Confused by French Verb Conjugation? Read Our Introduction On Conjugation of French Verbs
Learning another language is an extremely satisfying thing to do. Not only does it expand your knowledge, but it also gives a sense of achievement unlike any other.
French is a beautiful language, and so it comes as no surprise that it is a second language choice for many people. Whether it is purely for fun or whether you are learning for a more serious reason, French is a wonderful language choice.
Whilst French is a delightful language to learn and to speak, there can be some tricky little grammar rules that the French student must wrap their head around. Fortunately, when it comes to verb conjugation, there is mostly a set of rules that you can follow.
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Three Main Categories of French Verbs
In French, you will notice that all infinitive forms of verbs have an ending which falls into one of three categories. These categories are as follows:
- -er verbs
- -ir verbs
- -re verbs
Each verb will have a stem and one of the above endings.
- For example, parler [paʁ.le] which means 'to speak' ends in a -er, putting it in the -er category.
- The verb choisir [ʃwa.ziʁ] which means 'to choose' ends in and -ir, putting it in the -ir category.
- Finally, the verb attendre [a.tɑ̃dʁ] which means 'to wait' ends in an -re, putting it in the -re category.
Every verb in French will end in one of these endings.
The majority of the time, each of these verbs will drop their -er, -re or -ir ending and replace it with one which relates to the pronoun it follows (we will look at these endings in more detail shortly). However, there are some verbs, known as irregular verbs which do not conform to this rule.
Unfortunately, it is down to the learner to learn the proper conjugations for each of these irregular verbs. The most common irregular verbs are avoir meaning “to have” [a.vwaʁ] and être meaning “to be” [ɛtʁ].
Below, you will find their conjugations as these will become your staple verbs throughout your French speaking journey.
Avoir – Present Tense
- J'ai – I have
- Tu as – you have
- Vous avez – you have (plural or formal singular)
- Nous avons – we have
- Il/elle a – he/she has
- Ils/elles ont – they (masculine/feminine) have
Example: J'ai une jupe blanche. – I have a white skirt.
Être – Present Tense
- Je suis – I am
- Tu es – you are
- Vous êtes – you are (plural or formal singular)
- Nous sommes – we are
- Il/elle est he/she is
- Ils/elles sont they (masc.)/(fem.) are
Example: Tu es mon ami. – You are my friend.
Conjugation of -ER Verbs
As we previously discovered, there is a set of endings which are added to the verb stem in order to conjugate it. In this case, to conjugate the verb, you must remove the “-er” from the end and add the following endings. These are the endings if you are conjugating the verb in the present tense.
- Je --e
- Tu --es
- Vous --ez
- Nous --ons
- Il/elle --e
- Ils/ells --ent
Here is an example of how these endings would look once they have been attached to the stem of the verb. We will use the verb 'parler'as an example.
- Je parle
- Tu parles
- Vous parlez
- Nous parlons
- Il/elle parle
- Ils/elles parlent
To show how this might look in a conversation, please see the below examples.
- Est-ce que tu parles anglais? – Do you speak English?
- Non, mais je parle bien allemand. – No, but I speak good German.
- Et Fabrice? Est-ce qu'il parle anglais? – And Fabrice? Does he speak English?
- Oui, il parle bien anglais. – Yes, he speaks good English.
Other examples of -er verbs are danser (to dance), trouver (to find), garder (to keep).
Conjugation of -RE Verbs
As with the -er verbs, there is a set of endings which can be applied when conjugating the -re verbs. The technique remains the same, simply remove the -re from the stem and add the appropriate ending for the pronoun. Below you will see which endings are used for each of the pronouns. These conjugations work for the present tense.
- Je --s
- Tu --s
- Vous --ez
- Nous --ons
- Il/elle -- (simply drop the -re and add nothing)
- Ils/ells --ent
Here is an example of a verb which uses these rules. Please also note that in French when a word ends in a vowel and is followed by a word beginning with a vowel, the vowel at the end of the first word is replaced with an apostrophe, for example in the 'je' conjugation of the following.
Attendre – To Wait
- J'attends – I wait
- Tu attends – you wait
- Vous attendez – you wait (plural or formal singular)
- Nous attendons – we wait
- Il/elle attend – he/she waits
- Ils/elles attendent – they (masc.)/(fem.) wait
To see how the conjugation of this verb works, please take a look at the following examples of the verb being used in a sentence.
- J'attends ma mere. – I am waiting for my mother.
