The only way you can construct sentences in French is if you learn the art of conjugation. With the various forms of tenses or verb forms (present, past, future), understanding the basic in each will help you become stronger in both writing and speaking. It’s about knowing when to place which pronouns, auxiliary verbs, participles etc, all which act on a verb according to subject, mood or tense.
Let’s dip our toes into what these are.
Present Tense Conjugation
As our understanding is, present tense works to talk about happenings occurring in the moment or repeatedly. At times, it’s also used for talking about truths.
Pronoun + Conjugated Verb = Present Tense
Verbs Ending In –er, -ir, -re
- The second, third and fourth columns are endings that most of the regular -er, -ir and -re verbs will hold. So, if you learn them, you can conjugate almost every regular verb in those categories in present tense.
- You take the infinitive of the verb, drop the -er, -ir, -re and add the endings.
Below is a table of all three with their specific endings.
|Pronoun||Endings of Regular -er Verbs||Endings of Regular -ir Verbs||Endings of Regular -re Verbs|
|Vous (You, Formal/Plural)||ez||issez||ez|
Let’s conjugate the verb ‘Remplir’ (to fill) and see how it works with the -ir ending.
Je remplis (I fill)
Tu remplis (You fill)
Il/Elle//On remplit (He/She/One fills)
Nous remplissons (We fill)
Vous remplissez (You fill) – Formal and Plural
Ils/Elles remplissent (They fill)
Now do the same for Verbs with -er or -re endings.
* Be careful of gender agreements. On one hand ‘Ils’ can be used for a group of men or men and women but ‘Elles’ is only for a group of women.
Ils dansent bien ensemble (They dance well together)
Irregular Verbs in Present Tense
|Pronoun||Conjugation of Verb ‘Avoir’||Pronoun||Conjugation of Verb ‘Savoir’|
|Je (I)||(J)’ai(I have)||Je (I)||sais(I know)|
|Tu (You)||as(You have)||Tu (You)||sais(You know)|
|Il/Elle/On (He/She/One)||a(He/She/One have)||Il/Elle/On (He/She/One)||sait(He/She/One knows)|
|Nous (We)||avons(We have)||Nous (We)||savons(We know)|
|Vous (You, Formal/Plural)||avez(You have)||Vous (You, Formal/Plural)||savez(You know)|
|Ils/Elles (They)||ont(They have)||Ils/Elles (They)||savent(They know)|
Verbs Conjugation in Passé Composé
This tense is for describing happenings of the past with a set date of the start and end of the same. It also talks about circumstances of the past that spill into the present.
Pronoun + auxiliary verb + conjugation in present + past participle = passé composé
The heroes of auxiliary verbs here are the irregular verbs – être and avoir. Here the words don’t mean what their original meanings are.
- If the verb is -er ending, then the -er is dropped from the infinitive and past participle é is added. Example: parler becomes parlé.
- If the verb is -ir ending, then the -ir is dropped from the infinitive and past participle ‘i’ is added. Example: finir becomes fini.
- If the verb is -re ending, then the -re is dropped from the infinitive and past participle ‘u’ is added. Example: attendre becomes attendu.
Below is ‘descendre’ (to go down) conjugated with its auxiliary verbs. If it another verb, like ‘finir’ then the same patter would be followed except with avoir.
|Pronoun||Conjugation of Verb ‘Descendre’(in être)|
|Je (I)||suis descendu(I came down)|
|Tu (You)||es descendu(You came down)|
|Il/Elle/On (He/She/One)||est descendu(e) (He/She(e)/One went down)|
|Nous (We)||sommes descendus (We came down)|
|Vous (You, Formal/Plural)||êtes descendu(e)s (You came down)|
|Ils/Elles (They)||sont descendu(e)s (They came down)|
*The trick to knowing when to use which auxiliary verb is mostly memorization. The good news is that être comes mostly with verbs that have some movement like ascendre (to go up), partir (to leave) etc.
* Another important point to remember is that the verb conjugated in être agrees with gender and number.
Conjugation in Imperfect Tense
Suppose you want to discuss something that happened in the past but on a continuous basis like a habit or an action which is no longer happening, then use imperfect or imparfait tense. Unlike passé compose, there are no auxiliary verbs.
Pronoun + present conjugation + imparfait ending
Let’s look at the example of verb ‘Habiter’ (to live).
|Pronoun||Imparfait Ending For ‘All’ Regular Verbs||Conjugation|
|Je (I)||ais||j’habitais(I lived)|
|Tu (You)||ais||habitais(You lived)|
|Nous (We)||ions||habitions(we lived)|
|Vous (You, Formal/Plural)||iez||habitiez(you lived)|
|Ils/Elles (They)||aient||habitaient(they lived)|
Conjugation in Plus-que-parfait
This is used in relation to past events which completed their occurrence in the past itself but appear before another event.
Pronoun + auxiliary verb (conjugation in imparfait tense) + past participle = plus-que-parfait
Let’s look at the example of the verb ‘Danser’ (to dance) which is conjugated with avoir.
|Pronoun||Conjugation of Verb ‘Danser’(in Avoir)|
|Je (I)||(J)’avais dansé|
(I had danced)
|Tu (You)||avais dansé|
(You had danced)
|Il/Elle/On (He/She/One)||avait dansé|
(He/She/One had danced)
|Nous (We)||avions dansé|
(We had danced)
|Vous (You, Formal/Plural)||aviez dansé(You had danced)|
|Ils/Elles (They)||avaient dansé(They had danced)|
The same pattern will be followed for être but with the auxiliary verb changing respectively but starting with ‘ét’ + the imparfait endings.
Conjugation of Futur Simple
In cases you want to talk about something that might happen in the future, future simple tense is employed.
