A look at the French verb “voir”

Voir means “to see” in French.  As with the verb ‘see’ in English, it can be used literally or figuratively, and is a part of a number of common phrases and expressions. Let’s see a little more about voir.

Voir conjugation

Voir is an irregular verb, which means you’ll have to memorize its conjugations.

A small consolation is that it’s conjugated with avoir in compound tenses, so you don’t have to agree the participle and the subject in a standard sentence. 

Here’s how to conjugate voir in the most common French verb tenses:

Present simplePassé ComposéPassé Imparfait
je voisj’ai vuje  voyais
tu voistu as vutu voyais
il/elle/on voitil/elle/on a vuil/elle/on voyait
nous voyonsnous avons vunous voyions
vous voyezvous avez vuvous voyiez
ils/elles voientils/elles ont vuils/elles voyaient
je verraije verraisque je voie
tu verrastu verraisque tu voies
il/elle/on verrail/elle/on verraitqu’ il/elle/on voie
nous verronsnous verrionsque nous voyions
vous verrezvous verriezque vous voyiez
ils/elles verrontils/elles verraientqu’ils/elles voient
Vois (tu)
Voyons (nous)
Voyez (vous)

You can consult this conjugation chart for the less common conjugations of voir.

What does voir mean?

Glasses on a display wall at an optician's.

Voir means “to see”. This can be in a literal sense or in a figurative or more abstract one – for instance, in expressions like On verra (We’ll see) or Je vois (I see (I understand.). 

As a general rule, you can use it the same way you’d use “see” in English.

The more French you read and listen to, the more likely you are to come upon the word voire. This derivative of voir  essentially means “even”. For instance: C’est un des meilleurs, voire le meilleur chanteur du monde  ! (He’s one of the best singers in the world – the best, even.).  This phrase isn’t used very often, and tends to be somewhat formal.

On the other hand, the participle of voir, vu, is used a bit more frequently.

When it’s on its own, not part of a phrasal verb, vu can mean “Given that…” For instance, Vu les conditions météorologiques, le voyage a été annulé. (Given the meteorological conditions, the trip has been cancelled.)

In other cases, the word Vu on its own can simply mean “Seen”. This might be the curt confirmation that a boss, teacher, or other authority figure has seen someone’s work, or it could be a short way to report on what someone’s seen, from canoodling celebrities, to things people come upon in their town or city.

A variation of vu, la vue means ‘sight’, including when talking about the sense of sight.

It also means “view”. This can be used when talking about things like a point of view (un point de vue), as well as simply talking about what you see in front of you. In fact, many places around France and the world are called Bellevue. This fairly common name is an interesting indicator of what the place was once known for – and maybe still is: a beautiful view.

You can find more phrases and expressions with vue on this list.

There’s another word derived from voir that you’re probably very familiar with: revoir.  As you may have guessed, adding the suffix re- to voir gives it the meaning “to see again”.  So, au revoir literally translates to “Until the next time we see one another.”

Revoir can also mean “revise/review” or “have another look”.

You can see some additional examples of how revoir is used on this webpage.

What does se voir mean?

We see the bodies of a young woman wearing shorts and black sneakers, with tattooes on her legs, and a young man with long pants, black sneakers, and a black and white checked button-down shirt open to a t-shirt. They are sitting on a ledge by landscaping in what looks like a park. A skateboard sits next to the girl.
On s’est vus hier.

Like most verbs in French, voir can be used with a reflexive pronoun in front of it.

Unlike most verbs in French, using voir with a reflexive pronoun can significantly alter its meaning.

Depending on context, se voir can mean :

• to see oneself. This could reference seeing one’s reflection, or envisioning oneself in a hypothetical or dream situation. For instance, Elle se voyait reine de France. (She pictured herself/imagined herself the queen of France.) 

Another example you might be familiar with is Charles Aznavour’s famous song Je m’y voyais déjà (I already saw myself there), in which the singer reminisces about his early days, when he already dreamt of superstardom.

• to see each other. As in English, this can mean anything from spotting one another in a crowd, to hanging out together, to dating.

Se voir in this context is often used with the pronoun on in spoken French. For instance, On s’est vus hier (We saw each other/hung out/spent time together yesterday) is an extremely common statement. You may notice something seems a bit off, though; vus is plural although on is singular. This is because when it’s implied that on stands in for more than one person, the participle is used in the plural.

• to end up/to find oneself…. Jules s’est vu obligé de vendre son squelette de tyrannosaure. (Jules ended up having to sell his tyrannosaurus skeleton.) 

• to be easily visible, obvious. Ça se voit qu’elle porte un t-shirt sous sa robe. (You can see that she’s wearing  a t-shirt under her dress.)  Or in a less literal sense: Ça se voit qu’elle n’aime pas sa belle-mère. (It’s obvious that she doesn’t like her mother-in-law.)  

As with voir, you can also add the suffix re- to the voir in se voir. This gives it the meaning “to see one another again”, or in special cases, to see oneself again. You’ll often hear se revoir used in statements like On se reverra bientôt (We’ll see each other again soon.).  You can find more examples with se revoiron this webpage.

Se voir conjugation

Unlike voir, se voir is not only an irregular verb, but also one conjugated with être. This means that you’ll not only have to memorize its conjugation (which is of course the same as voir), but also make sure its participle agrees with the subject.

