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A Guide to Conjugating French Verbs Easy

By Jon, published on 21/03/2018 We Love Prof - AU > Languages > French > Learn To Conjugate French Verbs With These Tips and Tricks

When learning to speak French, English-speakers are often puzzled by French verbs. Not only are an amazing amount of them irregular, but the French language also seems to have more verb tenses than any other language (actually not true, but it does seem that way). This little blog cannot list all of the French irregular verbs in all the tenses, nor can it replace French courses (or a Superprof tutor) but we will try to give an overview on how French verbs are conjugated, list the general conjugations for the auxiliary verbs “avoir” and “être” and the main verb groups (verbs ending in -er and -ir) and some of the most common verbs in irregular conjugation. Because of the limits of this blog we will not be covering the passive voice or going into the particularities of reflexive verbs.

The French Verb Tenses and How They are Constructed

Conjugating verbs is an integral part of French lessons. To learn French verb conjugation in its simplest form, you can try this website. Below is an explanation of the grammar rules behind the tenses.

The simple tenses: simple present (présent simple), simple past (passé simple) and simple future (futur simple)

Simple tenses are formed without an auxiliary verb: an ending is attached to the verb stem.

 

  • The present describes an action that is currently taking place, or that generally takes place at regular intervals or all the time, or proverbs that are generally applicable:

Je mange en ce moment. I am eating now.

Je mange un croissant tous les matins. I eat a croissant every morning.

Je bois du café toute la journée. I drink coffee all day.

“Les jours se suivent et ne se ressemblent pas” French proverb: one day follows another, and none resemble the other – in other words, each day brings something new.

 

  • The simple past describes a punctual action that took place in the past:

Je mangeai très bien hier soir. I ate well last night.

Tu jetas ta pelure de banane sur le sol. Alice glissa dessus. You threw your banana peel on the floor. Alice slipped on it.

 

  • The “imparfait” is an imperfect tense that describes an action that lasted or that was repeated in the past, an action that took place at the same time as another, and suppositions. It is similar in some cases to the English tense of past progressive:

Au Moyen Âge, on tissait son drap soi-même. In the Middle Ages, people wove their own cloth.

L’année dernière, nous mangions au restaurant tous les vendredi. Last year, we ate at a restaurant every Friday.

Jean racontait sa journée alors que Marie faisait la vaiselle. Jean told of his day while Marie was washing the dishes.

Moi, Monsieur, si j’avais un tel nez… If I, sir, had such a nose… (from Edmond Rostand, “Cyrano de Bergerac”).

 

  • The simple future refers to a future action that will or should happen. Note that it adds an -er- between the verb stem and the ending in both types of regular verbs and many irregular ones:

Demain, je mangerais Chinois. Tomorrow, I will eat Chinese.

Dans deux ans, je déménagerais en Angleterre. In two years I will move to England.

Auxiliary tenses

  • The simple past tense is seldom used in spoken French. Instead, they use the “passé composé” to express most types of past actions.

It is composed of the auxiliary verb in the present tense + past participle:

J’ai très bien mangé hier soir. I ate very well last night.

Tu as jeté ta pelure de banane sur le sol. Alice a glissé dessus. You threw down your banana peel. Alice slipped on it.

 

  • The plus-que-parfait or pluperfect is used either to show a past action immediately preceding another past action, or, in an independant clause, a simple observation. You conjugate it with the auxiliary verb in the imperfect past + past participle:

J’avais mangé avant d’aller au cinéma. I had eaten before going to the cinema.

L’hiver avait été froid. The winter had been cold.

 

  • In French grammar, the passé anterieur or anterior past is used to describe a past action that took place before another past action. A verb in the passé anterieur is formed using the auxiliary verb in the simple past + past participle:

Quand j’eus appris [passé antérieur] les effets néfastes du café, j’ai commencé [passé composé] à en boire moins. Once I had learned the evil effects of coffee, I started drinking less of it.

 

  • The futur anterieur or anterior future is a future tense that shows a future action that takes place before another future action. It is formed with the auxiliary verb in the simple future + past participle:

Quand j’aurais fini mes études, j’irais en Angleterre. When I finish my studies, I will go to England.

Conjugation tables There are conjugation tables for the regular and irregular verbs in the French language. Photo credit: Internet Archive Book Images on Visualhunt.com

Other Moods and Tenses

The imperative mood

The imperative tense is used to give orders, important advice, or a resolution. This verb form only exists in the second person singular, first person plural and second person plural:

Va chercher ta mère! Go get your mother!

Ne mangez pas de champignons vénémeux! Don’t eat poisonous mushrooms!

Allons-y! Let’s go!

The subjunctive mood

The subjunctive tenses are used in subordinate clauses that express an order, counsel, anticipation, obligation, fear, pain or a wish. The subjunctive mood is often used with modal verbs.

The present subjunctive and imperfect subjunctive are simple tenses, whereas the past subjunctive and pluperfect subjunctive are compound verb forms formed with the auxiliary verb in the present subjunctive + past participle (past subjunctive) and the auxiliary verb in the imperfect subjunctive + past participle (pluperfect subjective).

J’aimerais que nous ne mangions pas trop tard ce soir. I would like us not to eat too late tonight.

Nous attendons impatiemment que les voiture volassent. We are eagerly awaiting that cars can fly.

Moi, monsieur, si j’avais un tel nez, il faudrait sur-le-champ que je me l’amputasse. If I, sir, had such a nose, I would amputate it on the spot. (from Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac).

The conditional tenses

In French grammar, the conditional tenses are used when an action is contingent on another action, or is theoretical. The present conditional tense is used if the condition is in the present or future; the past conditional if it was in the past. There are two past conditional tenses, but the second is very rarely used. The first is created with the auxiliary verb in the conditional present + the past participle of “être” (été) + the past participle of the verb.

