The Indicative in French: A Comprehensive Learner’s Guide

J’habite à Paris. (I live in Paris.)

Elle s’appelle Marie. (Her name is Marie.)

What do these sentences have in common? They use the indicative mood.

In French, as in English, we use the indicative mood for statements of fact and descriptions of the world around us.

The indicative is the “standard” grammatical mood that you’ll learn in French class. If you speak French at all, you’ve been using the indicative mood already, even if you’ve never specifically learned about it!

Read on to learn all the ins and outs of understanding and using the indicative in French.


What Is the French Indicative Mood?

Even if the French indicative is the first mood taught in class, that doesn’t help when figuring out just what “mood” or “indicative” means.

What are French moods?

It may be confusing to English speakers, but when we use verbs in French, we care about the attitude we have towards the verb.

The indicative mood is used when we’re stating a fact or describing the world around us. It doesn’t even matter how wacky or improbable the descriptions are. You could say “my house is made of bricks,” or you could say, “my house is made of gold-plated gingerbread cookies.” As long as what you’re saying is factual, you’ll need to use the indicative mood.

There are several other moods in French, including:

When do we use the indicative mood?

As stated above, we use the indicative mood to discuss facts and certainties. But what does that mean in practice? A fact can be any statement you use to transmit information, for example:

Elle aime les chats. (She likes cats.)

We can also discuss information about events or descriptions that took place in the past, for example:

Il a fait du shopping hier. (He went shopping yesterday.)

Here, we’re using the passé composé conjugation of the indicative to describe something that definitely happened.

When we’re doing something like writing a novel, we use the indicative to set the scene or describe events:

Un jour, quand il faisait très froid, un chien est entré dans la maison. (One day, when it was very cold out, a dog came into the house.)

In this example, we’re using both the imparfait to set the scene and the passé composé to describe an action that happened once. Both conjugations are indicative.

Looking at the subjunctive—another French mood—can clarify when to use the indicative. The subjunctive mood is used to express doubts, emotions or uncertainty. For example:

Il faut qu’il vienne ! (It is necessary that he come!)

In this phrase, we’re expressing an emotion or opinion about an action, and therefore we must use the subjunctive mood. But if we were to just state the facts of the action itself, we would use the indicative.

How to Conjugate in the French Indicative: The Big 3

All verb moods in French have their own conjugation rules, and the indicative is no exception. Note that you’ve probably seen these conjugations before. What do I mean by the big three? I mean that in this post, we’ll learn how to conjugate the three main verb groups in French, -er, -ir and -re verbs, in the three major tenses of the indicative mood: présent (present), passé composé (past perfect) and imparfait (imperfect).

Conjugating -er verbs

Let’s look at a typical example of an -er verb: aimer  (to like). It’s conjugated as follows:

PrésentPassé composéImparfait
J'aime (I like) J'ai aimé (I liked) J'aimais (I liked)
Tu aimes (You like) Tu as aimé (You liked) Tu aimais (You liked)
Il/elle/on aime (He/she/it/one likes) Il/elle/on a aimé (He/she/it/one liked) Il/elle/on aimait (He/she/it/one liked)
Nous aimons (We like) Nous avons aimé (We liked) Nous aimions (We liked)
Vous aimez (You [polite] / You all like) Vous avez aimé (You [polite] / You all liked) Vous aimiez (You [polite] / You all liked)
Ils/elles aiment (They like) Ils/elles ont aimé (They liked) Ils/elles aimaient (They liked)

Example sentences:

Présent: Il aime sa maison.  (He likes his house.)
Passé composé: Il a aimé sa maison.  (He liked his house.)
Imparfait: Il aimait sa maison.  (He liked his house.)

Conjugating -ir verbs

For -ir verbs, let’s look at the example gravir  (to climb). It’s conjugated as follows:

PrésentPassé composéImparfait
Je gravis (I climb) J'ai gravi (I climbed) Je gravissais (I climbed)
Tu gravis (You climb) Tu as gravi (You climbed) Tu gravissais (You climbed)
Il/elle/on gravit (He/she/it/one climbs) Il/elle/on a gravi (He/she/it/one climbed) Il/elle/on gravissait (He/she/it/one climbed)
Nous gravissons (We climb) Nous avons gravi (We climbed) Nous gravissions (We climbed)
Vous gravissez (You [polite] / You all climb) Vous avez gravi (You [polite] / You all climbed) Vous gravissiez (You [polite] / You all climbed)
Ils/elles gravissent (They climb) Ils/elles ont gravi (They climbed) Ils/elles gravissaient (They climbed)

Example sentences:

Présent: Je gravis la montagne. (I climb the mountain.)
Passé composé: J’ai gravi la montagne.  (I climbed the mountain.)
Imparfait: Je gravissais la montagne.  (I climbed the mountain.)

