French verbs: the basics Types of verbs Regular

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FRENCH VERBS: the basics
Types of verbs
Regular verbs: 3 families, grouped by endings

I. -er (ex: habiter, regarder, manger, chanter, danser); the largest group

II. -ir/iss (ex : finir, rougir, grossir) (but NOT sortir, partir, which are irregular)

III. -re (ex: vendre, répondre, entendre, attendre) (but NOT prendre/comprendre/apprendre, which

are irregular)
Irregular verbs: all the others.

Some fall into small “families” that have similar conjugations, such as prendre-


Common irregular verbs: aller, avoir, être, faire, prendre-comprendre-apprendre, sortir-

partir, dire, lire-écrire-conduire


To conjugate a verb means to run through all the correct forms in a specified tense with all the possible subject pronouns.

In French, the subject pronouns are…:

je nous

tu vous

il/elle/on ils/elles

…So, when you conjugate the irregular verb être in the present tense, you write:

je suis nous sommes

tu es vous êtes

il/elle/on est ils/elles sont


The verb tense refers to the forms of the verb used for referring to different moments in time. Present, past, and future are all verb tenses.

The verb dire conjugated in the present tense looks like this…:

je dis nous disons

tu dis vous dites

il/elle/on dit ils/elles disent

…while in the past tense, it looks like this :
j’ai dit nous avons dit

tu as dit vous avez dit

il/elle/on a dit ils/elles ont dit

Tenses in French

The first few French verb tenses you learn are:

  1. Present (I walk, I do walk, I am walking)

  2. Passé composé (I walked)

  3. Imparfait (I walked, I was walking)

  1. Future (I will walk)

  2. Conditional (I would walk)

  3. Plus-que-parfait (I had walked)

  4. Subjunctive (that I walk)

Present tense

  1. Replaces 3 tenses in English: I walk, I do walk, I am walking

  2. Conjugation (regular verbs)

    1. –er verbs: drop the –er ending and add –e, -es, -e, -ons, -ez, -ent

    2. –ir/iss verbs: drop the –ir ending and add –is, -is, -it, -issons, -issez, -issent

    3. –re verbs: drop the –re ending and add –s, -s, -, -ons, -ez, -ent

  3. Conjugation (irregular verbs) learn them individually

Passé composé

  1. Used for telling events in the past (what happened next, what happened at a specific time or for a specific length of time)

  2. Conjugation: auxiliary + past participle + (agreement)

    1. auxiliary is avoir or être

      1. avoir: most verbs

      2. être: verbs in the “maison d’être” (aller, venir, partir, rentrer, retourner, monter, descendre, tomber, intervenir, naître, mourir, décéder, sortir, partir, arriver, rester, devenir, entrer) and reflexives

    2. past participle (regular verbs)

      1. –er: drop the –er ending and add é

      2. –ir/iss: drop the –ir ending and add i

      3. –re: drop the –re ending and add u

    3. past participle (irregular verbs) learn them individually

  3. Agreement

    1. être verbs: past participle agrees with the subject except for reflexives

    2. reflexive verbs: past participle agrees with the reflexive pronoun if it is a direct object

    3. avoir verbs: no agreement unless there is a direct object that precedes the verb, in which case past participle agrees with the preceding direct object


  1. Used for describing the background of a story (how things were, age, states of mind, weather, conditions) or habitual actions (used to) or things that were going on when something else happened (“was –ing and were –ing”)

  2. Conjugation

    1. start with the “nous” form of the present tense

    2. drop the –ons ending and add the imperfect endings: -ais, -ais, -ait, -ions, --iez, -aient

    3. this works for all verbs, regular and irregular, except être. Imperfect of être: j’étais, tu étais, il était, nous étions, vous étiez, ils étaient.


  1. Used to talk about future events, things that will happen.

  2. Conjugation (regular verbs)

    1. –er verbs: entire infinitive + future endings (-ai, -as, -a, -ons, -ez, -ont)

    2. –ir verbs: entire infinitive + future endings

    3. –re verbs: drop the final –e and add future endings

  3. Conjugation (irregular verbs)

    1. each irregular verb has its own future stem (aller=ir-, être=ser-, faire=fer-, avoir=aur-, etc…) must be learned individually


  1. Used in polite requests (j’aimerais, je voudrais) and for things that would happen if certain conditions are met. Translates to “would go,” “would like,” etc.

  2. Conjugation (all verbs)

    1. start with the future stem

    2. add the imperfect endings

Alison Murray Levine—Page of

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