J’aimerais aller en Angleterre. I would like to go to England.

Si je n’avais pas pu devenir instituteur, j’aurais été très triste. If I hadn’t been able to become a teacher, I don’t know what I would have done.

The participles

The present participle is generally formed with the verb stem + -ant. (aime-> aimant; courir-> courant)

The past participle is generally formed with the verb stem + é or i (aimé, fini), though there are exceptions among the irregular verbs.

The French Verbs Avoir and Être

Avoir and être have an irregular conjugation. In French, both auxiliary verbs have an irregular conjugation. Photo credit: torbakhopper on Visual Hunt

It is not unusual for the verb “to be” to have an irregular conjugation. It does in English and in many Romance languages as well. “To be” is also an auxiliary verb in many languages and this is true in French verb conjugation. The second common auxiliary verb, “avoir” (to have) is also an irregular verb in French.

Here are two verb conjugation tables for “avoir” and “être” in the simple tenses of the indicative.

 simple presentimperfectsimple pastsimple futurepast participle
J'aiavaiseusauraieu (m.),eue (f.)
Tuasavaiseusauras
Il/elle/onaavaiseutaura
Nousavonsavionseûmesaurons
Vousavezaviezeûtesaurez
Ils/ellesontavaienteurentauront

For “avoir”, the compound tenses are formed with the simple tense of the verb “avoir” and the past participle.

 simple present imperfectsimple pastsimple futurepast participle
Jesuisétaisfusseraiété (m), étée (f.)
Tuesétaisfusseras
Il/elle/onestétaitfutsera
Noussommesétionsfûmesserons
Vousêtesétiezfûtesserez
Ils/ellessontétaientfurentseront

For “être”, the compound tenses are formed with the simple tense of “être” and the past participle.

Er Verbs in French

The closest you can come to regular verbs in French are the infinitives ending in “-er”.

Je t'aimes is a regular conjugation. The most universal phrase of all – fortunately, the verb “to love” is regular. Photo credit: canadapost on Visual hunt

Here is a table on how to conjugate the verb “aimer”. Again, only the simple tenses are given as the compound verb tenses are built with the simple tense of “avoir” (for the active) or “être” (for the passive) and the past participle.

 simple presentimperfectsimple pastsimple futurepast participle
J'aimeaimaisaimaiaimeraisaimé (m.), aimée (f.)
Tuaimesaimaisaimasaimeras
Il/elle/ontaimeaimaitaimaaimera
Nousaimonsaimionsaimâmesaimerons
Vousaimezaimiezaimâtesaimerez
Ils/ellesaimentaimaientaimèrentaimeront
 subjunctive present subjunctive imperfect conditional presentimperative present participle
Je/J'que j'aimeque j'aimasseaimeraisaimant
Tuque tu aimesque tu aimassesaimeraisaime
Il/elle/onqu'il aimequ'il aimâtaimerait
Nousque nous aimionsque nous aimassonsaimerionsaimons
Vousque vous aimiezque vous aimassezaimeriezaimez
Ils/ellesqu'ils aimentqu'ils aimassentaimeraient

Conjugating French Verbs Ending in ir

The second large group of regular verbs in French are the ones with an infinitive ending in -ir. To show the grammar rules regulating them, here are two tables with the simple verb conjugations for “finir”, to end.

 simple presentimperfectsimple pastsimple futurepast participle
Jefinisfinissaisfinisfiniraifini (m.), finie (f.)
Tufinisfinissaisfinisfiniras
Il/elle/onfinitfinissaitfinitfinira
Nousfinissonsfinissionsfinîmesfinirons
Vousfinissezfinissiezfinîtesfinirez
Ils/ellesfinissentfinissaientfinirentfiniront
 Subjunctive present subjunctive imperfect conditional present imperativepresent participle
Jeque je finisseque je finissefiniraisfinissant
Tuque tu finissesque tu finissesfiniraisfinis
Il/elle/onqu'il finissequ'il finîtfinirait
Nousque nous finissionsque nous finissionsfinirionsfinissons
Vousque vous finissiezque vous finissiezfiniriezfinissez
Ils/ellesqu'ils finissentqu'ils finissentfiniraient

Conjugating French Irregular Verbs

To learn French irregular verbs takes a long time – there are so many of them. Fortunately, there are books (the French go-to book is the Bescherelle) and online French resources such as a list of the 100 most common French verbs with their conjugations. Or with the help of free French apps downloaded onto your smartphone, you can be learning French on the go. The Bescherelle also has an online conjugator  – no need to speak French to use it, just type the infinitive of the verb into the search bar.

The verb vivre is irregular The French verb “vivre” (to live) is irregular – as is life. Photo credit: Internet Archive Book Images on VisualHunt.com

Some French Irregular Verbs

To get you started and so you have them on your radar, here is a list of some French irregular verbs. Some, but not all, are Ir verbs:

  • Aller, envoyer and renvoyer are irregular verbs in -er
  • Verbs formed around cueillir (accueillir, recueillir)
  • Ouvrir – open
  • Mentir – lie
  • Bouillir – boil
  • Vêtir – clothe
  • Courir – run
  • Tenir – hold
  • Mourir – die
  • Venir – come
  • Fuir – run away
  • Verbs with infinitives ending in -oir (pleuvoir, s’asseoir)
  • Verbs ending in a consonant + re (coudre, tondre, mettre, rompre, suivre, vivre)
  • Verbs ending in -aître and -oître (paraître, croître)
  • Verbs with an infinitive in vowel + -re (luire, cuire, inclure, croire, boire, faire, éclore, dire, lire)

Click here to learn about the genders of French nouns.

If you want to find a tutor, searching for a French course London produces the most face to face results on Superprof.

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