French Verb Conjugation for Common Verbs Like Être & Avoir


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


IMPARFAIT (IMPERFECT)

J'avais I had
Tu avais You had
Il/Elle avait He/She had
Nous avions We had
Vous aviez You had
Ils/Elles avaient They had


PRÉSENT (PRESENT)

J'ai I have
Tu as You have
Il/Elle a He/She has
Nous avons We have
Vous avez You have
Ils/Elles ont They have

FUTURE (FUTUR)

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


IMPARFAIT (IMPERFECT)

J'étais I was
Tu étais You were
Il/Elle était He/She was
Nous étions We were
Vous étiez You were
Ils/Elles étaient They were


PRÉSENT (PRESENT)

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

FUTURE (FUTUR)

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:

  • Je / J' → I
  • Tu → You (singular informal)
  • Il / Elle / On → He / She / It
  • Nous → We
  • Vous → You (plural informal or singular formal)
  • Ils / Elles → They

The most used tenses by French people today are:

  • passé composé → perfect tense
  • imparfait → imperfect
  • présent → present
  • futur → future
  • conditionnel → conditional

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


IMPARFAIT (IMPERFECT)

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


PRÉSENT (PRESENT)

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

FUTURE (FUTUR)

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


IMPARFAIT (IMPERFECT)

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


PRÉSENT (PRESENT)

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

FUTURE (FUTUR)

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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Happy conjugating!




Christine Ducos-Restagno
Lead French Linguist
VidaLingua





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