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Stumped by French Verb Conjugation? Check Out Our Comprehensive Guide!

When you started learning French, perhaps you imagined your future self chatting with a waiter at a chic Parisian bistro.

Or maybe you dreamed of traveling through Marrakech, making local friends over cups of mint tea. Or, of finally reading the works of Simone de Beauvoir in their original publication language. How exciting!

I’m willing to bet you spent less time daydreaming about sitting in your room, poring over conjugation tables and reviewing flashcard decks.

That may be so, but it turns out that learning how to conjugate verbs is a cornerstone of learning to speak French. You’ll never reach those wonderful language-learning goals if you don’t buckle down and devote some time to learning all the ins and outs of French conjugation.

Luckily for you, French conjugation is not nearly as intimidating as it may seem! I promise that if you’ve ever spoken French, you’ve already conjugated verbs successfully.

Don’t believe me? Even if the only French phrase you know how to say is “Je ne parle pas français” (“I don’t speak French”), you’re already conjugating without realizing it.

Conjugating just means modifying a verb based on its subject, tense or mood—in this case, turning the verb parler (to speak) into parle (I speak).

This article will provide a comprehensive overview of French verb conjugation to help kickstart your studies. Read on, and get ready to learn—and I promise you’ll be casually conjugating verbs like a master in no time at all.
 


 

The Ins and Outs of French Verb Conjugation

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Mastering the French Present Tense Conjugations

Although learning French conjugation takes time, we can break it into chewable pieces.

First, let’s focus on the present tense. Just like in English, the French present tense is used to describe actions that are currently happening, as well as actions that happen repeatedly or general truths.

In the present tense, each French verb has two parts: a pronoun, and a conjugated verb.

The French pronouns are as follows:

Je (I)

Tu (You [informal])

Il (He)

Elle (She)

On (One / “we”)—More on this later!

Nous (We)

Vous (You [Polite] / You all)

Ils (They [all-male groups or mixed gender])

Elles (They [all-female groups])

Got that down? Great! Now, let’s move on to the meat of this: the conjugation.

In their infinitive form, French verbs fall into three categories: those that end in “-er,” those that end in “-ir” and those that end in “-re.” Each of those verb endings has its own conjugation rules.

Conjugating “-er” Verbs in the Present Tense

Let’s take at the verb cacher (to hide), putting together the pronoun and its matching conjugation. The conjugation in present tense is as follows.

Cacher (to hide):

Je cache (I hide)

Tu caches (You hide)

Il/elle/on cache (He, she, it, one hides)

Nous cachons (We hide)

Vous cachez (You [polite] / You all hide)

Ils/elles cachent (They hide)

I’ve taken the liberty to underline the endings of the conjugations because they’re repeated in all regular “-er” verbs in French. The same concept applies for “-ir” and “-re” verbs as well.

Before moving on, let’s take a moment to clarify some things that may be confusing for English speakers learning French.

  • The French pronoun on can be used to mean a generalized “we,” for speaking generally or in the passive voice. To say on cache is like saying “one hides” or “hiding is done.”
  • In French, tu is an informal “you” used among friends, and vous is more polite, used for professional contacts, authority figures and people much older than you. Vous also means “you” when several people are being mentioned; you can think of it as the French equivalent to “you all,” “you guys” or “y’all.”
  • Finally, when speaking French you have to pay attention to gender rules. The pronoun ils (they) is used when a group includes only men, or both men and women. On the other hand, elles is for a group exclusively composed of women.

Feeling ready? Okay! Let’s move on.

Conjugating “-ir” Verbs in the Present Tense

Now that we’ve explained basic concepts, these sections can be more concise. Let’s look at an “-ir” verb: finir (to finish).

Finir (to finish):

Je finis (I finish)

Tu finis (You finish)

Il/elle/on finit (He, she, it, one finishes)

Nous finissons (We finish)

Vous finissez (You [polite] / You all finish)

Ils/elles finissent (They finish)

Conjugating “-re” Verbs in the Present Tense

The last category of regular verbs in French are “-re” verbs. Let’s look at the extremely common verb prendre (to take) which is conjugated as follows.

