How to use and conjugate ouvrir | With Audio

The French verb ouvrir means “to open”. Like its English equivalent, it’s open to many different possibilities when it comes to meanings and uses.

Let’s open our minds and learn more about the verb ouvrir!

What does ouvrir mean?

A child in a red hooded coat and green mittens holds their arms wide over a landscape of mountains in the distance.

The verb ouvrir  usually means “to open”. As in English, this can be used literally or more figuratively. Although in many cases ouvrir is used the same way as “open” is in English, there are a few exceptions, which we’ll discuss a little further on.

Ouvrir conjugation

Ouvrir is an irregular verb, but at least it’s conjugated with avoir, which makes things simpler. Here’s how to conjugate ouvrir in its most common tenses:

PresentPassé ComposéImparfait
j’ouvrej’ai ouvertj’ouvrais
tu ouvrestu as ouverttu ouvrais
il/elle/on ouvreil/elle/on a ouvertil/elle/on ouvrait
nous ouvronsnous avons ouvertnous ouvrions
vous ouvrezvous avez ouvertvous ouvriez
ils/elles ouvrentils/elles ont ouvertils/elles ouvraient
FutureConditionalSubjunctive
j’ouvriraij’ouvriraisque j’ouvre
tu ouvrirastu ouvriraisque tu ouvres
il/elle/on ouvrirail/elle/on ouvriraitqu’ il/elle/on ouvre
nous ouvrironsnous ouvririonsque nous ouvrions
vous ouvrirezvous ouvririezque vous ouvriez
ils/elles ouvrirontils/elles ouvriraientqu’ils/elles ouvrent
Imperative
Ouvre (tu)
Ouvrons (nous)
Ouvrez (vous)

The meanings of ouvrir

A woman in a loose-fitting pink dress sits on a bed and has an open book in her lap. The book looks like it has writing on one siade and an image of flowers on the others.

Ouvrir usually means “to open”.  As in English, this can have a number of different connotations. Let’s look at some of those:

To open something

Examples:

Même en plein hiver elle ouvre les fenêtres un peu pour aérer la maison. (Even in winter, she opens the windows a little to air out the house.)

Ouvrez vos livres et allez à la page 98. (Open your books and turn to page 98.)

Ce chat sait ouvrir les portes ! (This cat knows how to open doors!)

Ouvre tes yeux. (Open your eyes.)

Ils ont ouvert le coffre en espérant trouver un trésor. (They opened the chest, hoping that they would find treasure inside.)

To unwrap, detach

Ex: J’ai hâte d’ouvrir mes cadeaux ! (I can’t wait to open my gifts !)

To open a shop or other place with operating hours

Ex: Richard ouvre son restaurant chaque jour à 12h.

To open a shop or other place with operating hours for the first time

It can also mean to found a shop or other place with opening hours.

Ex: Ils ont ouvert une boutique ensemble. (They opened a shop together.)

To open a file or document on a computer

Ex: Il a ouvert un nouveau document dans Word.  (He opened a new page in Word.)

To unblock oneself psychologically

For example: Ouvre ton esprit. (Open your mind.)

To turn something on

This meaning of ouvrir is usually used when what’s turned on can physically be detected – for instance, water or gas. For electricity and electrical appliances, games, etc., you would use the verb allumer instead.

For example: Après avoir allumé la lumière, il a ouvert le robinet et rempli son verre. (After turning on the light, he turned on the faucet and filled his glass.)

Ouvert(e): a very useful adjective

An old man in an off-white baseball cap sits on a bench and looks out at a seascape, where a barge is in the distance.
Malgré son âge, il a l’esprit très ouvert. (Despite his age, he’s very open-minded.)

Ouvert/ouverte is the participle of ouvrir, and thus the adjective associated with this verb.

As in English, “open” is an extremely useful adjective. You can use it to say that something is open, a place is open for business, a person is open-minded or open to something, the gas or water is on, etc.

Here are a few examples:

La porte est ouverte. (The door is open.)

Est-ce que la banque est ouverte demain ? (Is the bank open tomorrow?)

Nous sommes ouverts à toutes suggestions. (We’re open to all suggestions.)

Attention, je pense que le gaz est ouvert. (Careful, I think the gas is on.)

Malgré son âge, il a l’esprit très ouvert. (Despite his age, he’s very open-minded.)

