais avant elle chantait dans les rues de Paris. (Edith Piaf made her stage début in 1935, but before that she sang on the streets of Paris.).

monter en grade – to get a higher position in your company.

monter en puissance – to get more powerful. Ex: Les pouvoirs du méchant sorcier montaient en puissance chaque jour. (The evil wizard’s powers grew stronger each day.)

monter un coup – to plot something, plan, scheme. Example: On va monter un coup pour qu’il finisse en prison. (We’ll make a scheme that will land him in prison!)

monter le son – to put the volume louder. <<Monte le son>> is a common phrase you’ll see in press about musicians and concerts.

monter un spectacle – to create, produce, and put on a play.


Voilà! Your knowledge of <<monter>> monte en puissance! Try to use this useful word whenever possible!

Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg is an American writer, worrier, teacher, and cookie enthusiast who has lived in Paris, France, for more than a decade. She has taught English and French for more than ten years, most notably as an assistante de langue vivante for L'Education Nationale. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.

Leave a Comment