Prendre (to take):

Je prends (I take)

Tu prends (You take)

Il/elle/on prend (He, she, it, one takes)

Nous prenons (We take)

Vous prenez (You [polite] / You all take)

Ils/elles prennent (They take)

Irregular Verbs in the Present Tense

French has a lot of exceptions, and this applies to conjugations as well. Many of the most important verbs in French are irregular, including: être (to be), avoir (to have), aller (to go), and faire (to do). They’re conjugated as follows:

Être (To be):

Je suis (I am)

Tu es (You are)

Il/elle/on est (He, she, it, one is)

Nous sommes (We are)

Vous êtes (You [polite] / You all are)

Ils/elles sont (They are)

Avoir (to have):

J’ai (I have)

Tu as (You have)

Il/elle/on a (He, she, it, one has)

Nous avons (We have)

Vous avez (You [polite] / You all have)

Ils/elles ont (They have)

Aller (to go):

Je vais (I go)

Tu vas (You go)

Il/elle/on va (He, she, it goes, one goes)

Nous allons (We go)

Vous allez (You [polite] / You all go)

Ils/elles vont (They go)

Faire (to do/make):

Je fais (I do/make)

Tu fais (You do/make)

Il/elle/on fait (He, she, it, one does/makes)

Nous faisons (We do/make)

Vous faites (You [polite] / You all do/make)

Ils/elles font (They do/make)

Using Conjugation to Talk About the Past and Future

As we have just seen, conjugating French in present tense isn’t so hard. It just takes a bit of practice! However, you’ll be limited if you cannot express anything in the past or future tenses. Fortunately, each of these tenses has its own conjugation rules that are just as easy to learn as the rules for the present tense. Let’s take a look.

Conjugating the Passé Composé Tense

The passé composé is one of three French tenses used to discuss events that happened in the past.

The passé composé is used for events that happened completely in the past, with a defined start and end date. It can also be used for events that began in the past but continue into the present.

To conjugate in the passé composé, use this formula: pronoun + auxiliary verb conjugated in the present tense + past participle.

(Need a primer on the past participle? We’ve got you covered!)

In French, there are two auxiliary verbs, avoir (to have) and être (to be). You just learned the present-tense irregular conjugations for these guys, remember? Keep those in the back of your mind: they’re about to come in handy.

When using avoir and être in the past tense as auxiliary verbs, they do not mean “to have” and “to be.” Think of them as more like placeholders in this case.

In the passé composé, cacher uses the auxiliary verb avoir and is conjugated as follows:

Cacher (to hide):

J’ai caché (I hid / have hidden)

Tu as caché (You hid / have hidden)

Il/elle/on a caché (He, she, it, one hid / has hidden)

Nous avons caché (We hid / have hidden)

Vous avez caché (You [polite] / You all hid / have hidden)

Ils/elles ont caché (They hid / have hidden)

As you can see, each of these verbs uses the present-tense conjugation of avoir as an auxiliary verb. See? I told you those conjugations would come in handy!

On the other hand, the verb venir (to come) uses the auxiliary verb être:

Venir (to come):

Je suis venu(e) (I came / have come)

Tu es venu(e) (You came / have come)

Il/elle est venu(e) (He, she, it, one came / has come)

Nous sommes venus(/es) (We came / have come)

Vous êtes venu/venue/venus/venues (You [polite] / You all came / have come)

Ils/elles sont venus(/ues) (They came / have come)

Why so many parentheses? When you use être used as the auxiliary verb, you must change the past participle to agree in gender and number with the pronoun.

Students often ask, “when do I use one auxiliary verb or the other?” In part, you have to memorize which verb’s past tense uses avoir and which uses être. Don’t worry, though—there aren’t too many être verbs. In fact, here’s a list of all of them. An easy way to start memorizing them is to remember that most of them involve some sort of movement, such as the above example, venir (to come).