Pronoun + infinitive verb + futur simple endings = Future Simple
- For ‘-er’ and ‘-ir’ verbs, the endings as shown in the table remain the same.
- For re’ verbs, the endings are the same except you drop the ‘e’ and then add.
Let’s look at the example of -re verb ‘Fondre’ (to melt).
|Je (I)||ai||fondrai(I will melt)|
|Tu (You)||as||fondras(You will melt)|
|Il/Elle/On (He/She/One)||a||fondra(He/She/One will melt)|
|Nous (We)||ons||fondrons(We will melt)|
|Vous (You, Formal/Plural)||ez||fondrez (You will melt)|
|Ils/Elles (They)||ont||fondront(They will melt)|
Conjugation of Futur Antérieur
Just like plus-que-parfait, the events described happen before the main but in the future.
Pronoun + auxiliary verb (conjugated in future) + passé compose participle ending = Futur Antérieur
Let’s look at the example of Verb ‘Partir’ (to leave) conjugated in être.
|Pronoun||Conjugation of Verb Partir (in Être)|
|Je (I)||serai parti(e)(I will be gone)|
|Tu (You)||seras parti(e)(You will be gone)|
|Il/Elle/On (He/She/One)||sera parti(e) (He/She/One will be gone)|
|Nous (We)||serons parti(e)s(We will be gone)|
|Vous (You, Formal/Plural)||serez parti(e)s(You will be gone)|
|Ils/Elles (They)||seront parti(e)s(They will be gone)|
* For the conjugation with verb avoir, same pattern will be followed except the auxiliary verb will start with ‘aur’ and have the same endings minus ‘ser’.
Conjugation of Futur Prochaine
When you want to talk about something that you ‘are going to’ do in the future, future prochaine is employed along with aller.
Pronoun + present tense of aller +action verb in infinitive = Futur Prochaine
Let’s look at the verb ‘Chanter’ (to sing). All regular verbs follow the same pattern.
|Je (I)||vais chanter(I am going to sing)|
|Tu (You)||vas chanter(You are going to sing)|
|Il/Elle/On (He/She/One)||va chanter(He/She/One is going to sing)|
|Nous (We)||allons chanter(We are going to sing)|
|Vous (You, Formal/Plural)||allez chanter(You are going to sing)|
|Ils/Elles (They)||vont chanter(They are going to sing)|
Conjugation of Present Conditional
This tense is used when someone talks about situations that ‘would’ happen.
Pronoun + Infinitive Verb + Endings = Present Conditional
- For verbs that end with ‘-er’ and ‘ir’ the endings remain the same but for ‘re’ the ‘e’ is dropped before the ending is added.
Let’s look at the example of verb ‘Prendre’.
|Je (I)||ais||prendrais(I would take)|
|Tu (You)||ais||prendrais(You would take)|
|Il/Elle/On (He/She/One)||ait||prendrait(He/She/On would take)|
|Nous (We)||ions||prendrions (We would take)|
|Vous (You, Formal/Plural)||iez||prendriez(You would take)|
|Ils/Elles (They)||aient||prendraient(They would take)|
Conjugation of Past Conditional
Suppose you want to talk about events in the past that would have happened but didn’t. This is when past conditional tense is employed.
Pronoun + auxiliary verb (conjugated in conditional form) + passé compose participle ending = Past Conditional
Let’s look at an example of verb ‘Choisir’ (to choose) conjugated with verb avoir.
|Pronoun||Conjugation of verb Choisir (in avoir)|
|Je (I)||(j’) aurais choisi (I would have chosen)|
|Tu (You)||aurais choisi(You would have chosen)|
|Il/Elle/On (He/She/One)||aurait choisi(He/She/One would have chosen)|
|Nous (We)||aurions choisi(We would have chosen)|
|Vous (You, Formal/Plural)||auriez choisi(You would have chosen)|
|Ils/Elles (They)||auraient choisi(They would have chosen)|
* By now you would have understood the pattern. Try conjugating a verb with être in past conditional tense.
Conjugation of Imperative Mood
It isn’t just tense that sways the conjugation, but mood also affects the same. Imperative mood revolves around orders. The format is the same as present simple tense.
Conjugation of infinitive + present tense endings = Imperative Mood
Let’s look at an example of verb ‘Ecouter’ (to listen).
[Tu] écoute-moi! (Listen to me!)
[Nous] écoutons-moi! (Listen to me)
[Vous] écoutez-moi! (Listen to me)
* Imperatives are not formed for any other pronouns.
* Even irregular verbs have their own forms. Let’s look at the example of verb ‘Faire’ (to do).
[Tu] fais (Do!)
[Nous] faisons (Let’s do!)
[Vous] faites (You do!)
Conjugation of Subjunctive
Whenever you want to show doubt or talk about your emotion, opinions, hopes, preferences etc, use subjunctives. Majority of the verbs just adopt ‘i’ in their nous and vous forms.
Let’s look at an example of verb ‘Chercher’ (to look).
|Je (I)||cherche(I look for)|
|Tu (You)||cherches(You look for)|
|Il/Elle/On (He/She/One)||cherche(He/She/One looks for)|
|Nous (We)||cherchions(We look for)|
|Vous (You, Formal/Plural)||cherchiez(You look for)|
|Ils/Elles (They)||cherchent(They look for)|
Il faut que j’aille chercher ma mère
(It is necessary that I go and collect my mother)
Do go through some examples of irregular verbs as they are different in conjugation.
So now that you have reached the end of this mountain of conjugation, hopefully you don’t reach the end of practicing. Pick up your pen, get the activities of each tense and mood out, and practice all you can. You may also get in touch with French Tutors for better understanding. See you next chapter!