This is a subject that I find a bit confusing.

Lets say I want to say: "Could you give me a cake?" Would the correct translation be:

Pourriez-vous me donne un gâteau?


Pourriez-vous me donner un gâteau?

I read the conjugation of donner here, and concluded that the correct form for present 1st person singular would be "donne", but it seems that most sentences including give me just use the infinitive: donner.

Is anyone able to explain which one is correct and why? And hence would this be correct?:

Pourriez-vous lui donner un gâteau (could you give him a cake)

Edit changed 'se' to 'lui'

  • About the title edit: This question is only useful to people that look up “pouvoir”. The verb that follows is not interesting, it could be “vendre”, “acheter”, “cuisiner”, it really doesn't matter. Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 17:02

3 Answers 3


Pourriez-vous me donner un gâteau?

Always infinitive with the translation of the modal can.

Can you... Could you.. Will you... All give infinitive when you translate in French.

  • so would the sentence at the bottom be correct?
    – 13509
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 17:06
  • Et : Pourriez-vous lui donner...
    – Personne
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 17:07
  • Oh thank you, I will edit it now, I will mark correct in 9 minutes when I am able to again!
    – 13509
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 17:08
  • 1
    A good way to remember that it has to be infinitive is by translating it in your head "able". So for "Pourriez-vous me donner..." you would have "are you able to give..." Just a little tip.
    – user7568
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 20:08

A verb form that varies depending on the person always has a subject indicating the person. A verb that is a complement of another verb lacks a subject and can only be in an impersonal mood: infinitive or participle.

For example, in a sentence like “Pourriez-vous me donner un gâteau?”, there are two verbs: pourriez and donner. The verb pourriez is the main verb of the sentence; it is in the conditional mood and its subject is vous. The verb donner is a complement of pourriez; it has no grammatical subject, and it is in the infinitive mood.

Apart from the passive voice and from past tenses, most of the time, when a verb is a complement of another verb, the complement is an infinitive. The alternative is that the complement is a full subordinate clause with a subject and a verb in a personal mood (indicative, subjunctive or conditional). Usually, when the semantic subject of the main verb and the complement verb are the same, we use an infinitive, and not a full subordinate clause.


To the first question, you must use

Pourriez-vous me donner un gâteau ? (infinitive form)

And for the last

Pourriez-vous lui donner un gâteau ? (personal pronoun, 3rd person)

Your se was an error, because you used the reflexive form, which is not the case here (You give him a cake)

I don't know what exactly is unclear to you, could you precise ?

  • +1 for the clear answer, sorry I could not accept as you were just 2nd! Thank you very much though I appreciate your help :)
    – 13509
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 17:10

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