What does rentrer mean exactly? (and how to conjugate it)

The verb rentrer means “to re-enter”/go back inside”, “go home”, or ”fit inside” —  at least most of the time.

Let’s learn more about this very common French verb that you’re almost sure to rentrer dedans (bump into) at some point.

Rentrer conjugation

Rentrer is a regular -er verb that’s conjugated with être in compound tenses, which means the participle will have to agree with the subject. But there is an exception. If there is a direct object (i.e. If someone or something other than the subject of a sentence is receiving the action), conjugate rentrer with avoir.

For instance: Il est rentré tard hier soir. (He came home late last night.) vs Il a rentré le pot de fleurs car il y aura du gel ce soir. (He brought the potted flowers inside, because there will be frost tonight.)

Here’s how to conjugate rentrer in its most common tenses, when using être, the auxiliary you’ll most often pair it with.

PresentPassé ComposéImparfait
je rentreje suis rentré(e)je rentrais
tu rentrestu es rentré(e)tu rentrais
il/elle/on rentreil/elle/on est rentré(e)il/elle/on rentrait
nous rentronsnous sommes rentré(e)snous rentrions
vous rentrezvous êtes rentré(e)(s)vous rentriez
ils/elles rentrentils/elles sont rentré(e)sils/elles rentraient
je rentreraije rentreraisque je rentre
tu rentrerastu rentreraisque tu rentres
il/elle/on rentrerail/elle/on rentreraitqu’ il/elle/on rentre
nous rentreronsnous rentrerionsque nous rentrions
vous rentrerezvous rentreriezque vous rentriez
ils/elles rentrerontils/elles rentreraientqu’ils/elles rentrent
Rentre (tu)
Rentrons (nous)
Rentrez (vous)

Less common rentrer conjugations

Here’s how to conjugate rentrer in tenses you’ll see and use less often.

Plus-que-parfaitPassé simplePassé antérieur
que j’étais rentré(e)je rentraije fus rentré(e)
tu étais rentré(e)tu rentrastu fus rentré(e)
il/elle/on était rentré(e)il/elle/on rentrail/elle/on fut rentré(e)
nous étions rentré(e)snous rentrâmesnous fûmes rentré(e)s
vous étiez rentré(e)(s)vous rentrâtesvous fûtes rentré(e)(s)
ils/elles étaient rentré(e)sils/elles rentrèrentils/elles eurent rentré(e)s
Futur antérieurFutur proche
je serai rentré(e)je vais rentrer
tu seras rentré(e)tu vas rentrer
il/elle/on sera rentré(e)il/elle/on va rentrer
nous serons rentré(e)snous allons rentrer
vous serez rentré(e)(s)vous allez rentrer
ils/elles seront rentré(e)sils/elles vont rentrer
Conditionnnel du passé
je serais rentré(e)
tu serais rentré(e)
il/elle/on serait rentré(e)
nous serions rentré(e)s
vous seriez rentré(e)(s)
ils/elles seraient rentré(e)s
Passé du subjonctifImparfait du subjonctifPlus-que-parfait du subjonctif
que je sois rentré(e)que je rentrasseque je fusse rentré(e)
que tu sois rentré(e)que tu rentrassesque tu fusses rentré(e)
que il/elle/on soit rentré(e)qu’il/elle/on rentrâtqu’il/elle/on fût rentré(e)
que nous soyons rentré(e)sque nous rentrassionsque nous fussions rentré(e)s
que vous soyez rentré(e)(s)que vous rentrassiezque vous fussiez rentré(e)(s)
que ils/elles soient rentré(e)squ’ils/elles rentrassentqu’ils/elles fussent rentré(e)s

What does rentrer mean?

A view of a room with two-tone painted walls, salmon and white. There are some plants and a doorway leading to another room that appears to be a home office.

Rentrer has many meanings, but the essential thing to keep in mind is the idea of “re-entry” or “fitting inside”. These two key ideas will help with understanding most uses of rentrer.

Let’s look at rentrer’s most common meanings:

To return/re-enter/go back in/go back inside

This is most often used when talking about one’s home.

Ex: Je suis rentré à 19h hier soir and Je suis rentré chez moi à 19h hier soir both mean “I got home at 7pm last night.”

Ex: Elle n’est pas encore rentrée. (She hasn’t gotten home yet.)

To start school or work again after a long vacation

This is especially common when referring to the back to school period after the Summer vacations.

We’ll talk about the noun derivative of this meaning, la rentrée, a little later on.

Ex: Les enfants rentreront à l’école cette semaine. Note that rentrer in this sense is most commonly used as its noun derivative, la rentrée, so you’d more likely see this phrased as: Les enfants font leur rentrée cette semaine.

To fit inside

When rentrer is used in this sense, it’s usually followed by the preposition dans, whether you’re talking about actual physical objects or abstract concepts.

