31 Crucial French Irregular Verbs and How to Conjugate Them
When learning French it can be challenging to remember whether a verb is conjugated regularly or irregularly, and how the spelling changes depending on the form.
Patterns abound in regular verbs—whether you’re tackling the future tense, the past tense or even French grammar as a whole.
But there are some more patterns to find on the irregular side of things.
Let’s take a look at irregular verbs in French and try to point out as many patterns and groups as possible.
- Irregular vs. Regular French Verbs
- The Big Four Irregular French Verbs (Être, Avoir, Aller and Faire)
- Modal Verbs
- Irregular -ER Stem-changing Verbs
- Irregular -IR Verbs
- Irregular -OIR Verbs
- Irregular -RE Stem-changing Verbs
- Four Main Irregular -RE Verbs
- Other -RE Irregular Verbs
- How to Practice Irregular French Verbs
- And one more thing...
Irregular vs. Regular French Verbs
There are two types of verbs in French. The first type is called regular verbs. These verbs are regular because they follow a set pattern. These set patterns prevail in all tenses that a verb undergoes.
Primarily, regular verbs fall into one of three categories: verbs that end in -er, verbs that end in -ir or verbs that end in -re.
To conjugate these verbs in the present tense, simply chop off the last two letters and add the appropriate endings determined by the subject.
Irregular verbs, on the other hand, do not follow a pattern. Their final letters do not determine what conjugated endings they will receive.
As such, these verbs need to be memorized because even though there are far more regular verbs than irregular ones, irregular verbs encompass some of the most important and common verbs in the French language.
The Big Four Irregular French Verbs (Être, Avoir, Aller and Faire)
The following verbs are essential to know: être (to be), avoir (to have), aller (to go) and faire (to do/make). These four verbs are perhaps the most important irregular verbs in all of the French language.
Furthermore, the irregular verbs être (to be), avoir (to have) and aller (to go) are used in compound tenses: the first two being support verbs for the passé composé (the past perfect) and the third being a support verb for the futur proche (the near future).
Let’s see how these verbs are conjugated in the present tense:
Être (to be)
|Il est / Elle est
|Ils sont / Elles sont
|they are (masculine/feminine)
Avoir (to have)
|Il a / Elle a
|Ils ont / Elles ont
|they have (masculine/feminine)
Aller (to go)
|Il a / Elle a
|Ils ont / Elles ont
Faire (to do/make)
|Il fait / Elle fait
|Ils font / Elles font
Perhaps the second most important group of irregular verbs are the modals.
Modal verbs are a very special type of verb in French. They are a type of helping verb that modifies the “mood” of the unconjugated verb that comes afterward, which is a fancy way to say that these verbs indicate ability, possibility, desire or necessity.
For example, the verbs vouloir (to want), pouvoir (to be able to), devoir (to have to) and savoir (to know) are all modal verbs.
Check out their conjugations:
Vouloir (to want)
|Il veut / Elle veut
|Ils veulent / Elles veulent
Pouvoir (to be able to)
|Il peut / Elle peut
|Ils peuvent / Elles peuvent
Devoir (to have to)
|I have to
|you have to
|Il doit / Elle doit
|he/she has to
|we have to
|you have to
|Ils doivent / Elles doivent
|they have to
Savoir (to know)
|Il sait / Elle sait
|Ils savent / Elles savent
Irregular -ER Stem-changing Verbs
Those –er verbs you thought you had all figured out aren’t quite so regular after all but there are only a few exceptions.
In fact, these -er verb irregularities are called stem changes, and rather than being irregular verbs completely, they are simply a sub-class of -er verbs.
A stem change happens when the root of the verb (the base of the verb without -er) sees a spelling change before regular -er conjugation takes place.
With the subjects nous and/or vous, the conjugated verb is spelled differently from regular rules. Sometimes we need to add an extra letter. Other times, we must change or add an accent.