What’s the difference between ouvrir and s’ouvrir?

S’ouvrir is the reflexive form of ouvrir. It’s used when the speaker doesn’t know or say who or what has opened something. 

For instance:

Magali a ouvert la porte. (Magali opened the door.)

vs

La porte s’est ouverte toute seule. (The door opened by itself.)

Another difference between ouvrir and s’ouvrir is that because s’ouvrir is a reflexive verb, in compound tenses it’s conjugated with être. And when that happens, the participle ouvert has to agree with the subject of a sentence. 

Speaking of that, let’s open up a new section….

S’ouvrir conjugation

S’ouvrir is an irregular verb that follows the same patterns as its sibling ouvrir. But because it’s a reflexive verb, s’ouvrir is conjugated with être in compound tenses. This means that the participle will have to agree with the subject in gender and number.

Here’s how to conjugate the most common tenses of s’ouvrir.

Present simplePassé ComposéImparfait
je m’ouvreje me suis ouvert(e)je m’ouvrais
tu t’ouvrestu t’es ouvert(e)tu t’ouvrais
il/elle/on s’ouvreil/elle/on s’est ouvert(e)il/elle/on s’ouvrait
nous nous ouvronsnous nous sommes ouvert(e)snous nous ouvrions
vous vous ouvrezvous vous êtes ouvert(e)(s)vous vous ouvriez
ils/elles s’ouvrentils/elles se sont ouvert(e)sils/elles s’ouvraient
FutureConditionalSubjunctive
je m’ouvriraije m’ouvriraisque je m’ouvre
tu t’ouvrirastu t’ouvriraisque tu t’ouvres
il/elle/on s’ouvrirail/elle/on s’ouvriraitqu’ il/elle/on s’ouvre
nous nous ouvrironsnous nous ouvririonsque nous nous ouvrions
vous vous ouvrirezvous vous ouvririezque vous vous ouvriez
ils/elles s’ouvrirontils/elles s’ouvriraientqu’ils/elles s’ouvrent
Imperative
Ouvre-toi
Ouvrons-nous
Ouvrez-vous

Common phrases and expressions with ouvrir and s’ouvrir

A luxury car speeds past a blurred cityscape. We see the car in profile in the middle ground. It is silver colored.
Il roulait à tombeau ouvert.

Here are a few common phrases and expressions with ouvrir and s’ouvrir – as well as a bonus one with ouvert.

ouvrir à – to let someone in. If you watch a lot of French TV or movies, you’ll often hear a character tell another one <<Ouvre-moi !>> (Let me in!/Open the door!)

s’ouvrir à quelqu’un – to open up to someone. Ex: D’habitude si discret, hier soir, il s’est ouvert à moi. (Normally very secretive, last night he opened up to me.)

s’ouvrir sur – to open onto, lead into. Ex: La terrasse s’ouvrait sur un joli jardin. (The terrace opened onto a pretty garden.)

ouvrir grand le/la/les + partie du corps – to open one’s [body part] wide. Ex : Il a ouvert grand les bras. (He opened his arms wide.) By extension, you could say Il m’a ouvert grand les bras (He gave me a warm welcome. – literally ,he opened his arms wide to me.)

ouvrir l’esprit  – to open one’s/someone’s mind. Ex: J’aimerais qu’il ouvre son esprit un peu. (I wish he’d open his mind a little/be a bit more open-minded.)

ouvrir la voie – to pave the way

ouvrir ses portes( à/au/aux) – to open its doors (to). Ex: Chaque hiver, cette église ouvre ses portes aux sans-abris. (Every winter, this church opens its doors to the homeless.)

ouvrir la boîte de Pandore – to open Pandora’s box

à tombeau ouvert – at breakneck speed. Although I don’t come across this expression a lot, I love it – it literally means ‘to an open grave’, implying the possible consequences of going so recklessly fast! Ex: Je lui ai dit que je suis souvent malade en voiture ; peu importe, il continuait à rouler à tombeau ouvert. (I told him I often get carsick, but it didn’t matter to him, he continued to drive a breakneck speed.). Note that it is an informal expression. 


Now you know all about the French verbs ouvrir and s’ouvrir. I hope you’re open to using them whenever the situation calls for it!

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. She recently published her first novel, Hearts at Dawn, a "Beauty and the Beast" retelling that takes place during the 1870 Siege of Paris. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.

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