Ex: Il m’a dit que pour réussir dans la société il faut rentrer dans le moule. (He told me that to succeed in society you have to fit the mould like everyone else.)

Zut, mes affaires ne rentrent pas dans mon sac à dos. Je vais devoir amener une grande valise. (Darn, my things won’t fit in my backpack. I’ll have to bring a big suitcase.)

To bump or crash into something

In this sense, rentrer is also usually paired with dans.

Ex: Le chauffeur de la camionnette ne faisait pas attention et il est rentré dans un arbre. (The driver of the little truck wasn’t paying attention and he crashed into a tree.

You’ll find more information about rentrer dans as well as its cousin rentrer dedans in a separate section of this article.

To bring something back inside

When rentrer is used this way, note that you will use it with avoir in compound tenses, since it involves an indirect object.

Ex: J’ai rentré les serviettes de piscine car il commençait à pleuvoir. (I brought in the pool towels because it started to rain).

To enter

This meaning is technically incorrect, but in everyday spoken French, rentrer is sometimes used to mean “to enter”.

Ex: Le collier dans la vitrine m’a tapé dans l’oeil. Je suis rentré dans le magasin pour l’acheter. (The necklace in the shop window caught my eye. I went into the store to buy it.)  

Because this usage isn’t technically correct, it’s a good idea to recognize it but not to use it, especially since it may be considered a mistake and cause confusion if you’re a non-native speaker.

These are the most common uses of rentrer. You can find a few additional meanings of rentrer in this Wiktionnaire entry. WordReference also lists additional uses of the word rentrer.

What does rentrer dedans mean?

Two cats, one orange and white and the other a calico, stand in profile in tense positions in front of a back door. They are about to fight!
<<Je vais lui rentrer dedans !>>

When used with the preposition dedans (into (it/him/her)) and possibly a reflexive pronoun, rentrer will take on one of two meanings:

To bump/crash into someone/something

This is a literal, not figurative expression, and usually insinuates that the impact is strong.

Note that since the word dedans means “in(to) it”, you won’t use the name of the person or thing that is being bumped/crashed into.

For instance: Tu vois la mur là-bas? Sa voiture est rentrée dedans. (You see that wall over there? Her car ran right into it.)

Or: Il m’est rentré dedans (He bumped into me)

To bump into each other/to lay into (fight) each other

This is only true if dedans is used with a reflexive pronoun (se rentrer dedans).

This is a very common expression, so it’s good to recognize.  

Ex: Nous nous sommes rentrés dedans. – We bumped into each other.

Ex: La prochaine fois que je le vois, je vais lui rentrer dedans ! (The next time I see him, I’m going to give him a beat-down!)

Some common expressions with rentrer

rentrer au petit matin – to come home at the crack of dawn (to come home early after being out all night). Ex: Après avoir passé la nuit à danser, nous sommes rentrés au petit matin. (After going out dancing all night, we came home very early the following morning.)

rentrer chez soi – to go (back) home/come home Ex: Je veux rentrer chez moi ! (I want to go home!)

faire du rentre-dedans to flatter/ chat up. I’ve seen this expression used in a neutral way or with a negative connotation, insinuating that it’s a bit too insistent, so be careful if you use it.

Ex: Comment faire du rentre-dedans (How to flatter/chat someone up).

rentrer dans l’ordre – to go back to normal. Ex: Les choses sont compliqués en ce moment, mais tu verras, bientôt tout rentrera dans l’ordre. (Things are complicated right now, but you’ll see, soon everything will go back to normal).

rentrer dans le budget –  to fit into the budget. Ex: Pierre voudrait des leçons de guitare. Heureusement ça rentre dans notre budget. (Pierre wants guitar lessons. Fortunately, that fits into our budget.)

rentrer tard – to get home late. Ex: Je rentrerai tard ce soir, tu peux dîner sans moi. (I’ll be home late tonight, you can eat dinner without me.)

What is la rentrée?

A girl of maybe 8 years old stands at a table with other children in a classroom. They are working on activity sheets. The teacher is behind her, blocked partially by her head, which we see in profile.

If you spend some time in France or follow the news in French, you’ll probably hear a common derivative of rentrer, la rentrée.

This word broadly means “the return”, but what it’s typically come to mean in French culture is the return from summer vacation: the phrase la rentrée on its own most often refers to la rentrée scolaire or la rentrée des classes – back to school.

But there are other rentrées, as well. For instance, la rentrée littéraire is when many books by established authors are published in France, just after summer vacation.

Of course, people who work also have a rentrée if they’ve been away for summer vacation, as can politicians, as you can see from this list of other types of rentrée.   

As you can see, rentrer is a useful and common French verb. If you feel a little bit overwhelmed by all of its uses and meanings, don’t worry: with a little practice, you’ll get used to seeing, hearing, and using rentrer, and tout rentrera dans l’ordre

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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.