Regular French ER Verb Conjugation: A No-mess, No-fuss Walkthrough
Regular French –er verbs are classic as PB&J.
Okay, so peanut butter and jelly sandwiches aren’t very French.
And they may be classic to Americans only because they’re cheap and a cinch to make.
But they’re also a good example of a how a limited number of ingredients can form a simple, predictable result.
See, conjugation—or the way a verb changes according to factors like number, person, tense or mood—can either be regular or irregular.
Regular verbs follow a discernable pattern, meaning you don’t have to worry about any weird exceptions or irregularities.
Anyway, this whole conjugation thing takes place according to the stem of a verb’s infinitive or unconjugated form.
In French, verb infinitives have three possible endings: –er, -ir and –re.
Save for aller (to go), all –er verbs are regular.
Some of them are sneaky stem-changing verbs, but that’s for another time!
Luckily, there are a ton of regular –er verbs in French.
Basically, it goes without saying that knowing how to conjugate –er verbs is a must.
Follow me right this way, please!
The 411 on French Regular –er Verbs
- –er verbs comprise 90% of all French verbs. And there are over a thousand of them (okay, so that’s not quite a ton, but that’s pretty darn many). Don’t believe me? Well you don’t have to take my word for it! Check out “A Reference Grammar of French” by R.E. Batchelor and M. Chebli-Saadi.”
Furthermore, as language changes over time and more neologisms and anglicisms find their way into the French language (and French people find themselves speaking a sort of “franglais”), they always take the form of –er verbs.
- –er verbs prepare French learners to learn the other verb forms. Because their endings follow a pattern through and through (regardless of tense or mood), conjugating –er verbs is a great way for beginning French learners to build confidence.
Indeed, as French learners, they are usually the first verbs we deal with before moving on to regular –ir and -re verbs. It’s safe to say that regular –er verbs are the bread and butter (or the peanut butter and jelly, if you like) of French verbs.
Some Common -er verbs
I know what you’re thinking: “Let’s see some verbs, already!”
Here’s a list of common –er verbs:
- Aimer (to like, to love)
- Changer (to change)
- Demander (to ask)
- Écouter (to listen)
- Fabriquer (to make)
- Habiter (to live)
- Jouer (to play)
- Manger (to eat)
- Parler (to talk)
- Rester (to stay, to remain)
- Signer (to sign)
- Trouver (to find)
- Visiter (to visit a place)
All of the above verbs follow the patterns shown below.
Conjugating Regular -er Verbs
Okay, that’s enough theoretical talk. Time to get our hands dirty and conjugate!
First things first: in French we conjugate verbs in six persons, represented by personal subject pronouns, which replace the subject of a sentence.
First person singular is represented by the personal subject pronoun je (I).
Second person singular is represented by the personal subject pronoun tu (you).
Third person singular is represented by the personal subject pronoun il (he), elle (she) or on (one).
First person plural is represented by the personal subject pronoun nous (we).
Second person plural is represented by the personal subject pronoun vous (formal you, you all).
Third person plural is represented by the personal subject pronoun ils or elles (they).
Now, let’s take a look at the different conjugation patterns of the present tenses of the indicative, the conditional, the subjunctive and the imperative, as well as the imperfect past tense. They’re each built around a stem.
The French present tense is used to express habitual actions, current actions and situations, statements of generally-accepted knowledge and actions that will immediately occur.
Je aim-e (I like)
J’aime courir (I like to run).
Tu aim-es (You like)
Tu aimes courir (You like to run).
Il/elle/on aim-e (He/she/one likes)
Il aime courir (He likes to run).
Nous aim-ons (We like)
Nous aimons courir (We like to run).
Vous aim-ez (You all like)
Vous aimez courir (You all like to run).
Ils/elles aim-ent (They like)
Ils/elles aiment courir (They like to run).
The conditional mood is used to refer to hypothetical events as well as to make polite requests. The verb aimer (to like, to love), is especially apt for polite requests. The conditional stem for regular –er verbs is the same as its infinitive.
J’aimer-ais (I would like)
J’aimerais partir (I would to leave).
Tu aimer-ais (You would like)
Tu aimerais partir (You would like to leave).
Il/elle/on aimer-ait (He/she/one would like)
Il aimerait partir (He would like to leave).
Nous aimer-ions (We would like)
Nous aimerions partir (We would like to leave).
Vous aimer-iez (You all would like)
Vous aimeriez partir (You all would like to leave).
Ils/elles aimer-aient (They would like)
Ils aimeraient partir (They would like to leave).
The subjunctive mood conveys actions or ideas that are uncertain or subjective such as doubt, judgment and necessity. The stem for conjugating the subjunctive form of aimer (to like, to love) is aim-.
Il suppose que j’aime la ville (He supposes that I like the city).
Il suppose que tu aimes la ville (He supposes that you like the city).
Il suppose qu’elle aime la ville (He supposes that she likes the city).
Il suppose que nous aimions la ville (He supposes that we like the city).
Il suppose que vous aimiez la ville (He supposes that you all like the city).
Il suppose que elles aiment la ville (He supposes that they like the city).
The French imperative is used to give commands. We only conjugate it in the tu, nous and vous forms. Yep, that’s all!
Aime ta planète (Love your planet).
Aimons notre planète (Love our planet).
Aimez votre planète (Love your planet).
The imperfect is a past tense used to describe an ongoing state, repeated or incomplete action.
Across the board for –er, -ir and –re verbs, the imperfect stem is formed by dropping the -ons ending from the present indicative nous (we) form). The nous form of aimer is aimons, so the stem is aim–. Let’s take a look at the endings now:
J’aimais courir (I liked to run).
Tu aimais courir (You liked to run).
Il aimait courir (He liked to run).
Nous aimions courir (We liked to run).
Vous aimiez courir (You all liked to run).
Ils aimaient courir (They liked to run).
How to Practice Regular French –er Verb Conjugations
There’s no way around it: Becoming fluent in French is all about consistency. You’ve got to practice, practice, practice. You can practice by…
- Quizzing yourself. “French Verb Drills” by R. de Roussy de Sales is a great book to have in your arsenal to quiz yourself on -er verb conjugations. I also recommend checking out this quiz, in which you work with conjugating verbs that are integrated into full sentences. As a bonus, it also includes listening comprehension exercises to get your ear used to French’s silent letters.
- Listening and identifying. Speaking of listening, French audio material—such as a podcast, talk radio show—is a great way to get comfortable with conjugated –er verbs in action. Take a 30-second clip and listen for –er verbs. Transcribe as many phrases/sentences in which they appear as you can. What tenses are they? Can you tell (sometimes you can’t with those pesky silent letters)?
- Reading (aloud) and modifying. If you’re a bit daunted by listening exercises, or if you just want to mix things up a bit, why not try working with reading material, like a magazine or newspaper? When you come across an –er verb, conjugate it à haute voix (aloud) for the remaining persons of that tense or mood.
You can also play around with conjugating the verb in different tenses and moods and pay attention to how it alters the meaning of the sentence. Not only will your conjugation game be on point, your reading comprehension will also improve.
Whew! Now have at it.
Go out there and conjugate some verbs!