French Verb Conjugation: Learning How to Speak Like a Native

French Verb ConjugationLearning French can be a challenge, much like learning any foreign language. Some of the most important parts of becoming fluent are nailing the accent and more importantly memorizing how to conjugate verbs. A verb is a word that describes an action, so to swim, to eat, and to run are verbs. These are obviously important words to learn as they help you describe what you or someone else is doing. In French, there are five different types of verbs: -ER, -RE, -IRE (regular verbs), irregular verbs and stem changing verbs. There is a great French Grammar for Beginners online that can help you understand the difference between regular, irregular and stem-changing verbs.

Verbs are a tricky component to any sentence as you have to change them depending on the subject (or noun). In English we may say something like I swim every day, but when we talk about someone else swimming, we change the verb swim to swims. Karen swims every day. This change is called a conjugation. We conjugate verbs for all pronouns and usually use something called a verb table to display the conjugation for each different pronoun (we will cover this below). There are regular and irregular verbs and the conjugations will vary for each type. Unfortunately, the easiest way to remember a lot of the conjugations is just to memorize. Sometimes, like with regular verbs, you can use a rule of thumb to help you as you try to find the right fit. If you’re in a bit of a rush to learn French (like you’ve got a trip coming up soon) you can try this course called How to Learn French Fast. Or, you can read this handy article on learning a language in ten days.

Verb Tables

As mentioned above, verb tables are used to easily display a verb and all of its different forms. In English a simple verb table for to do would look like this:

 PresentFutureImperfect
Idowill dodid
Youdowill dodid
He/she/itdoeswill dodid
You (plural)dowill dodid
theydowill dodid

 

The conjugations above look similar to the root verb to do, that’s because to do is a regular verb in English. Now look at the difference below.

The French word for to do is être and its simple verb table looks like this:

 PresentFutureImperfect
Je/j’suisseraiétais
Tuesserasétais
il/elleestseraétait
noussommesseronsétions
vousêtesserezétiez
Ils/ellessontserontétaient

 

You’ll notice that the root verb être looks a lot different in the conjugation table. It takes on forms like sommes and serons that look nothing like the root itself. That is because even though être is an –RE verb, it’s also an irregular verb which means it transforms irregularly when conjugated.

Regular Verbs

Regular verbs will generally have similar conjugation patterns no matter the root verb (swim, run, eat / swims, runs, eats). In French, “regular” verbs are considered those that end in –ER, -RE and –IR. Once you learn how to conjugate a verb with each of those endings, you can apply the same rules to all other similar verbs in any tense. This makes it pretty easy to learn. When you conjugate regular verbs in French you have to add endings to each stem verb. The stem verb is just the verb without the infinitive ending (-ER, -RE or –IR). For a French Beginner, there is an online tutorial that can help you navigate your way through the foundation of the French language. It’s called Beginner French Part One.

-ER endings:

Je/j’-e
Tu-es
Il/elle/on-e
Nous-ons
Vous-ez
Ils/ells-ent

 

Here is an example of an –RE ending verb conjugated:

  • Verb: parler
  • Stem: parl-
Je/j’Parle
TuParles
Il/elle/onParle
Nousparlons
Vousparlez
Ils/ellsparlent

 

-IR endings:

Je/j’-is
Tu-is
Il/elle/on-it
Nous-issons
Vous-issez
Ils/ells-issent

 

Here is an example of an –IR ending verb conjugated:

  • Verb: choisir
  • Stem: chois-
Je/j’choisis
Tuchoisis
Il/elle/onchoisit
Nouschoisissons
Vouschoisissez
Ils/ellschoisissent

 

-RE Endings

Je/j’-s
Tu-s
Il/elle/on
Nous-ons
Vous-ez
Ils/ells-ent

 

Here is an example of an –RE verb conjugated:

  • Verb: descendre
  • Stem: descend-
Je/j’descends
Tudescends
Il/elle/ondescend
Nousdescendons
Vousdescendez
Ils/ellsdescendent

 

Stem Changing Verbs

When you go to conjugate these type of verbs, just remember that the endings will resemble those of the above –ER ending verbs; however, the stem itself will change. There are six different types of stem changing verbs determined by the final four letters of the word. As you get more familiar with the language and begin to make these conjugations naturally, you should check out French for Beginners Part Two. It’s going to help steer you as you continue your French language education!

Six types of stem changing verbs:

1.     –ayer

Verbs ending in –ayer have an optional stem change. This is where y changes to I, except when using the pronoun nous or vous. For example:

Verb: payer

  • Je paie
  • Tu paies
  • Il paie
  • Nous payons
  • Vous payez
  • Ils paient

Or, you can conjugate them like any other –ER verb

  • Je paye
  • Tu payes
  • Il paye
  • Nous payons
  • Vois payez
  • Ils payent

Both of these ways are acceptable ways to conjugate this type of verb.

2.     –eler

With this group of verbs, you just double the l and conjugate the verbs like you would an –ER verb. You don’t double the l for nous and vous.

Verb: appeler

  • J’ appellee
  • Tu appelles
  • Il appellee
  • Nous appelons
  • Vous appelez
  • Ils appellant

3.     –eter

Like in example number 2, here, you will double the t except for with nous and vous.

  • Je jette
  • Tu jettes
  • Il jette
  • Nous jetons
  • Vous jetez
  • Ils jettent

4.     -e_er

The _ represents any letter that may be there. This stem change includes changing the e before the _ to è, in all forms but nous and vous.

  • Je lève
  • Tu lèves
  • Il lève
  • Nous levons
  • Vous levez
  • Ils lèvent

5.     é_er

This is a discreet change for the eye, but makes all the difference in meaning. The é is changed to è except for with nous and vous.

  • Je considère
  • Tu considères
  • Il considère
  • Nous considérons
  • Vous considérez
  • Ils considèrent

6.     -oyer and uyer

Change y to I except for with nous and vous.

  • je nettoie
  • tu nettoies
  • il nettoie
  • nous nettoyons
  • vous nettoyez
  • ils nettoient

Irregular Verbs

Irregular verbs can be a bit more difficult to remember as there are no real patterns for these type of verbs. The best way to remember them is to just study and memorize them in all their different forms.

The Past Tense

Conjugating verbs in the past tense is quite different than conjugating in the past tense. A lot of the time the French root verb needs the past participle and to be accompanied with the French word avoir. This is common in a lot of language, where a root word is combined with another word or a prefix to identify the statement as being of the past. For example, the word apprende, meaning to learn is an irregular verb that is conjugated to apprais when used as a past participle. However, if you want to say I learned you would need to use the word avoir and appris to make sense. J’ai appris, or, I learned.

So there you have it, French verb conjugations made easy. It will take a lot of memorizing and practice, but with time you will be a conjugating natural. If you’re ready to be conversational in French, you can use this Conversational French online course to guide you.