Conjugating -re verbs

Finally, let’s look at -re verbs, using the example prendre (to take). It’s conjugated as follows:

PrésentPassé composéImparfait
Je prends (I take) J'ai pris (I took) Je prenais (I took)
Tu prends (You take) Tu as pris (You took) Tu prenais (You took)
Il/elle/on prend (He/she/it/one takes) Il/elle/on a pris (He/she/it/one took) Il/elle/on prenait (He/she/it/one took)
Nous prenons (We take) Nous avons pris (We took) Nous prenions (We took)
Vous prenez (You [polite] / You all take) Vous avez pris (You [polite] / You all took) Vous preniez (You [polite] / You all took)
Ils/elles prennent (They take) Ils/elles ont pris (They took) Ils/elles prenaient (They took)

Example sentences:

Présent: Nous prenons le bus.  (We take the bus.)
Passé composé: Nous avons pris le bus.  (We took the bus.)
Imparfait: Nous prenions le bus.  (We took the bus.)

Note that not all French verbs fall under these categories. There are irregular verbs, too. While we won’t cover all of the irregular conjugations, we will cover two essential irregular verbs: être (to be) and avoir (to have).

Être (to be):

PrésentPassé composéImparfait
Je suis (I am) J'ai été (I was) J'étais (I was)
Tu es (You are) Tu as été (You were) Tu étais (You were)
Il/elle/on est (He/she/it/one is) Il/elle/on a été (He/she/it/one was) Il/elle/on était (He/she/it/one was)
Nous sommes (We are) Nous avons été (We were) Nous étions (We were)
Vous êtes (You [polite] / You all are) Vous avez été (You [polite] / You all were) Vous étiez (You [polite] / You all were)
Ils/elles sont (They are) Ils/elles ont été (They were) Ils/elles étaient (They were)

Avoir (to have):

PrésentPassé composéImparfait
J'ai (I have) J'ai eu (I had) J'avais (I had)
Tu as (You have) Tu as eu (You had) Tu avais (You had)
Il/elle/on a (He/she/it/one has) Il/elle/on a eu (He/she/it/one had) Il/elle/on avait (He/she/it/one had)
Nous avons (We have) Nous avons eu (We had) Nous avions (We had)
Vous avez (You [polite] / You all have) Vous avez eu (You [polite] / You all had) Vous aviez (You [polite] / You all had)
Ils/elles ont (They have) Ils/elles ont eu (They had) Ils/elles avaient (They had)

Resources to Study the Indicative in French

Looking at conjugation tables will only get you so far when it comes to memorizing and internalizing French indicative conjugations. Read on for a wealth of amazing online resources to suit any learning style.

Resources for Practicing Indicative Conjugation

french-indicative is great for conjugation practice because it provides several fill-in-the-blank exercises for all tenses in the indicative mood. Fill in the blanks and click “check my test” to see the answers and how you stacked up against other users. At the bottom of the answer page, you’ll see similar exercises for more practice.


If you’re looking for detailed information about the indicative, check out coLanguage. They do a great job of explaining grammatically every aspect of the indicative mood. I recommend you study the page thoroughly for a theoretical basis of what you learn in your beginning French classes.

Finally, if you’re looking to practice conjugating all forms of French verbs, there’s a great resource at the University of Texas. On the page you can form your own lessons by selecting the verb type (-er, -ir, -re, etc.) and the tense. For example, if you select -er and passé composé, you’ll be prompted to conjugate several verbs by memory, one after another.

Resources for Practicing the Indicative vs. Subjunctive Moods

One of the biggest headaches for French students is learning which mood to use when. Fortunately, the internet is full of resources that deal with the question of whether to use the indicative or subjunctive mood.


For example, check out Quia, which has a great quiz with several questions where you must conjugate either in indicative or subjunctive based on the context. Or, return to the previously mentioned for their “indicative or subjunctive” quiz.

Another good resource for indicative vs. subjunctive quizzes is FunTrivia, which is similar to Quia but with the added feature of timed quizzes. See how you stack up!


The French indicative is a great place to start when you’re trying to build your French grammatical know-how. With all this information and the above resources, you’ll be conjugating like a pro in no time. And that’s a fact!

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