Conjugating the Imparfait Tense

The imparfait is used to express events that happened continuously in the past. For example, you would use this tense to talk about something that you habitually did during your childhood but that you no longer do. Some learners may find this conjugation easier because it doesn’t involve any auxiliary verbs! The “-re” verb prendre conjugated in the imparfait looks like this:

Prendre (to take):

Je prenais (I took)

Tu prenais (You took)

Il/elle/on prenait (He, she, it, one took)

Nous prenions (We took)

Vous preniez (You [polite] / You all took)

Ils/elles prenaient (They took)

These endings are the same for “-re”, “-er” and “-ir” regular verbs. I told you the imparfait was a breeze!

Conjugating the Plus-que-parfait Tense

Finally, the plus-que-parfait describes events that happened completely in the past, that come before other events in the past.

Think of the sentence: “I had fallen asleep before she arrived.” Because both events (the falling asleep and the arriving) happened in the past, but the falling asleep happened first, you would conjugate this verb using the plus-que-parfait.

Get ready, because we’re about to combine the previous two tenses you just learned to create something beautiful:

To conjugate the plus-que-parfait, use the same formula as the passé composé (pronoun + auxiliary verb + past participle), but conjugate the auxiliary verb in the imparfait tense.

Let’s go back to our old friends cacher and venir to see how this tense compares to the passé composé.

Cacher (to hide):

J’avais caché (I had hidden)

Tu avais caché (You had hidden)

Il/elle/on avait caché (He, she, it, one had hidden)

Nous avions caché (We had hidden)

Vous aviez caché (You [polite] / You all had hidden)

Ils/elles avaient caché (They had hidden)

Venir (to come):

J’étais venu(e) (I had come)

Tu étais venu(e) (You had come)

Il/elle/on était venu(e) (He, she, it, one had come)

Nous étions venus(/es) (We had come)

Vous étiez venu/venue/venus/venues (You [polite] / You all had come)

Ils/elles étaient venus(/ues) (They had come)

As you can see, the past participles remain exactly the same, and the only thing that changes is the conjugation of the auxiliary verb.

Conjugating the Futur Simple Tense

Get ready, because we’re heading into the future! The futur simple allows you to express actions that will happen in the future with almost definite certainty. With “-er” and “-ir” verbs, you just add the endings to the infinitive form of the verb.

Cacher (to hide):

Je cacherai (I will hide)

Tu cacheras (You will hide)

Il/elle/on cachera (He, she, it, one will hide)

Nous cacherons (We will hide)

Vous cacherez (You (polite) / You all will hide)

Ils/elles cacheront (they will hide)

With “-re” verbs, the process is almost the same, but we have to delete the “-e” at the end of the verb. For example:

Prendre (to take):

Je prendrai (I will take)

Tu prendras (You will take)

Il/elle on prendra (He, she, it, one will take)

Nous prendrons (We will take)

Vous prendrez (You [polite] / You all will take)

Ils/elles prendront (They will take)

Conjugating the Futur Antérieur Tense

The second way to talk about the future is by using the futur antérieur. This tense is used to describe future events that happen before other future events. Think of the sentence: “by the time you arrive, I will have cleaned the house.”

You’re well-prepared for this tense because the conjugation is similar to the passé composé and plus-que-parfait. The only difference is that you’ll conjugate your auxiliary verb, avoir or être, in the futur simple tense. Take the following two examples:

Prendre (to take):

J’aurai pris (I will have taken)

Tu auras pris (You will have taken)

Il/elle/on aura pris (He, she, it, one will have taken)

Nous aurons pris (We will have taken)

Vous aurez pris (You [polite] / You all will have taken)

Ils/elles auront pris (They will have taken)

Or, to practice using être:

Venir (to come):

Je serai venu(e) (I will have come)

Tu seras venu(e) (You will have come)

Il/elle sera venu(e) (He, she, it, one will have come)

Nous serons venus(/es) (We will have come)

Vous serez venu/venue/venus/venues (You [polite] / You all will have come)

Ils/elles seront venus(/ues) (They will have come)

Conjugating in the Future with Aller

You know how in English you can say, “I will do my homework,” but you can also say “I am going to do my homework”?

