Mastering French verb conjugation is the key to speaking like a native. Even French people struggle with French tenses and make quite a lot of mistakes. Not surprising when you know there are about 12,000 French verbs that can be divided into more than a hundred conjugated forms!
You need to know that there is a big difference between French and English tenses. To conjugate regular English verbs, you only add 's' or 'ed' at the end of the verb or 'will' before the verb. Whereas conjugating French verbs requires changing the endings for each subject. Whether there are regular or irregular verbs.
Yet, you can learn them if you understand some basic rules right from the start. The best advice you will get to learn these verb tenses is to practice as much as you can, as often as you can, wherever you are. For instance, if you use the present tense in your converstion, transpose your sentence in the past and future tense in your mind.
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You will notice there's a kind of pattern to conjugating regular French verbs. So once you know how to conjugate one, you know how to conjugate about 6,500 French verbs! The first think you need to know is that there are 3 main groups that you can identify by their ending:
1st GROUP: Verbs ending with ER
The majority of these verbs are regular and they are the largest group with about 6 000 verbs.
Example: aimer, chanter, marcher, monter
2nd GROUP: Verbs ending with IR, of which the present participle ends with 'issant'
This is the second largest group of regular verbs with about 300 verbs.
Example: choisir, finir, grandir
3rd GROUP: All the rest i.e. verbs ending with DRE, OIR... but also IR or ER
These verbs are obviously the most difficult ones as all of them are irregular.
Example: aller, partir, savoir, vendre, vouloir
Let's do not forget the 2 auxiliary verbs that don't belong to any of these groups but are indispensable for some verb tenses such as passé composé (perfect tense): avoir and être.
→ Auxiliary verb: AVOIR (to have) - Past participle: eu
|Tu avais||You had|
|Il/Elle avait||He/She had|
|Nous avions||We had|
|Vous aviez||You had|
|Ils/Elles avaient||They had|
|Tu as||You have|
|Il/Elle a||He/She has|
|Nous avons||We have|
|Vous avez||You have|
|Ils/Elles ont||They have|
|J'aurai||I will have|
|Tu auras||You will have|
|Il/Elle aura||He/She will have|
|Nous aurons||We will have|
|Vous aurez||You will have|
|Ils/Elles auront||They will have|
→ Auxiliary verb: ÊTRE (to be) - Past participle: été
|Tu étais||You were|
|Il/Elle était||He/She was|
|Nous étions||We were|
|Vous étiez||You were|
|Ils/Elles étaient||They were|
|Je suis||I am|
|Tu es||You are|
|Il/Elle est||He/She is|
|Nous sommes||We are|
|Vous êtes||You are|
|Ils/Elles sont||They are|
|Je serai||I will be|
|Tu seras||You will be|
|Il/Elle sera||He/She will be|
|Nous serons||We will be|
|Vous serez||You will be|
|Ils/Elles seront||They will be|
The second thing you need to know is that the conjugation form varies according to the subject that can be:
The most used tenses by French people today are:
Of course, you can try and learn these French verb conjugation through songs like the one from Francis Cabrel entitled "Je t'aimais, je t'aime et je t'aimerai" that translates into "I loved you, I love you and I will love you". Although it's a great illustration of the conjugation difference between French and English tenses, you won't go far with it.
Let's focus on the conjugation of the three most used tenses by French people that is to say imparfait (imperfect), présent (present) and futur (future). The method is always the same: you take the radical (for instance MARCH for marcher) and you replace the ending (ER) with the one related to the tense you want to use:
→ 1st Group - MARCHER (to walk) - Past participle: marché
|Je march-ais||I walked|
|Tu march-ais||You walked|
|Il/Elle march-ait||He/She walked|
|Nous march-ions||We walked|
|Vous march-iez||You walked|
|Ils/Elles march-aient||They walked|
|Je march-e||I walk|
|Tu march-es||You walk|
|Il/Elle march-e||He/She walks|
|Nous march-ons||We walk|
|Vous march-ez||You walk|
|Ils/Elles march-ent||They walk|
|Je march-erai||I will walk|
|Tu march-eras||You will walk|
|Il/Elle march-era||He/She will walk|
|Nous march-erons||We will walk|
|Vous march-erez||You will walk|
|Ils/Elles march-eront||They will walk|
→ 2nd Group - FINIR (to finish) - Past participle: fini
|Je fin-issais||I finished|
|Tu fin-issais||You finished|
|Il/Elle fin-issait||He/She finished|
|Nous fin-issions||We finished|
|Vous fin-issiez||You finished|
|Ils/Elles fin-issaient||They finished|
|Je fin-is||I finish|
|Tu fin-is||You finish|
|Il/Elle fin-it||He/She finishes|
|Nous fin-issons||We finish|
|Vous fin-issez||You finish|
|Ils/Elles fin-issent||They walk|
|Je fin-irai||I will finish|
|Tu fin-iras||You will finish|
|Il/Elle fin-ira||He/She will finish|
|Nous fin-irons||We will finish|
|Vous fin-irez||You will finish|
|Ils/Elles fin-iront||They will finish|
Looking for more challenges in your quest to speak French fluently? Check out these great articles!
→ French Slang Words and Phrases
→ Funny French Idioms Explained in English
→ French Love Words and Sayings to Impress your BEA
→ French Internet Slang Abbreviations and Acronyms
→ French Canadian Words and Expressions
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