Infinitive + Habere
The Origin of the Romance Future Tense
Have you ever wondered why in Romance languages, the simple future tense often resembles like the combination of an infinitive and the present tense conjugation of the respective verb ‘to have’?
It’s not a coincidence. During the period of late Vulgar Latin, people used the structure ‘infinitive + habere’ to form future tenses. Over time, this structure became the modern future tense in Romance languages.
Let’s take a look at the simple future tense conjugation of the French verb chanter (to sing) with the present tense conjugation of the verb avoir (to have). The letters in bold are to emphasize the connections.
Chanter (to sing) in Simple Future
Je chanterai (I sing)
Tu chanteras (You sing)
Il/elle/on chantera (He/she/one sings)
Nous chanterons (We sing)
Vous chanterez (You sing)
Ils/elles chanteront (They sing)
Avoir (to have) in Present Tense
J’ai (I have)
Tu as (You have)
Il/elle/on a (He/she/one has)
Nous avons (We have)
Vous avez (You have)
Ils/elles ont (They have)
Notice the remarkable similarities: the rule applies exactly for the verb except in the nous and vous cases.
Now let’s take a look at the same situation in Italian.
Cantare (to sing) in Simple Future
Io canterò (I sing)
Tu canterai (You sing)
Lui/lei chanteà (He/she sings)
Noi canteremo (We sing)
Voi canterete (You sing)
Loro canteranno (They sing)
Avere (to have) in Present Tense
Io ho (I have)
Tu hai (You have)
Lui/lei ha (He/she has)
Noi abbiamo (We have)
Voi avete (You have)
Loro hanno (They have)
In Italian, the letter h is silent, and besides the etymological reason, it’s used to differentiate words that have the same pronunciation but different meaning, cf., hanno (they have) vs. anno (year).
Keeping in mind the pronunciation of the letter h in Italian, notice that while there is a sound change in the infinitive stem in the future tense and that there are accent marks to denote stress, the similarities are still there as in French.
Knowing this piece of etymology can help you learn Romance languages. Generally, when you study a Romance language, you know that its future tense will be the combination of the infinitive and the present tense of the verb ‘to have’, with exceptions and minor differences, as in the case of Italian.