Stem-changing Verbs in French

Conjugation is a fact of French-language life. There isn’t any way around it, and it’s easy to get burned in the process.

That being said, it is, after all, thanks to verb conjugation that we know who’s doing what and can situate their actions in time.

Broadly speaking, French verbs fall into regular and irregular conjugation patterns. However, there are also stem-changing verbs, which is what this article will cover.

Read on to discover six types of stem-changing verbs in French with conjugations and example verbs.


What Are French Stem-changing Verbs?

Conjugation takes place through the process of isolating the stem, also known as a radical. What’s a stem? For example, the stem of the verb parler  (to speak) is parle-. 

Stem-changing verbs are the group of -er verbs that have two different stems:

1. One stem for the first person singular (me), second person singular (informal you), third person singular (he, she, formal you) and third person plural (they) conjugations.

2. One stem for the first person plural (we) and second person plural (you all) conjugations.

Stem changes aren’t only limited to the present tense. They also occur in the imperative and the subjunctive, as well as in the future and the conditional. The rules for these stem changes in different tenses are slightly different—and beyond the scope of this post—but it’s important to know that they do occur.

One key thing to know is that if a verb has a stem change in the present tense, then it will have one in the subjunctive as well.

Whew. That may sound complicated but it’s not so bad as long as you stay on your toes (and practice!).

6 Types of French Stem-changing Verbs

There are six types of stem-changing verbs, which are categorized according to the final four letters of the verb.

1. -ayer verbs

Verbs that end in -ayer can undergo an optional stem change in which the y changes to i, except in the nous (we) and vous (you, plural) forms.

Let’s take the verb essayer  (to try) as an example. It can either be conjugated as any ole -er verb, like so:

J'essaye I try
Tu essayes You try
Il/Elle essaye He/She tries
Nous essayons We try
Vous essayez You all try
Ils/elles essayent They try

If we apply a stem change, it can be conjugated as follows:

J'essaie I try
Tu essaies You try
Il/Elle essaie He/She tries
Nous essayons We try
Vous essayez You all try
Ils/Elles essaient They try

The stem-changing spelling variation is generally more common than the non-stem-changing spelling variation, although both are considered correct.

Balayer (to sweep), effrayer (to frighten), enrayer (to stop, to halt) and payer (to pay) are some common –ayer verbs that you’re bound to come across.

2. -eler verbs

Unlike -ayer verbs, the stem change is non-negotiable in the case of -eler verbs. The stem change that verbs that end in -eler undergo in the present tense entails the adding of an l in all forms except for nous (we) and vous (you all).

The verb épeler  (to spell) is one such verb that follows this pattern:

J'épelle I spell
Tu épelles You spell
Il/Elle épelle He/She spells
Nous épelons We spell
Vous épelez You all spell
Ils/Elles épéllent They spell

Other common verbs that follow this pattern are appeler  (to call), rappeler  (to call back) and renouveler  (to renew).

Exceptions: There are some –eler verbs, such as celer  (to conceal, to hide), ciseler  (to chisel), démanteler  (to dismantle), geler  (to freeze) and harceler  (to harass) that don’t undergo the above stem change. Rather, they follow the pattern of –e_er verbs (we’ll go over those below in the fourth section).

3. –eter verbs

For many -er verbs that end in -eter, the stem change undergone is the doubling of the t.

The verb projeter  (to project) follows this pattern:

Je projette I project
Tu projettes You project
Il/Elle projette He/She projects
Nous projetons We project
Vous projetez You all project
Ils/Elles projettent They project

Other verbs that follow this pattern are feuilleter (to leaf through), hoqueter  (to hiccup), jeter  (to throw) and rejeter  (to reject).

Exceptions: Some -eter verbs that don’t follow the pattern of doubling the t are acheter  (to buy), fileter  (to thread) and haleter  (to pant).

4. -e_er verbs

The little “_” indicates one or more consonants. The stem change that takes place entails changing the e before the consonant to è for all forms except for nous (we) and vous (you all).

Let’s take a look at a few examples, shall we?

Acheter (to buy)

J'achète I buy
Tu achètes You buy
Il/Elle achète He/She buys
Nous achetons We buy
Vous achetez You all buy
Ils/Elles achètent They buy

Amener (to take)

J'amène I take
Tu amènes You take
Il/Elle amène He/She takes
Nous amenons We take
Vous amenez You all take
Ils/Elles amènent They take

Peser (to weigh)

Je pèse I weigh
Tu pèses You weigh
Il/Elle pèse He/She weighs
Nous pesons We weigh
Vous pesez You all weigh
Ils/Elles pèsent They weigh

Some other verbs that undergo this stem change that you’re bound to come across are enlever  (to remove), geler  (to freeze), lever  (to lift, to raise), peler  (to peel) and promener  (to walk).

5. -é_er verbs

As in the last case, the little “_” stands for a consonant. The stem change that takes place entails changing the é before the consonant to è for all forms except for nous (we) and vous (you all). Sound familiar? Finally, it’s important to note that these stem changes also occur in the imperative and subjunctive.

Let’s take the verb inquiéter  (to worry) as an example:

J'inquiète I worry
Tu inquiètes You worry
Il/Elle inquiète He/She worries
Nous inquiétons We worry
Vous inquiétez You all worry
Ils/Elles inquiètent They worry

Some other verbs that undergo this stem change are céder  (to cede, to give up), célébrer  (to celebrate), espérer (to hope), gérer  (to manage), posséder (to possess), préférer (to prefer), refléter  (to reflect), répéter  (to repeat) and suggérer  (to suggest).

6. -oyer and -uyer verbs

For –er verbs that end in -oyer and -uyer alike, the stem change that they undergo in the present tense entails changing the y to an i except in the nous (we) and vous (you all) forms.

Let’s take a look at two examples: Nettoyer (to clean) and appuyer (to press, to lean).

Nettoyer (to clean)

Je nettoie I clean
Tu nettoies You clean
Il/Elle nettoie He/She cleans
Nous nettoyons We clean
Vous nettoyez You all clean
Ils/Elles nettoient They clean

Appuyer (to press, to lean)

J'appuie I press/lean
Tu appuies You press/lean
Il/Elle appuie He/She presses/leans
Nous appuyons We press/lean
Vous appuyez You all press/lean
Ils/Elles appuient They press/lean

Some common -oyer verbs that undergo the same stem change are: broyer (to ground), employer (to employ), envoyer (to send), tutoyer  (to use tu) and vouvoyer  (to use vous).

Ennuyer (to bore) and essuyer  (to wipe) are two common -uyer verbs that undergo the same stem change.

How to Practice French Stem-changing Verbs


Well, there you have it!

Dealing with these verbs is just a matter of keeping ahead of the game.

Learn these six types of French stem-changing verbs and you’ll be prepared to conjugate well.

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