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The French Verb Forms Explained Once and for All

French Verb forms enable you to form sentences to talk about the present, the past or the future. It can seem overwhelming when you first hear about how many of them there are and how the list just never seems to end, but it’s actually very simple. Let’s embark on a fun and quick learning venture into the realm of French grammar shall we? 

French Verb Form 1: L’infinitif (Infinitive)

The skeleton with which you form a conjugated verb is the infinitive form. This is when the verb is unconjugated like parler(to talk)

J’éspère partir à midi (I am hoping to leave at noon)

French Verb Form 2: L’indicatif (Indicative)

Your general French conversations will use many common tenses which come under this category. It branches out further into other subcategories too. Let’s go through the indicative journey:

1. Past Forms

– Passé Composé

The purpose of this tense is to talk about an action which has occurred in the past, is incomplete or continuing.
J’ai entendu la musique à la radio (I heard the music on the radio)

– Passé Simple

It’s similar to the previous tense except it’s used in more formal situations.
Tu voyageais? (You travelled?)

– L’imparfait

Use this to describe actions that are on repeat, continued, incomplete or occur habitually.
Nous finissions notre nourriture quand le téléphone a sonné (We were finishing our food when the phone rang)

– Passé antérieur (Past Anterior)

Although rarely used in conversations, the literary texts are made more refined through this tense.
Si seulement elle avait participé (If only she had participated…)

– Le plus-que-parfait (Past Perfect)

This is employed when talking about an action that occurs before another one.
Si seulement elle avait participé, ils auraient vu son talent  (If only she had participated, they would have seen her talent)

Watch the video below to see more examples:

2. Present Form

– Présent (Present Tense)

Whether you talk about facts, actions which are repeated or an event currently happening.
Elle prend ses propres photos (She takes her own photos)

3. Future Form

– Futur (Future Tense)

Any action that has the possibility of occurring in the future is spoken about through this concept.
J’étudierai une fois mon ami parti (I will study once my friend leaves)

– Le futur antérieur (Future Anterior)

If we know that a certain action will be completed at a set time in the coming future, we use this tense to talk about it.
Quand il aura vu ses parents, il se sentira mieux (When he sees his parents, he will feel better)


French Verb Form 3: Le participle present (Present Participle)

Wondering what this could possibly be? Look at the first word of the question. All the words ending in ‘ing’ are grouped in this category.

Elle lisait en mangeant (She read while eating)

French Verb Form 4: L’impératif (Imperative)

If you have a command to express, the imperative tense is your best friend. Only the tu, nous, vous forms are used.

Prenons un taxi! (Let’s take a taxi!)

French Verb Form 5: Le conditionnel (Conditional)

When talking about an idea or opinion that depends on a ‘condition’, this verb form is employed.

1. Past Form

– Le passé première forme (The first form)

Sometimes there are situations that could have happened in the past but due to some reasons, they didn’t.
Nous serions sortis si nous n’avions pas cours  (We would have gone out if we did not have class)

– Le passé deuxième forme (The second form)

This form is mostly prevalent in literature. Pick up a novel in French and try finding this tense. Its use is similar to the first form’s.
Si je l’eu su, je ne l’aurais pas pris différemment  (If I had known, I would not have taken it differently)

2. Present Form

– Le present

Setting a condition in the past that could be.
Elle achèterait si elle pouvait (She would buy if she could)

French Verb Form 6: Le subjonctif (Subjunctive)

Your emotions or opinions deserve grammar of their own. Remember from the ‘sub’ in subjonctif that these are mostly within the subordinate clause, and the hint to identify them in French is to look for ‘que’ (that/which) before a verb.

1. Past Forms

– Passé of subjunctive

For an action that has already happened.
Elle est ravie que tu sois venu à la fête (She’s delighted that you came to the party)

– Imparfait of subjunctive

An action that has been commanded or has to happen is described with this tense. It’s rarely used.
Il fallait qu’elle lui parlât (It was necessary that she speak to him)

– Plus-que-parfait of subjunctive

Another tense that’s rarely used but doesn’t hurt to know especially if you are a literature enthusiast.
J’eusse aimé te voir (I would have liked to see you)

2. Present Form

Expressing an emotion of judgement in the present.

Nous voulons qu’il soit heureux (We want him to be happy)

Now that you have the power of verb forms in your hands, put it to good use through diving deeper into each one. See you next chapter!

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