The Ultimate Guide to Learning French Conjugations

Learning French verb conjugations can be difficult. The long list of irregular French verbs, French grammar rules, various tenses, and just how many verbs there are in French alone - are enough to put you off learning!

However, mastering French verb conjugation is easy with enough practice. In this guide, we will explain not only what verb conjugation is, but also what this means in relation to French verb conjugation.

We will also cover useful techniques when it comes to learning conjugations, and take you through the most commonly used regular French verbs.

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What is Verb Conjugation?

Verb conjugation is the process of changing a verb to match the person/people you’re addressing (pronoun), tense, mood, or aspect of the speaker.

In languages like Spanish, French, Italian, and German, this means adding endings to verbs.

For example, in English, we can say “I go” to indicate the present tense. But if we want to be more specific about whether we’re talking about the future or the present, we need to use different verb forms.

For example,

  • I went to the supermarket - This is the verb to 'go' conjugated into the past tense.
  • I am going to the supermarket - The verb is now conjugated into the present continuous.
  • I will go to the supermarket - This shows the verb in a future simple context.

Understanding French Verb Conjugation

French conjugation involves finding the stem of the verb you wish to use.

Let’s take a look at the verb 'aimer' (to like). The stem of this verb is 'aim.' And now let's take a look at how this conjugates according to each singular form or plural form.

Infinitive form: Aimer

  • J’aime (I like)
  • Tu aimes (You like)
  • il/elle aime (He/She likes)
  • Nous aimons (We like)
  • Vous aimez (You like)
  • ils/elles aiment (They like)

As you can see, the stem of the verb doesn't change for the subject pronouns. This remains consistent for most verbs in French - with a few exceptions for irregular verbs (which we will get onto later!)

As well as the usual tenses (past, present, future), French verbs are also conjugated according to their mood, which can be either indicative, conditional, or subjunctive.

The indicative mood is used for facts and certainties, whilst the conditional mood is used for potential outcomes. The subjunctive mood is used for wishes and desires.

How many tenses do you need to learn?

There are 8 main verb tense forms in French. The three main ones to address first would be the past, present, and future.

It's important to remember that in French, you can also conjugate according to the subjunctive mood.

Let's take a look at each mood in detail so you can understand it a little better before we discuss the different verb tenses.

1. L’indicatif (indicative)

L'indicatif (indicative) mood is used to discuss facts and ask questions in French. For example:

  • I don't work on Sundays (Je ne travaille pas le Dimanche.)

2. Le subjonctif (subjunctive)

Le subjonctif (subjunctive) mood is used in times of uncertainty. This mood form is used to express various states of mind, such as doubt, hope, desire, possibility, etc.

The subjunctive mood can be used in four distinct tenses, however, the most commonly used tenses in this mood are the subjunctive present (subjunctive) and the past (perfect). 

For example:

  • Je doute que ça soit possible (I doubt that’s possible)

3. L’impératif (imperative)

L’impératif (the imperative) is used to give orders or advice to one or more people. For example:

  • Faites vos lits! (Make your beds!)
  • ArrĂŞt! (Stop!)

4. Le conditionnel (conditional)

Le conditionnel is used to express what would happen if a certain condition were met. This tense is used to express hypothetical situations. For example,

  • Si j'avais de l'argent, je voyagerais (if I had money, I would travel)

Le conditionnel can also be used to express politeness.

  • Je voudrais un cafĂ©, s'il vous plaĂ®t (I would like a coffee, please)

5. L’infinitif (infinitive)

L’infinitif is the basic form of a verb. In English, this starts with 'to' e.g.

  • to eat
  • to drink
  • to go

Please see an example below:

  • Je vais conduire (I am going to drive)

6. Le participe présent (present participle) / Le participe passé (past participle)

Le participe présent (participe present) is a French verb tense that is used to describe ongoing actions, as well as actions that will happen in the future.

For example:

  • Sachant le danger, je n'y suis pas allĂ©. (Knowing the danger, I didn't go.)

Le participe passé is used used to describe actions that have occurred in the past, in temps composé (time composed tenses). The term that follows auxiliary verbs like avoir (to have) or être (to be) is le participe passé.

