The Future Tense in French: Your Essential Guide
Let’s talk about the future.
We can talk about topics like the trip you’re planning to France next spring.
And the soccer game you’re going to next week, or your French self-study session planned for this evening.
To discuss any of these events in daily French conversations, we’re going to need to know how to use the future tenses.
- When to Use the Future Tenses
- Simple Future vs. Future Perfect: What’s the Difference?
- Simple Future vs. Future Perfect: How to Conjugate
- The Near Future Tense: Using Aller to Express the Future
- The Present Tense as Future in French
- Where to Practice the French Future Tense
- And one more thing...
When to Use the Future Tenses
French has multiple future tenses, and just like in English, they’re used when referring to events that haven’t occurred yet—things that will take place anytime in l’avenir (the future). The indicative tense forms of the future tense are also sometimes used to express other things, such as:
- Politeness: “Je vous demanderai de ne pas faire de bruit.” (I have to ask you to not make noise.)
- Probability or hypothesis: “Si ça sonne à la porte, ce sera sûrement lui” (If it rings at the door, it will surely be him.)
- Emotion: “Nous devrons tout supporter en silence.” (We must endure everything silently.)
Of course, it expresses the future as well, and it can be simple to use.
Simple Future vs. Future Perfect: What’s the Difference?
The simple future tense ( le futur simple ) is the basic form of the future, and the English equivalent of “will + verb.” Here’s an example of how the simple future tense is used:
Ils mangeront dans l’avion. (They will eat on the plane.)
Note that in French, there is no translation for the often-used “will” in English. The future tense is one entity; more specifically, it is made of the entire verb plus an ending, depending on what subject is being used.
In the above case, ils refers to a group of people ( “Il” meaning “he” and the extra “s” meaning “they,” referring to either a group of men or a group of men and women). Ils (and elles , which is used for groups of women) gets an ending of -ont at the end. For further explanation about what endings go with what subject, see the conjugation section below.
The future perfect tense ( le futur antérieur ), on the other hand, expresses an act that will have happened in the future. Here’s an example of how the future perfect tense is used:
Demain, j’aurai déjà lu mon livre. (Tomorrow, I will have already read my book.)
See here how this tense is very specific. You know for a fact that you’ve set aside time to read the book tomorrow, and, therefore, it will be finished.
Oftentimes, these two tenses are used together:
Quand j’aurai déjeuné, je travaillerai. (After I’ve eaten, I will start working).
The first half of that sentence is in the future perfect tense, and expresses an action (eating) that you know will have to be completed before you are able to complete the next action in the future (working, expressed with the simple future tense).
Simple Future vs. Future Perfect: How to Conjugate
Here’s how to conjugate both tenses. One of my favorite tools for looking up irregular conjugations is WordReference, as well as my book of “501 French Verbs”.
The guidelines are for regular conjugations, so use the aforementioned tools for complete conjugating rules. You’ll also find some common irregular verbs conjugated in the simple future tense below.
How to Conjugate the Simple Future Tense in French
Formation of Simple Future Tense: Use the entire verb as the stem, adding -ai, -as, -a, -ons, -ez, -ont at the end.
Here are two examples of regular -er and -ir verbs conjugated in the simple future tense:
|Parler (to speak)
|Finir (to finish)
Regular -re verbs also follow a pattern: simply remove the “e” from the ending of the infinitive and add your future endings. For example: for descendre (to descend, to go down) and apprendre (to learn), add the future endings to the stem descendr- (je descendrai, etc) and apprendr- (je apprendrai, etc) respectively.
|Descendre (to descend, to go down)
|Apprendre (to learn)
Conjugating être and avoir in the Simple Future Tense
Être (to be) and avoir (to have) are not only basic verbs in French, but are also helping verbs for the future perfect tense. They have irregular conjugations in the simple future tense, just as they’re irregular in the present tense. Since we’ll be using their simple future conjugations when we form the future perfect tense, here are their simple future tense conjugations for reference:
|Avoir (to have)
|Être (to be)
Notice that with irregular verbs, it’s only the stem that changes—the endings remain the same. For avoir, the stem is aur-, and for être, it’s ser-.
There are many other verbs that also have irregular conjugations in the simple future tense (meaning the stem changes). Here are some of the most common irregular verb conjugations:
|Aller (to go)
|Faire (to do, to make)
|Pouvoir (to be able to)
|Envoyer (to send)
For more irregular verbs in the simple future tense, check out this very useful ThoughtCo. article.