We’ll break down the main types of spelling-change verbs:
-Er Verbs with a “G”
-Er verbs that end with a “g” keep the “e” in the nous form. Some examples include manger (to eat) and nager (to swim)
The reason has to do with pronunciation. Based on standard rules of French pronunciation, mangons would be pronounced with a hard “g” (as in “gopher”) as opposed to a soft “g” (as in “Germany.”)
Thus, in order to retain the “j” sound, we say nous mangeons (we eat) and nous nageons (we swim).
The other subjects are conjugated like normal -er verbs.
Below are the conjugations for the irregular, stem-changing –er verbs appeler (to call) and manger (to eat).
Appeler (to call)
|Il appelle / Elle appelle
|Ils appellent / Elles appellent
With appeler, we double the “l” in certain conjugations to keep the longer -e sound before the “l.” If there were no double “l,” the preceding e would become a short e sound, which is not the correct pronunciation.
This same doubling-up happens with other verbs, as well such as rappeler (to call back) and jeter (to throw).
Manger (to eat)
|Il mange / Elle mange
|you eat (formal), you all eat
|Ils mangent / Elles mangent
Most verbs that end in –ger keep their e in the nous form to keep that “g” sound. Some other verbs that have this same change include bouger (to move), corriger (to correct) and voyager (to travel).
Accent Omission Verbs
Some verbs have accent changes depending on the subject they’re used with. Some example are acheter (to buy) and préférer (to prefer)
In the nous and vous forms, the conjugated verb more closely resembles the infinitive.
For instance, acheter has an accent in all conjugated forms except the nous and vous forms. Otherwise, they’re conjugated like regular -er verbs.
|Il achète / Elle achète
|Ils achètent / Elles achètent
Préférer is similar. The double accent aigu (acute accent) stays only in the nous and vous forms.
|Il préfère / Elle préfère
|Ils préfèrent / Elles préfèrent
Accent Addition Verbs
Similarly, verbs like commencer (to begin) and effacer (to erase) undergo an accent change. However, it’s that one is added (not omitted) in the nous and vous forms.
For pronunciation purposes, we must add a cédille (cedilla—the little “tail” accent) to the “c” in the nous and vous forms. Otherwise, these verbs are conjugated like typical -er verbs.
|Il commence / Elle commence
|Ils commencent / Elles commencent
Keep the “Y” Verbs
Additional major spelling-change verb types are those such as payer (to pay) and envoyer (to send), in which the “y” becomes an “i” in all forms except the nous and vous forms.
Otherwise, they’re conjugated like other -er verbs.
|Il paie / Elle paie
|Ils paient / Elles paient
Irregular -IR Verbs
The following –ir verbs are considered irregular: tenir (to keep) and venir (to come).
Tenir (to keep)
|Il tient / Elle tient
|Ils tiennent / Elles tiennent
Venir (to come)
|Il vient / Elle vient
|Ils viennent / Elles viennent
Some other verbs conjugated like these two include devenir (to become), obtenir (to obtain) and appartenir (to belong to).
Ouvrir (to open)
Confusingly, the verb ouvrir (to open) is different from a regular -ir verb because it’s conjugated like an –er verb. Check it out:
|Il ouvre / Elle ouvre
|Ils ouvrent / Elles ouvrent
Other verbs that are conjugated like this include découvrir (to discover) and couvrir (to cover).
Irregular Verbs in the Partir Family
Although these verbs aren’t simply built off one another, they’re conjugated in the same way as one another.
Remove the last three letters of the infinitive (“tir” or “mir”) and add the appropriate endings. The singular tense conjugations follow the pattern “s,” “s,” “t.”
The good news is that the plural forms closely resemble regular -er verbs. Partir means “to leave.” For example:
Je pars pour Angleterre demain (I leave for England tomorrow).
|Il part / Elle part
|Ils partent / Elles partent
Some other verbs in this group include sortir (to exit), mentir (to lie), dormir (to sleep) and sentir (to feel).
Irregular -OIR Verbs
The next two verbs end in –oir. When conjugated, voir and recevoir have the same endings, even though their stems change throughout the conjugation.