Examples of le participe passé include:

  • J'ai mangĂ© un croissant au petit dĂ©jeuner (I ate a croissant for breakfast)
  • J'ai Ă©tĂ© malade pendant 2 jours (I have been sick for two days)

French Indicative Verb Tenses

Next, we will breeze through the different indicative verb tenses in French. We don't need to go into as much detail, as all of these tenses are known in English grammar. In fact, they are fairly easy to grasp.

  • The PrĂ©sent (present) tense in the indicative form is used to discuss actions taking place at the current moment.
  • The imparfait (imperfect) is known as the past continuous in English and is used to describe ongoing events that have happened in the past.
  • PassĂ© composĂ© (past perfect) is used in compound tenses; to discuss past actions or situations that took place at a particular time in the past. The passĂ© simple is another form of this but is not commonly used.
  • Futur simple (future simple) is used to talk about future actions and events.
  • Plus-que-parfait (pluperfect) is known as the present perfect in English and is used in compound tenses. This verb tense is formed by adding an auxiliary verb (had) and is used to talk about past events that happened before another event had started (in the past).
  • There is another verb form called the passĂ© antĂ©rieur which is the same as the plus-que-parfait. However, this is only used in formal text and speech.
  • Futur antĂ©rieur (future anterior) is used to describe a future action or event that will have been completed in the future.

Subjunctive verb tenses

Subjunctive moods are used to express states of mind such as doubt, hope, desire, and possibility.

Subjunctive moods are conjugated and used in the same way as indicative tenses. For example, like the indicative imperfect tense, the imperfect subjunctive is used in compound tenses, requiring the auxiliary verb 'had' and is used with the past participle.

However, the main difference is the phrases used to follow these tenses. Here are some examples below:

  • Il est impossible que (It’s impossible that)
  • Il est possible que (It’s possible that)
  • Il est important que (It’s important that)

French Verbs: What are the groups?

Most French verbs fall into one of three groups, based on the ending and conjugation pattern of the infinitive form of the verb.

The three groups are verbs that end in -ER, verbs that end in -IR, and verbs that end in -RE.

Amongst these groups, there can be regular and irregular verbs.

-ER Verbs in French

This is the largest group of French verbs. In general, regular -ER verbs are conjugated by taking the infinitive form and removing the -ER to find the stem.

This stem is then used with the appropriate ending for each subject pronoun.

Example verbs ending in -ER in french are:

  • Chanter (to sing)
  • Danser (to dance)
  • Travailler (to work)

-IR Verbs in French

This group follows a similar premise of conjugation pattern according to subject pronoun as -ER ending verbs. However, there is a slight difference in conjugation.

To conjugate a regular -IR verb, simply remove the ending (-IR) from the stem and add the appropriate ending for the desired tense.

Examples of -IR verbs include:

  • Ouvrir (to open)
  • Choisir (to choose)
  • Trouver (to find)

-RE Verbs in French

The third group is verbs ending in -RE.

Verbs ending in -RE in French follow the same rules as -ER and -IR verbs. To conjugate these verbs, you must remove the -RE from the end of the infinitive form of the verb and add one of the following endings: -ant, -ons, -ez, -ent.

Some example verbs are below.

  • attendre (to wait)
  • battre (to beat)
  • entendre (to hear)

Regular verbs in French

The regular verbs in French are the verbs ending in -IR, -ER, and (usually) -RE.

To conjugate regular verbs, you simply need to know the stem of the verb, and then add the appropriate ending for the subject pronoun.

Let's take a look at an example with the verb 'ouvrir' (to open.) Here are some example sentences according to the subject pronoun in the future simple tense.

  • Je t'ouvrirai la porte (I will open the door for you)
  • M'ouvriras-tu la porte? (will you open the door for me?)
  • Ils ouvriront la porte (they will open the door)
  • Elle ouvrira la porte (she will open the door)
  • Nous ouvrirons la porte (we will open the door)

Irregular verbs in French

Irregular verbs do not follow the same rules as regular verbs for French verb conjugation.

Some examples of irregular verbs in each group are:

  • -IR verbs: finir (to finish), choisir (to choose), dĂ©cider (to decide)
  • -RE verbs: attendre (to wait), entendre (to hear), perdre (to lose)
  • -OIR verbs: recevoir (to receive), devoir (to have to/must), vouloir (to want)

However, there are many other irregular verbs in French. When conjugating these verbs, you will need to memorize the different forms. Let's take a look at how an irregular verb can completely change according to the subject pronoun, using the verb 'aller' (to go.)

