French Present Tense 101: What You Should Know
Learning the French present tense is a breeze with our simple guide. Get an overview of common present tense conjugations and the different everyday situations where present tense is useful.
While the list of French verbs seems endless, you could learn the present tense conjugation of most of them in about a month. All you need is a solid understanding of the usual conjugation patterns (and a few unusual ones too).
Common Uses of French Present Tense
You won’t go very far in French without the present tense. It’s used more frequently than the English present tense, and 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 need to know the right ending. There are two types of verbs in French: regular and irregular.
1. Regular verbs are easy to learn since they follow fixed patterns. There are three different regular verbs endings that you should learn.
French regular verb endings:
Next, we will list the pattern each ending follows.
Regular Verbs With an -er Ending
About 90% of French verbs have an -er ending.
Learning to conjugate -er verbs will enable you to conjugate almost all French verbs. The rule for these verbs is easy: Drop the -er ending and instead use -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 a few that are irregular.
Drop the -ir ending and replace it with -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
Regular endings for -re verbs follow a similar pattern. Drop the -re ending and use -s, nothing, -ons, -ez, or -ent instead.
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?
2. Irregular French verbs enjoy special treatment — you need to pay individual attention to each one. Don’t go after all the irregular verbs in the dictionary, though. Start with learning the most common.
Here are some of the most common French irregular verbs that you should learn:
|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. However, that doesn’t mean you should just recite conjugation tables all day long.
Here are our pro tips to help you learn the French present tense conjugation fast:
- In the beginning, put your efforts toward learning the regular patterns of -er, -ir and -re verbs.
- Don’t get overwhelmed by irregular verbs. The common ones here are a great start and will come in very handy.
As always, you’ll be able to learn and use it more effectively when you engage with the French present tense (writing and speaking) as much as possible. And if you get stuck, connect with our French tutors for help.