Why do verbs in French change so much? Get clarification on the rules for conjugating the most common French verbs from French tutor Carol Beth L….
Verb conjugations are the bane of some French students who are not accustomed to the constantly changing verb endings in English. To be sure, we do conjugate our verbs. We add -ed for the past:
“I look” becomes “I looked.”
We add -s to in the singular third person:
“I run,” becomes “he runs.”
But often times, English verbs are a little more constant than their French equivalents. For example:
I do je fais
we do nous faisons
they do vous faites
French grammar is not totally unpredictable, however. Most French verbs actually follow regular patterns according to three groupings: verbs ending in -er, in -ir, and in -re. Of these three groups, -er verbs are by far the most common. Sometimes people will even create their own verbs by adding -er to another common word! A few examples of regular -er verbs include:
aimer to like
chercher to search or look for
compter to count
conseiller to advise
continuer to continue
donner to give
écouter to listen (to)
parler to talk
sauter to jump
tutoyer to address someone using “tu”
vousvoyer to address someone using “vous”
essayer to try
encourager to encourage
nager to swim
manger to eat
In the present tense, these verbs are conjugated by removing the -er ending and adding different endings (see the bold below) for each subject pronoun as follows:
je (I) parle
tu (you singular) parles
il / elle / on (he / she / one) parle
nous (we) parlons
vous (you plural) parlez
ils / elles (they) parlent
There are two exceptions of which to be aware (and dedicated students of French know that French loves exceptions). The first involves those -er verbs ending in -ger. As in English, French pronunciation includes the concept of the hard and soft “g.” Like us, the French often denote their soft “g”’s by adding an -e after the -g. For the “nous” forms of such verbs, the ending therefore changes from -ons to -eons. For example, the correct “nous” form of “encourager” is not “encouragons,” but “encourageons.”
The second involves those verbs ending in -yer. For English nouns ending in -y, the plural form changes -y to -i and adds -es. Likewise here, -yer verbs will change -y to -i in addition to replacing -er with the appropriate ending – except (because French loves exceptions!) for the nous and vous forms. For example, the verb “essayer” would be conjugated as follows:
Il / elle / on essaie
Ils / elles essaient
The second largest category in French, -ir verbs, include:
choisir to choose
finir to finish
grossir to gain weight
maigrir to lose weight
réussir to succeed
rougir to blush
vieillir to grow old(er)
In the present tense, they are conjugated by removing the -ir and adding the endings in bold in the example below:
Il / elle / on finit
Ils / elles finissent
Some common -ir verbs are irregular, such as sortir (to go out) and venir (to come). Most are conjugated as above.
The third and smallest group of regular verbs ends in -re, and include:
rendre to return
entendre to hear
attendre to wait (for)
perdre to lose
défendre to forbid
In the present tense, they are conjugated by removing the -re and adding the endings in the example below:
Il / elle / on rend
Ils / elles rendent
As with the other groupings, there are some irregular -re verbs, such as prendre (to take), connaitre (to be familiar with), lire (to read), mettre (to put down), and boire (to drink).
To practice our French grammar, let’s try a few examples. In each of the following sentences, try to conjugate the correct form of the verb in parenthesis:
1) Nous _____________ (compter) de 1 à 100.
We count from 1 to 100.
2) Vous _____________ (finir) vos devoirs.
You are finishing your homework.
3) Je _____________ (conseiller) les étudiants de francais de visiter la France au moins une fois.
I advise all French students to visit France at least once.
4) Ils _____________ (parler) avec leurs amis.
They talk with their friends.
5) Tu _____________ (maigrir)!
You are losing weight!
6) Elle _____________ (nager) tous les jours.
She swims every day.
7) Je _____________ (rendre) le livre à la bibliothèque.
I am returning the book to the library.
8) Nous _____________ (encourager) les uns les autres.
We encourage each other.
9) Tu _____________ (chercher) ton livre de francais.
You are looking for your French book.
Want to check your answers? Here they are:
Practice makes perfect, so keep on practicing with your tutor and checking yourself. Check out this list of common regular French verbs for even more vocabulary to practice. Soon enough, you’ll be the expert!
Study more French verbs – check out our Ultimate French Verb Guide!
Photo by Thomas D.