How to Conjugate the Future Perfect Tense in French
Channel your knowledge of the simple past tense, the French tense that uses either avoir or être as a stem with a past participle. A past participle indicates a past or completed action or time, and there is a specific participle for every verb in the French language.
To form the past participle:
For regular -er verbs, like parler: knock off the “r” and accent the “e.” For parler, we get parlé.
For regular -ir verbs, like finir: take away the “r.” For finir, we get fini.
For regular -re verbs, like descendre: remove the “re” and add “u.” For descendre, we get descendu.
Formation of Future Perfect Tense: Simple future (of main verb’s auxiliary, avoir or être) + past participle (of main verb).
How do you know which helping verb to use (avoir or être)? Well, each French verb either takes one or the other, so with time you’ll learn which verbs go with which helping verb.
For now, know that most verbs that use être are verbs of movement (although not all verbs of movement use être). Reflexive verbs such as s’habiller (to get dressed) also use être as their helping verb.
The best way to remember when starting out is to familiarize yourself with the main verbs that take être as its helping verb. When I was learning French, my French professors suggested the following mnemonic: DR. AND MRS. VANDERTRAMPP.
Devenir (to come from)
Revenir (to come back, to return)
Monter (to go up, climb)
Rester (to stay)
Sortir (to go out)
Venir (to come)
Aller (to go)
Naître (to be born)
Descendre (to go down)
Entrer (to enter)
Rentrer (to return)
Tomber (to fall)
Retourner (to return)
Arriver (to arrive, to come)
Mourir (to die)
Partir (to leave)
Passer (to pass [by])
This list is not exhaustive, but it covers the verbs that people use most often.
Here are some of these verbs conjugated in the future perfect tense:
The rest of the time, verbs use avoir as their helping verb.
The verbs parler (to speak), entendre (to hear) and finir (to finish) take avoir as their helping verb. So, to form the future perfect tense, we begin with the conjugated avoir (in simple future tense) and pair it with the past participle of parler, entendre or finir.
For a full list of past participles, check out this chart.
The Near Future Tense: Using Aller to Express the Future
The near future tense ( le futur proche ) is used to express something that will be happening in the very near future, and is formed by conjugating the verb aller (to go) into the present tense and pairing it with the infinitive verb.
Formation of Near Future Tense: Present tense of aller + infinitive (main verb)
|Aller (to go)
| Je vais
|+ Infinitive verb
Here’s a sample sentence in the near future tense:
Je vais nager. (I am going to swim.)
See here that aller is conjugated in the present while nager stays in its infinitive form, unconjugated. You would say this if you were going swimming in the near future.
If you were going to swim sometime further in the future, your sentence would look more like this:
Je nagerai. (I will swim.)
This implies that you will swim sometime in the future. You can, of course, add words to be more specific, like la semaine prochaine (next week), demain (tomorrow) or l’été prochain (next summer).
The Present Tense as Future in French
In French, the future can also be expressed using the present tense. You’ll often see an exchange similar to the one below:
John: Je rentre chez moi bientôt. (I’m going home soon.)
Molly: Ok, j’arrive dans cinq minutes. (I’ll be there in five minutes.)
Notice here that no future tense is being used in the French. When you use a word that implies the future, like bientôt (soon), dans cinq minutes (in five minutes), l’an prochain (next year) or demain (tomorrow), you’re already expressing the future within the sentence.
Therefore, in spoken French, the future is sometimes completely left off.
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Where to Practice the French Future Tense
The best way to learn how to use the future tense is to practice. Here are some good ways to do so:
- Find a language partner who’s a native French speaker. This is especially crucial when it comes to distinguishing between using the present tense to express the future and the future tense itself. Learning how and when to use these tenses in everyday conversation is crucial, and will help your writing skills, as well.
- This BBC future tense article has great comprehensive examples of how and when to use the future tense, the present tense as the future and the near future tense.
- Use ToLearnFrench.com to practice the future tense with quizzes.
- Watch French television or movies and listen to podcasts in French. Listen for the future tense and take note of both how it’s used and when native speakers use it, such as on news podcasts when the hosts try to predict what will happen next.
So try out some of these methods, listen to how the future tense is used and then try it for yourself.
Who knows, perhaps in l’avenir with all of your forthcoming knowledge, you will want to talk about what’s to come in your career, family life and romantic relationships.
And if not, you’re safe to use this French with whatever’s just around the corner!
And one more thing...
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