Here’s how to conjugate se voir in the most common French verb tenses:

Présent simplePassé ComposéImparfait
je me voisje me suis vu(e)je  me voyais
tu te voistu t’es vu(e)tu te voyais
il/elle/on se voitil/elle/on s’est vu(e)il/elle/on se voyait
nous nous voyonsnous nous sommes vu(e)snous nous voyions
vous vous voyezvous vous êtes vu(e)(s)vous vous voyiez
ils/elles se voientils/elles se sont vu(e)sils/elles se voyaient
je me verraije me verraisque je me voie
tu te verrastu te verraisque tu te voies
il/elle/on se verrail/elle/on se verraitqu’ il/elle/on se voie
nous nous verronsnous nous verrionsque nous nous voyions
vous vous verrezvous vous verriezque vous vous voyiez
ils/elles se verrontils/elles se verraientqu’ils/elles se voient
Vois-toi (tu)
Voyons -nous(nous)
Voyez-vous (vous)

You can consult this conjugation chart for the less common conjugations of se voir.

Expressions and phrases with voir

The prow of a luxury yacht cuts through turquoise water.
Pour nos vacances d’été, mon père a vu grand.

It’s easy to see why a verb like voir is used in a significant number of phrases and expressions in French. Here are some of the most common.

Bien vu – Good catch/Well spotted/You’re right! Ex: – Attention, je pense que tu as oublié de mettre un accent sur le « e ». – Ah, oui. Bien vu! (“Careful! I think you forgot to put an accent on the ‘e’.” “Ah, good catch!”) 

être bien vu(e) (de) – to be well perceived/regarded by others. Ex: En France, il est bien vu de dire « Bonjour » et « Bonne journée » quand on entre et sort d’un magasin, même si on n’achète rien. (In France, people approve of saying “Bonjour” and “Bonne journée” when you enter and leave a shop, even if you haven’t bought anything.)

être mal vu(e) (de) – to be badly perceived by others. Ex: Les tongs deviennent de plus en plus à la mode en France, mais ils restent mal vus par la plupart de Français. (Flip-flops are becoming more and more fashionable in France, but they’re still poorly regarded by most French people.)

Ça reste à voir. – That remains to be seen.

faire voir – to show. This is usually used in the imperative. Ex: Fais voir ! – Show me/Let me see that.

n’avoir rien à voir avec… – to have nothing to do with….  Ex : Ça n’a rien a voir avec que j’étais en train de te dire !  (That has nothing to do with what I was saying to you!). 

voir ci-dessous –see below.  (Used in formal/professional correspondence).

voir quelque chose d’un bon œil/voir quelque chose d’un mauvais œil – to see something as bad/good. Ex: Ses parents voient d’un mauvais œil son choix de carrière. (His parents don’t approve of/don’t like his choice of career.)

voir grand – to have a big, ambitious vision.  Ex: Pour nos vacances d’été, mon père a vu grand. (My father had an ambitious plan for our summer vacation.)

voir du pays: to travel around, get around a bit.

voir le jour – to come into being/to be created/founded. Ex: Après plusieurs échecs, leur restaurant a enfin vu le jour. (After several setbacks, they finally opened their restaurant.)

C’est ce qu’on va voir. – We’ll see about that.

voir l’intérêt (de)… – to see the point (in/of)…  Ex : Je ne vois pas l’intérêt de passer du temps avec elles. (I don’t see the point in spending time with them.)

Il faut le voir pour le croire. – It has to be seen to be believed

voir double – to see double/have double vision. Ex: Je vois double ! – Pas du tout ; ce sont des jumeaux. (I’m seeing double ! – Not at all; they’re twins.)

voir la vie en rose – to see life with rose colored glasses/to see life in an optimistic way. For an example, let’s use the refrain of Edith Piaf’s iconic song La vie en rose : Quand il me prend dans ses bras, il me parle tout bas, je vois la vie en rose. (When he takes me in his arms, talks to me softly, I see the world with rose-colored glasses/I see the beauty of life.)

voir tout en noir – to see everything in a negative light. Basically, the opposite of voir la vie en rose.

voir le mal partout – to see the bad in everything.

voir le rapport – to see the connection/relationship between things. Example: Tu me parlais de ta journée à l’école et maintenant tu parles de robots ? Je ne vois pas le rapport. (You were talking to me about your day at school and now you’re talking about robots? I don’t see the connection.)

la façon de voir les choses/la manière de voir les choses – way of seeing things. Ex : Nous n’avons pas la même façon de voir les choses. OR Nous ne voyons pas les choses de la même façon. (We don’t see things the same way.)

voir les choses en face– to see things as they really are/to face facts.

voir venir – to see something or someone coming.  Je l’ai vu venir (I saw it coming) and Je n’ai rien vu venir (I didn’t see it coming) are very common phrases. But you could also say, for example, Je le vois venir. (I see him/it coming) simply to describe seeing someone/something coming towards you.

Voyons voir – Let’s see. Ex : La lettre doit être dans ses papiers…voyons voir…. (The letter must be among his papers….let’s see….).

voir clair – to see things clearly.

On verra ça plus tard. – We’ll see about that/deal with that later.

À toi/vous de voir. – It’s up to you.

And in case you were getting bored with these perfectly normal expressions, here’s one that’s a bit NSFW:

aller se faire voir – Screw you/get lost/sod off/bugger off. Ex: Va te faire voir !

You can find more phrases and expressions with voir on this list.

I hope you can see why voir is such an important verb in French. Do you have a favorite voir expression?  Feel free to share it in the comments!

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.