- Ils attendent leurs enfants. – They are waiting for their children.
- Est-ce que vous m'attendez? – Are you waiting for me?
Conjugation of -IR Verbs
We are now going to take a look at the final category of verbs within the French language, the -ir verb. This is the least common category, and so there are far fewer -ir verbs in French than there are -re or -er verbs. That being said, there is still plenty to learn. We are going to focus on one of the more common regular -ir verbs choisir which means “to choose.”
As with the other types of verbs, the -ir verbs add their own endings to the stem of the infinitive according to which pronoun the verb is being used with. Here is a list of each of the pronouns and their -ir endings.
- Je --is
- Tu --is
- Vous –issez
- Nous --issons
- Il/elle --it
- Ils/ells --issent
Using this rule, we are now able to easily conjugate the verb choisir.
- Je choisis – I choose
- Tu choisis – you choose
- Vous choisissez – you choose (plural or formal singular)
- Nous choisissons – we choose
- Il/elle choisit – he/she chooses
- Ils/elles choisissent – they (masc.)/(fem.) choose
To further explain how this type of verb can work, here are some examples of sentences which feature the verb we have just conjugated.
- Tu choisis la meme chose chaque fois. – You choose the same thing each time.
- Il choisit une bonne vacances. – He chooses a good holiday.
Past Tense Conjugation
The second most common tense in which we find ourselves talking is the past tense used when we are referring to an event which has already happened. The conjugation of the past tense in French is really very simple to master.
The following rules apply when conjugating each type of verb in the past tense.
First, you need to form the past participle:
- -er verbs drop the ending from the stem and add an 'é’ – parlé
- -re verbs drop the ending from the stem and add a 'u' – attendu
- -ir verbs drop the ending from the stem and add a 'i' – choisi
Before using the above rule, you must determine whether the past tense of the verb you are trying to conjugate uses être or avoir. This may sound a little complicated, but the below example will explain in a simpler form how this ruling works.
The sentence je parle Français is in the present tense, but if you wanted to say that you spoke French you would work it like this: j'ai parlé Français.
To say that you go to Paris would be: Je vais à Paris. The verb aller (to go) is an irregular verb in the present tense, but when conjugating it in the past tense, it uses the same rule as a regular verb. Only this time, we use être in place of avoir. The sentence would read Je suis allé à Paris.
As a rule of thumb, if a verb has a meaning of movement or time (for example (rentre – to return, montre – to go up, revenir – to come back), it will generally use être in the past tense. Unfortunately, this is another one of those things when learning French that requires you to memorize separately.
Here are some examples of sentences written in the past tense.
- J'ai dansé toute la soireé. – I danced all evening.
- Il a attendu le train. – He waited for the train.
- Vous avez choisi un chat. – You chose a cat.
Conjugating Être and Avoir in the Past Tense
As mentioned earlier, these two verbs will be your base verbs throughout your time speaking French. Therefore, it is important you learn how to conjugate these irregular verbs in the past tense as well as in the present tense.
- j'ai été
- tu as été
- vous avez été
- nous avons été
- il/elle a été
- ils/elles ont été
- j'ai eu
- tu as eu
- vous avez eu
- nous avons eu
- il/elle a eu
- ils/elles ont eu
As you are now well aware, there are some verbs in French known as irregular verbs. These types of verbs do not conform to the usual conjugation rules and should be learned separately and committed to memory by the learner.
Here are some examples of irregular verbs which do not follow the usual pattern of conjugation.
- prendre [pʁɑ̃dʁ] – to take
- dire [diʁ] – to say
- faire [fɛʁ] – to do or to make
- pouvoir [puvwaʁ] – to be able to/can
- savoir [savwaʁ] – to know/to know how to
As an example, here are some sentences featuring these irregular verbs so that you can see how they differ from the usual rules.
Je sais bien Londres. – I know London well.
Il fait des courses. – He goes shopping.
Tu dis que tu m'aimes. – You say that you love me.
Je peux aller en vacances. – I can go on holiday.
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To sum it up, conjugating French verbs seems like a daunting task, but once you have been able to remember the rules for each of the types of verbs, it actually becomes very simple and will eventually become second nature when speaking or writing in the language.
It is also important to remember to memorize the irregular verbs and how they are conjugated. It is advisable to choose one of these irregular verbs during each language learning session and commit it to memory. This way, you are only faced with learning one irregular verb at a time.