Well, French has a similar construction. You can talk about future events using the formula: pronoun + present-tense form of aller + action verb in infinitive. Let’s use the verb jouer (to play).

Jouer (to play):

Je vais jouer (I am going to play)

Tu vas jouer (You are going to play)

Il/elle/on va jouer (He, she, it, one is going to play)

Nous allons jouer (We are going to play)

Vous allez jouer (You [polite] / You all are going to play)

Ils/elles vont jouer (They are going to play)

Using the French Conditional to Discuss Possibility

It’s time to add depth to your spoken French. We have already seen how we can apply formulas to quickly learn to speak in the past and future, but what about discussing what could happen or what could have happened?

Conjugating in the Present Conditional Tense

The present conditional tense is used to express what “would” happen. It uses the same formula as the futur simple: add the proper endings directly onto the infinitive for “-er” and “-ir” verbs.

Cacher (to hide):

Je cacherais (I would hide)

Tu cacherais (You would hide)

Il/elle/on cacherait (He, she, it, one would hide)

Nous cacherions (We would hide)

Vous cacheriez (You [polite] / You all would hide)

Ils/elles cacheraient (They would hide)

Likewise, for “-re” verbs, we take off the “-e” and add the endings.

Prendre (to take):

Je prendrais (I would take)

Tu prendrais (You would take)

Il/elle/on prendrait (He, she, it, one would take)

Nous prendrions (We would take)

Vous prendriez (You [polite] / You all would take)

Ils/elles prendraient (They would take)

Conjugating the Past Conditional Tense

Use the past conditional tense to talk about something that might have happened in the past, but didn’t. It’s like the English construction “would have.” We’re going to apply the same concept as in the futur antérieur. The only difference now is that, instead of using the futur simple form of the auxiliary verb, we’ll use the conditional form as follows:

Prendre (to take):

J’aurais pris (I would have taken)

Tu aurais pris (You would have taken)

Il/elle/on aurait pris (He, she, it, one would have taken)

Nous aurions pris (We would have taken)

Vous auriez pris (You [polite] / You all would have taken)

Ils/elles auraient pris (They would have taken)

In the case of verbs which take être as the auxiliary verb, you may already be able to predict the process:

Venir (to come):

Je serais venu(e) (I would have come)

Tu serais venu(e) (You would have come)

Il/elle serait venu(e) (He, she, it, one would have come)

Nous serions venus(/es) (We would have come)

Vous seriez venu/venue/venus/venues (You [polite] / You all would have come)

Ils/elles seraient venus(/ues) (They would have come)

Conjugating in the Imperative and Subjunctive Moods

Just when you thought you were done, I’m here to tell you that French conjugation doesn’t just depend on tense. It also depends on mood. So far we’ve been working with the indicative mood, used for expressing statements of fact or objectivity. But there are two other important moods in French. The first is the imperative mood, used to express orders and commands. And the second is the subjunctive mood, which is used for moments of doubt or uncertainty.

Conjugating in the Imperative Mood

In most verbs, the imperative (giving orders) uses the same conjugation as the present simple tense. For example:

Prendre (to take):

(Tu) prends ça! ([You] Take this!)

(Nous) prenons ça! (Let’s take this!)

(Vous) prenez ça! ([You/You all] Take this!)

Note that there’s no imperative conjugation for je, il/elle/on or ils/elles.

A few irregular verbs do have irregular forms in the imperative mood as well:

Être (to be):

(Tu) sois gentil! ([You] Be nice!)

(Nous) soyons gentil! (Let’s be nice!)

(Vous) soyez gentil! ([You/You all] Be nice!)

Avoir (to have):

(Tu) aie confiance! ([You] Have faith!)

(Nous) ayons confiance! (Let’s have faith!)

(Vous) ayez confiance! ([You/You all] Have faith!)