  • Je vais (I go)
  • Tu vas (You go)
  • Il/Elle/On va (He/She/One goes)
  • Nous allons (We/let's go)
  • Vous allez (You go)
  • Ils/elles vont (They go)

As you can see, there is no stem with irregular verbs such as aller. This requires a process of memorizing and learning.

How to memorize French Conjugations

Below, we've compiled the most engaging techniques for you to use so you can master French grammar as soon as possible.

Let's take a look at some of the easiest ways you can get started.

1) Learn French Verb Conjugations in the present tense

The learning of most languages begins with the mastery of the present tense, and it's for good reason.

Simple tenses such as the present are the most commonly used in most languages. What's more, this tense is fairly easy to grasp, so it makes sense to begin here.

Below are some examples of regular and irregular verbs being used in the French present tense:

  • Je vais Ă  la plage. (I go to the beach)
  • Nous avons un chien. (We have a dog)
  • Tu es un bon Ă©lève. (You are a good student)
  • Ils viennent de France. (They come from France)

2) Write Common Irregular Verbs down to memorize them

There are many benefits to writing down irregular verbs when trying to memorize them.

Doing so can help you to see the verb in its written form, which can aid in understanding its meaning and usage.

Additionally, physically writing out the verb can help embed it into your memory more effectively than simply reading it from a list.

Below are some examples for you to start with.

  • avoir (to have)
  • ĂŞtre (to be)
  • faire (to do, to make)
  • aller (to go)
  • voir (to see)

3) Use flashcards and spaced repetition to learn French conjugations

Let's face it, French verb conjugations are hardly exciting. By using flashcards you can tailor your learning to focus on areas that need improvement, in a fun and motivating way.

Spaced repetition allows you to focus on which verb conjugations you're struggling with most. You can use this in conjunction with French verb audio drills to help enhance your learning of the most difficult French verb conjugations.

4) Learn one verb in the infinitive form per day: Then Conjugate it into a new tense

This is particularly useful when focussing on irregular verbs, or verbs that you just can't seem to remember or recognize in daily speech!

Try this during your conversations with other French language learners or with your French teacher.

5) Watch French TV Shows and movies to familiarize yourself with the French language

This is a brilliant cost-savvy way to master French.

Here, you will be able to hear how conjugations sound according to a variety of French speakers and dialects.

By watching French TV shows and movies on Lingopie, you'll immerse yourself in a variety of different tenses, idiomatic expressions, pronunciation (such as all those pesky silent letters), and other verbs you may not have come across yet!

Learn French with TV now. Start your free trial of Lingopie today.

The 10 most common Regular French Verbs

Typically, the most common verbs you will need to learn when developing your French are as below.

  1. Donner (to give)
    Il donne de l'argent Ă  sa soeur. (He gives money to his sister)
  2. Demander (to ask)
    Il demande s'il peut vous aider. (He asks if he can help you)
  3. Trouver (to find)
    Pouvez-vous trouver votre clé? (Can you (formal) find your key?)
  4. Passer (to pass)
    Regardez, nous passons devant un célèbre musée (Look, here we pass a famous museum)
  5. Rester (to stay)
    Tu restes ici avec nous. (You stay here with us)
  6. Porter (to carry)
    Ils portent des courses. (They carry shopping)
  7. Parler (to speak)
    Tu parles trop! (You talk too much!)
  8. Montrer (to show)
    Tu montres ton nouveau t-shirt à ton père. (Show your new t-shirt to your father)
  9. Penser (to think)
    Je pense Ă  toi. (I'm thinking of you (informal)
  10. Commenser (to begin/start)
    Il commence Ă  faire froid. (It's starting to get cold)

If some of these are new verbs to you - don't worry!

As you start to become more familiar with the most common verbs in French, you'll notice them appear time and time again during your day-to-day learning.

The Ultimate Guide to Learning French Conjugations

You should now be familiar not only with French verb conjugation and verb groups, but also with the differences between verb tenses and moods in French, as well as their different contextual uses!

Don't worry if all this still feels a bit confusing. Even for French natives, it's hard for them to explain why the language is this way, with the subjunctive and all the irregular verb exceptions!

Luckily, Lingopie is offering a free trial for you to learn French!

Here, you can watch exciting TV Shows in French, as well as a variety of other great and fun activities to enhance your learning! So, what are you waiting for - NOUS ALLONS!

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