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French Conjugation: A Simple And Comprehensive Guide

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French Conjugation is probably one of the hardest things to learn and it’s definitely something which takes a lot of time and patience to master. So if you’re after a straightforward explanation on everything there is to know on French conjugation, you’re in luck!

Ready to get the hang of French Conjugation?

Present Tense Conjugation

The present tense is used to talk about actions that happen repeatedly or continued actions happening in the present moment. It also works to form simple statements and to talk about something that is always true.

Verbs Ending in -er, -ir, -re

To form the present tense in French, simply take the infinitive of the verb, drop the -er, -ir or -re and add the appropriate ending.

Below is a table of the endings for regular -er, -ir and -re verbs.

PronounEndings of Regular -er VerbsEndings of Regular -ir VerbsEndings of Regular -re Verbs
Je (I)eiss
Tu (You)esiss
Il/Elle/On (He/She/One)eit
Nous (We)onsissonsons
Vous (You, Formal/Plural)ezissezez
Ils/Elles (They)entissentent

As an example, let’s conjugate the verb Remplir (to fill) to see how it works when you have an -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)

Conjugating -er and -re regular verbs works in the exact same way.

*Ils can be used to talk about a group of only men or a group of both men and women. Elles is only used for a group of women. Watch out for this when it comes to needing gender agreement!

Example:
Ils dansent bien ensemble (They dance well together)

 

Irregular Verbs in the Present Tense

It’s essential to remember that irregular verbs differ in conjugation from the regular verbs.

Let’s have a look at two examples below: Avoir (to have) and Savoir (to know).

PronounConjugation of Verb AvoirPronounConjugation of Verb Savoir
Je/J’ (I)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)

Passé Composé Conjugation

The passé composé allows you to discuss a specific action or a succession of specific actions that took place in the past. It’s also used to talk about old circumstances which are still prevalent in the present. This tense is often used in spoken French.

It’s formed in the following way: Pronoun + auxiliary verb conjugated in the present tense + past participle.

The auxiliary verbs to use when forming the passé composé are the irregular verbs être and avoir.

Rules

  1. If the verb ends in -er, then the -er is dropped from the infinitive and é is added to form the past participle. Example: parler becomes parlé.
  2. If the verb ends in -ir, then the -ir is dropped from the infinitive and i is added to form the past participle. Example: finir becomes fini.
  3. If the verb ends in -re, then the -re is dropped from the infinitive and u is added to form the past participle. Example: attendre becomes attendu.

In the table below, the verb descendre (to go down) is conjugated with its auxiliary verb être. Other regular -er and -ir verbs are conjugated in the same way with their respective auxiliary verb (for example finir would follow the same pattern but with avoirinstead.)

PronounConjugation 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/One came 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 know which auxiliary verb to use is mostly by memorising which one goes with what verb. The good news is that être is quite often used alongside verbs that describe some form of movement like ascendre (to go up), partir (to leave) etc.

*The past participle form of the verb following the auxiliary être always agrees with gender and number of the pronoun.

The video below is a great explanation of the auxiliary verbs used in many French Tenses:

Imparfait Conjugation

If 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 the imparfait tense is the one to use. Unlike the passé compose, there are no auxiliary verbs in the imperfect tense.

It’s formed in the following way: pronoun + present conjugation stem + imparfait ending

Let’s look at the verb Habiter (to live) as an example.

PronounImparfait Ending For All Regular VerbsConjugation
Je/J’ (I)aisJ’habitais (I lived)
Tu (You)aisHabitais (You lived)
Il/Elle/On (He/She/One)aitHabitait
(He/She/One lived)
Nous (We)ionsHabitions (We lived)
Vous (You, Formal/Plural)iezHabitiez (You lived)
Ils/Elles (They)aientHabitaient (They lived)

Plus-que-parfait Conjugation

The plus-que-parfait is the same as the past perfect tense in English. It’s used in relation to events or actions which took place in the past before another event or action.

It’s formed in the following way: pronoun + auxiliary verb conjugated in the imparfait tense + past participle

Let’s look at the example of the verb Danser (to dance) which is conjugated with the auxiliary avoir.

PronounConjugation of Verb ‘Danser’(with 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 is followed by verbs using the auxiliary être. 

Futur Simple Conjugation

When you’re wanting to talk about something that might happen in the future, the futur simple is the tense to use.

