French Present Tense 101: What You Should Know
Believe it or not, you don’t have to be a pro to master the French present tense. Yes, the list of French verbs seems long but you’d be surprised just how easy it is to learn how to conjugate them in the present tense. All you need is to get the hang of the conjugation patterns and you’re all set!
Sounds too simple? Have a quick read through our article and you’ll soon see what we mean!
Let’s walk through the basics first:
Common Uses of the French Present Tense
You won’t go very far in French without the present tense. It’s important to note that it’s not just for talking about what’s happening right now.
Some common uses include talking about:
- What’s going on right now
- Events in the near future
French Present Tense 2
|Present Tense Uses||Description||Examples|
|What’s going on +|
|You can use the French present tense to talk about what is happening, for example, that you are cooking spaghetti, or any other activity occurring as you speak. It works like the English present tense or the present progressive, which uses the -ing form.||Qu’est-ce que tu écris ? J’écris une lettre.
What are you writing? I’m writing a letter.
|Habits + facts||Whenever you are talking about habits, facts and universal truths, use the French present tense.||Quel genre de livres lis-tu ? J’aime beaucoup la science-fiction.
What kind of books you read? I really like scientific fiction.
|Events in the near future||You can also use the French present tense to talk about any event that is going to happen in the next hours, days or maybe even weeks. You must however add a time descriptor, such as demain (tomorrow), lundi (Monday) or la semaine prochaine (next week).||Je vais à l’université à partir de demain.
I’ll be going to college starting tomorrow.
The video below is a great introduction to common regular verbs in the present tense:
Types of French Verbs
To conjugate verbs in the French present tense, you first need to know about the different types of verbs. There are two types of verbs in French: regular and irregular.
1. Regular verbs
Regular verbs are easy to learn since they follow a fixed conjugation pattern. There are three different types of regular verbs:
Verbs ending in:
Regular Verbs With an -er Ending
About 90% of French verbs end in -er.
And once you know how they work, you’ll be able to conjugate almost all French verbs. The rule for these is easy: drop the -er ending and replace it with one of the following endings:
-e, -es, -e, -ons, -ez, or -ent
Parler (to speak)
French Present Tense 1
|je parle||nous parlons|
|tu parles||vous parlez|
|il/elle/on parle||ils/elles parlent|
Regular Verbs With an -ir Ending
These account for approximately 5% of French verbs. They too follow a pattern, except for a few that are irregular.
For these verbs, drop the -ir ending and replace it with one of the following endings:
-is, -is, -it, -issons, -issez, or -issent.
Finir (to finish)
|je finis||nous finissons|
|tu finis||vous finissez|
|il/elle/on finit||ils/elles finissent|
Regular Verbs With an -re Ending
The endings of regular -re verbs follow a similar pattern. Drop the -re ending and replace it with one of the following endings:
-s, -s, -ons, -ez, or -ent
Note: regular -re verbs conjugated in the il/elle/on form lose the -re ending too, however nothing replaces it.
Vendre (to sell)
|je vends||nous vendons|
|tu vends||vous vendez|
|il/elle/on vend||ils/elles vendent|
What about the complicated French irregular verbs?
Irregular French verbs enjoy special treatment, it’s important that you pay individual attention to each one. It’s best to start off with learning the most common ones.
Here are some you’ll come across the most:
|j’ai||je suis||je vais||je fais|
|tu as||tu es||tu vas||tu fais|
|il/elle/on a||il/elle/on est||il/elle/on va||il/elle/on fait|
|nous avons||nous sommes||nous allons||nous faisons|
|vous avez||vous êtes||vous allez||vous faites|
|ils/elles ont||ils/elles sont||ils/elles vont||ils/elles font|
Tips to Remember
There’s no way around it: if you want to speak French, you simply have to learn the present tense. But that doesn’t mean you need to spend your days reciting conjugation tables! Here are our pro tips to help you learn the French present tense conjugation fast:
- At the beginning, focus most of your learning on the regular patterns of -er, -ir and -re verbs. Once you are familiar with them, conjugating will become considerably easier.
- Try not to get too overwhelmed by irregular verbs. Once you know your way around regular verbs the irregular ones won’t seem so daunting; we promise! The most common ones are a great start though, and you’ll soon see just how handy they are.
And that brings us to the end of our guide on the French present tense. As with everything, practice makes perfect and learning this tense is no different. But if you are finding it tricky, don’t hesitate to connect with our French tutors for help.
See you next lesson!