We’ll start with voir:
Voir (to see)
|Il voit / Elle voit
|Ils voient / Elles voient
Recevoir (to receive)
|Il reçoit / Elle reçoit
|Ils reçoivent / Elles reçoivent
Irregular -RE Stem-changing Verbs
Let’s start off simple with prendre and apprendre. These two verbs are almost regular except for a few stem changes. This is different from regular -re verbs because they drop an extra letter in the nous and vous forms.
Prendre (to take)
|Il prend / Elle prend
|Ils prennent / Elles prennent
Apprendre (to learn)
|Il apprend / Elle apprend
|Ils apprennent / Elles apprennent
Other verbs conjugated like these two include comprendre (to understand) and surprendre (to surprise).
Four Main Irregular -RE Verbs
Yay for more groups! These verbs are also conjugated similarly.
Rire (to laugh)
|Il rit / Elle rit
|Ils rient / Elles rient
Dire (to say)
|Il dit / Elle dit
|Ils disent / Elles disent
Écrire (to write)
|Il écrit / Elle écrit
|Ils écrivent / Elles écrivent
Lire (to read)
|Il lit / Elle lit
|Ils lisent / Elles lisent
Other -RE Irregular Verbs
Croire (to believe) and boire (to drink) are two more irregular verbs we can pair together. While their conjugations aren’t identical, they’re similar.
Croire (to believe)
|Il croit / Elle croit
|Ils croient / Elles croient
Boire (to drink)
|Il boit / Elle boit
|Ils boivent / Elles boivent
And the following are miscellaneous irregular –re verbs. The first two are almost regular -re verbs, but they drop an extra letter in their je, tu, il and elle forms.
Battre (to hit)
|Il bat / Elle bat
|Ils battent / Elles battent
Mettre (to put)
|Il met / Elle met
|Ils mettent / Elles mettent
Other verbs conjugated like mettre include admettre (to admit), permettre (to permit) and promettre (to promise).
The final irregular -re verb I’ll include—as well as the last in this post—is vivre (to live).
Vivre (to live)
|Il vit / Elle vit
|Ils vivent / Elles vivent
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How to Practice Irregular French Verbs
Once you finish soaking up this post, you’ll want to put your new knowledge to practice right away.
- First check out this article on Wikitionary for a complete list of irregular, present tense verbs in French.
- Laura K. Lawless of Lawless French has tons of great reference articles on irregular verbs (in addition to almost any topic of the French language). Following the link above, just click on the group you want to read more about (irregular -er, -ir or -re), and you’ll find helpful explanations and loads of clear examples.
- Her partner site Progress with Lawless French, powered by Kwiziq, has “kwizzes” you can take to practice grammar, assess your level and receive a personalized study plan. Free accounts are limited to 10 quizzes per month, while Premium accounts are available via a paid monthly subscription.
- To continue practicing, Conjuguemos, the University of Texas and About French also have some great free quizzes online.
- Sporcle French Irregular Verbs Quiz tests the most common and important irregular verbs: être, avoir, aller and faire (to be, to have, to go and to do, respectively).
- With “FrogVerb” Irregular Verbs, you help a frog catch the flies that have the proper conjugated form of the requested verb. It’s an engaging way to review irregular verbs. Plus, if you want to focus on specific verbs or keep ones you don’t know out of the game, you can customize which verbs appear.
- This 10-question multiple choice quiz is a quick and simple way to find out how well you understand French irregular verbs.
- This fill-in-the-blank quiz is also 10 questions (it does include some verbs not mentioned here) testing your knowledge of irregular verbs.
- Reverso Conjugation isn’t exactly a practice tool, but it’s a great reference source for double-checking how a specific verb is conjugated or for learning new verbs. Simply type in the verb you want and it’ll show you every possible form, including other tenses (past, future, subjunctive).
- Finally, you can always use a handy-dandy online conjugator for those times when you just can’t remember how to conjugate a verb.
The good news: the majority of French verbs follow the rules.
The bad news: the most common and important ones don’t.
The better news: you just learned what many of those verbs are, as well as how to conjugate and use them properly.
And one more thing...
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