Conjugating in the Subjunctive Mood

To fully explain the French subjunctive would require a whole other article. For our purposes, think of the subjunctive mood as a way to express doubt or emotion. For example:

Je sais qu’il est ici (I know that he is here) uses the indicative mood, but…

Je doute qu’il soit ici (I doubt he is here) uses the subjunctive mood.

In most verbs, the only difference between the normal (indicative) conjugation and the subjunctive conjugation is that you have to add an “i” in the nous and vous forms. For example:

Nous cachons vs. Nous cachions

Vous cachez vs. Vous cachiez

However, some verbs are exceptions and have different conjugations. This is the case for our favorite irregulars: être, aller, avoir and faire.

Être (to be):

Je sois (I am)

Tu sois (You are)

Il/elle/on soit (He, she, it, one is)

Nous soyons (We are)

Vous soyez (You [polite] / You all are)

Ils/elles soient (They are)

Aller (to go):

J’aille (I go)

Tu ailles (You go)

Il/elle/on aille (He, she, it, one goes)

Nous allions (We go)

Vous alliez (You [polite] / You all go)

Ils/elles aillent (They go)

Avoir (to have):

J’aie (I have)

Tu aies (You have)

Il/elle/on ait (He, she, it, one has)

Nous ayons (We have)

Vous ayez (You [polite] / You all have)

Ils/elles aient (They have)

Faire (to do/make):

Je fasse (I do/make)

Tu fasses (You do/make)

Il/elle/on fasse (He, she, it, one does/makes)

Nous fassions (We do/make)

Vous fassiez (You [polite] / You all do/make)

Ils/elles fassent (They do/make)

Online French Conjugation Resources for Reinforcing Everything you Just Learned

Phew! You made it to the end.

Feeling good? Good. Me too. This may seem like a lot of information to digest, but soon, it’ll all feel like second-nature. Just think of all the French learners who have mastered this before you!

As you learn, I recommend making use of one of the many great online conjugators available for free, as well as fantastic resources for practicing what you’ve just learned.

WordReference’s Conjugator

the-ins-and-outs-of-french-verb-conjugation

WordReference’s Conjugator tool has to be the most comprehensive conjugator around. Just type in the verb and every possible conjugation appears. WordReference is well-organized and succinctly explains every conjugation, including highlighted stem changes and rarely used, mostly literary, conjugations.

FluentU

the-ins-and-outs-of-french-verb-conjugation

FluentU is an online learning platform that turns real-world videos into authentic language-learning materials. FluentU features hundreds of videos in French, created by native speakers! Because the videos are taken from authentic sources, you’ll hear tons of different conjugations mixed together in every video. This makes for great practice for surviving actual French conversations!

Each FluentU video features interactive subtitles. If you see a conjugation you don’t understand, simply click on the word in the subtitle for a translation, more information and example sentences.

Conjugation-fr

the-ins-and-outs-of-french-verb-conjugation

Conjugation-fr is another great practice resource. It offers a database of over 12,000 French verbs, making it perfect for whenever you get stuck in the middle of French reading or writing practice. One advantage of this tool is that it gives a brief summary of each verb along with its translation. Plus, its accessible format makes for easy reading and learning.

Francais Interactif

the-ins-and-outs-of-french-verb-conjugation

If you want some extra practice, the University of Texas has made French conjugation exercises freely available at Francais Interactif. They offer over a hundred different lessons, so there’s truly something for everyone here! You can also filter exercises by the type of verb and the verb tense, for extra targeted practice.

ListeningPractice.org

the-ins-and-outs-of-french-verb-conjugation

This website offers a free game to practice your French conjugation skills. It has a ton of options for customization: you can sort by how common the verb is, by tense, by pronoun or by level of difficulty. You can even make an account to track your progress over time!

 

Conjugating French correctly takes commitment and practice. Fortunately, most verbs you’ll come across fall into predictable categories in all their forms. In time, you’ll master irregular verbs as well as uncommon French tenses that show up in literature. If you keep practicing, French conjugation will become second nature to you in no time at all!
 

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