It’s formed in the following way : pronoun + infinitive verb + futur simple endings

Rules

  1. For verbs ending in -er and -ir , the endings shown in the table below are added after the letter r.
  2. For re verbs, the ‘e’ is dropped and the endings shown in the table below are added instead.

Let’s look at an example of the -re verb Fondre (to melt).

PronounEndingsConjugation
Je (I)aifondrai (I will melt)
Tu (You)asfondras (You will melt)
Il/Elle/On (He/She/One)afondra (He/She/One will melt)
Nous (We)onsfondrons (We will melt)
Vous (You, Formal/Plural)ezfondrez (You will melt)
Ils/Elles (They)ontfondront (They will melt)

Futur Antérieur Conjugation

Just like plus-que-parfait, the futur antérieur is a tense used in relation to events or actions which took place in the past before another event or action.

It’s formed in the following way: pronoun + auxiliary verb conjugated in the futur simple tense) + past participle
Let’s look at the example of the verb Partir (to leave) conjugated with the auxiliary être.

PronounConjugation of Verb Partir (with Être)
Je (I)serai parti (I will be gone)
Tu (You)seras parti (You will be gone)
Il/Elle/On (He/She/One)sera parti(e) (He/She/One will be gone)
Nous (We)serons partis (We will be gone)
Vous (You, Formal/Plural)serez partis (You will be gone)
Ils/Elles (They)seront parti(e)s (They will be gone)

To conjugate verbs used with the auxiliary avoir the same pattern is followed. An easy way to do this is to drop the ‘ser‘ at the beginning of the conjugated auxiliary verb être, and replace it with ‘aur‘ (the stem of the auxiliary verb avoir conjugated in the futur simple tense).

Futur Proche Conjugation

When you want to talk about something that you ‘are going to do’ in the future, the future proche is used.

It’s formed in the following way: pronoun + aller conjugated in the present tense + action verb in infinitive
Let’s look at the verb Chanter (to sing) in the table below. All regular verbs follow the same pattern.

PronounConjugation 
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)

 

Phew! Stay with me, just a few more tenses to go!

Conditionnel Présent Conjugation

This tense is used when you are talking about something that would happen.

It’s formed in the following way: pronoun + infinitive verb stem + present conditional ending

Rules

  1. For verbs ending in -er and -ir, the conditionnel présent endings are simply added after the ‘r‘. For verbs ending in -re, the ‘e‘ at the end is dropped and the appropriate conditionnel présent ending is added instead.

Let’s look at the example of the verb Prendre(to take)

PronounEndingsConjugation
Je (I)aisprendrais (I would take)
Tu (You)aisprendrais (You would take)
Il/Elle/On (He/She/One)aitprendrait (He/She/On would take)
Nous (We)ionsprendrions (We would take)
Vous (You, Formal/Plural)iezprendriez (You would take)
Ils/Elles (They)aientprendraient (They would take)

Conditionnel Passé Conjugation

If you want to talk about events in the past that would have happened but didn’t, this is when the past conditional tense is used.

It’s formed in the following way: pronoun + auxiliary verb conjugated in the conditionnel présent tense + past participle
Below is an example of the verb Choisir (to choose) conjugated with the auxiliary verb avoir.

PronounConjugation of verb Choisir (with 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)

Impératif Conjugation

The Imperative mood revolves around orders.

It’s formed in the same way as the present simple tense, but only includes the tu, nous and vous forms.

Let’s look at an example of  the verb Ecouter (to listen).

[Tu] écoute-moi! (Listen to me!)
[Nous] écoutons-moi! (Listen to me!)
[Vous] écoutez-moi! (Listen to me!)

Irregular verbs also exist in imperative forms such as Faire (to do)

[Tu] fais! (Do!)
[Nous] faisons! (Let’s do!)
[Vous] faites! (You do!)

Subjonctif Conjugation

Whenever you want to express any doubt or talk about your emotions, opinions, hopes, or preferences; use subjunctives. In the subjonctifprésent, you’ll notice that it’s conjugated in the exact same way as the Present Tense, with the only difference being the ‘i‘ which is added in the nous and vous forms.
Have a look at the example below of the verb ‘Chercher’ (to look).

PronounConjugation
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)

Example:
Il faut que j’aille chercher ma mère
(I need to go and collect my mother)

 

You did it – you made it to the end! Give yourself a great big pat on the back, you deserve it; french conjugation is no easy feat.

See you next lesson – and in the meantime, don’t forget to practice! If you need any help don’t hesitate to get into contact with one of our online French Tutors.

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