French Conjugation: A Comprehensive Guide

Learn how to conjugate French verbs in the present, past, and future.

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By Laura Pennacchietti · January 10, 2024 · 22 minute read

Understanding French verb conjugation is essential for anyone learning to speak French. Verbs are the most essential parts of any phrase or sentence, as they describe what’s happening in the sentence. Therefore, being able to use verbs in a correct and natural way is part and parcel of learning how to communicate in any language.

In order to use verbs correctly to communicate clearly, we have to conjugate them, which means to change their form so that they a) match the subject of the sentence (I, you, he, she, and so on), b) express the correct tense (present, future, or past), and c) express the correct function (or 'mood'), like to state a fact or give a command.

Every language has a different set of tenses and moods. French has no less than seven moods, and the most common of these, the indicative mood (used to state facts), has eight tenses.

But don’t worry! A lot of functions are covered by the main tenses in the indicative mood, which are the present tense (présent), the future tense (futur simple), and the two principal tenses in the past - the passé composé and the imparfait.

Learning how to conjugate French verbs in these four tenses will greatly expand your language repertoire and boost your communication skills, and it will be an excellent basis to move on to more complex tenses and moods. For this reason, they will be the focus of this article.

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You will learn that the French verb "achètes” is the second person singular form of the verb "acheter" (to buy) in the present tense. It corresponds to the subject "Tu" (you) and means "you buy" in English. Tackle those verbs like a pro and start learning via Busuu’s free online courses!

Present, past and future

Let’s start with a quick overview of these essential tenses. The présent corresponds to the present tense in English – for example, “I do,” “you go,” “she takes,” and so on. We use it to talk about the here and now – similar to English present continuous (“I am doing”) – or to talk about things that do not have a specific time frame, but are true now and at any time. Like all the tenses we are covering in this article, the present tense belongs to the indicative mood, i.e. the mode of certainty, which we use to state facts. Here are a few examples:

  • Anna travaille dans un magasin. (Anna works in a shop.)
  • Je cuisine. (I am cooking.)
  • Paris est la capitale de la France. (Paris is the capital of France.)

The futur simple corresponds to English future simple, e.g. I will go, you will say, she will play, etc. and is the most common way of talking about the future in French. A couple of examples:

  • Le mois prochain, je commencerai un nouvel emploi. (Next month I will start a new job.)
  • Jean arrivera bientôt. (Jean will arrive soon.)

Things are a bit more complicated for the imparfait and the passé composé, as they don't map neatly onto English tenses. They are used in combination to talk about the past - the imparfait with an imperfect function, as the name says, i.e. for descriptions, past habits, and repeated actions, and the passé composé with a perfect function, i.e. for one-off events or actions that are clearly defined in time. Look at the examples, where the imparfait is underlined and the passé composé in bold:

  • Quand j étais enfant, je passais mes vacances en Italie avec ma famille. Mais une fois, nous sommes allés en Espagne. (When I was a child, I used to spend my holidays in Italy with my family. But once we went to Spain.)
  • Ce matin, alors que j’ étais sous la douche, quelqu’un a sonné. (This morning while I was in the shower someone rang the bell.)

For a detailed explanation of the differences between these two tenses and their use in combination, check our practical guide to the passé composé and the guide to mastering French past verbs.

French verb conjugation: How does it work?

The process for conjugating a verb is fairly simple. It consists of identifying the stem of the verb in question and adding the correct ending that corresponds to the mood, tense, and person you need for your sentence.

How do you find the stem? By taking the infinitive of the verb, i.e. the base form, and removing the infinitive ending (e.g. -er, -ir, and -re, for regular verbs).

In the next section you'll find a practical example of this process, and further on in this section, a step-by-step guide of how to do this for different types of verbs.

Stem + ending

Here’s a practical example of conjugation. I want to say 'I love pop music' in French. The verb I need is aimer, which translates 'to love.' (Check out our article on how to express your love in French) In order to obtain the stem of this verb, I need to remove the ending -er.

Now I have the stem of the verb, aim-. The subject of the sentence is ‘I’ – in French this is je. Since I’m stating a fact in present tense, I add the first person ending -e to the stem to get j’aime, which is the conjugated verb I am looking for.

A similar process happens in English, although as far as matching the verb with the subject is concerned, there are less endings, since many persons have the same:

  • I love
  • You love
  • He/she loves
  • We love
  • You (plur.) love
  • They love

As you can see, in the English present tense the only person that takes a different ending is 'he/she.'

Grammatical person

But what is a ‘person’? It is a grammatical category that refers to the subject of a sentence. There are six possible persons in French (three singular and three plural), like in English. But in French, each one normally takes a different verb form. See the table below for examples of the six different persons in sentences.

Verb conjugation: Singular person

English French Use Example
I je to talk about myself I am tired - Je suis fatigué(e).
you tu to address someone (one single person) How are you? - Comment vas-tu?
he / it il to talk about someone else (one single person), who identifies with male gender, or a thing/animal He speaks Italian. - Il parle italien.
she elle to talk about someone else (one single person), who identifies with female gender She's not here today. - Elle n’est pas là aujourd’hui.

Verb conjugation: Plural person

English French Use Example
we nous to talk about myself and someone else We arrived at 9 - Nous sommes arrivés à 9h.
you vous to address someone (more than one person), or to address one single person formally Guys, where are you from? - Les gars, vous êtes d’où?
Can I help you, madam? - Puis-je vous aider, madame?
they ils to talk about other people (more than one person), who identify with male gender or are mixed gender They live in Paris. - Ils vivent à Paris.
they elles to talk about other people (more than one person), who identify with female gender They are very clever. - Elles sont très intelligentes.

Like in English, in French every verb needs a subject, and cannot stand on its own. This means that every sentence needs to include one of the subject pronouns that correspond to each person (these are the words you find in the columns EN and FR above). You can see this in the examples provided in the table above. In the third person, the subject of the sentence could also be explicit, i.e. the person or thing that performs the action or that the sentence is about, as in the following examples:

  • Anne travaille dans une école. ( Anne works in a school.)
  • Ton frère a l’air sympa.( Your brother looks nice.)
  • Le ciel est gris aujourd'hui. (The sky is gray today.)
  • Mes amis veulent sortir. (My friends want to go out.)

When you are talking about someone else, whether the subject of the sentence is il, elle, or the name of a person or thing, you’ll need to use a third person singular verb. Or if talking about more than one person, you’ll use a third person plural verb (corresponding to 'they' in the table).

Now that you know how the conjugating process works, what you need is the sets of endings to select from when forming sentences, like we’ve done in the example at the beginning of the section. You'll find these in the next section. But first, let’s look at the crucial difference between regular and irregular verbs.

Regular vs. irregular verbs

The so-called “regular” French verbs are grouped into three categories: -er verbs (like aimer), -ir verbs (like finir), and -re verbs (like attendre). Regular verbs are classified according to how their infinitive ends, Regular verbs are classified according to how the base form of the verb (the infinitive) ends, so the key is to always keep in mind the base form of the verb.

The good news is that all the verbs in the same category will conjugate in the same way, so they all have the same endings in all the tenses. So once you’ve learned it for one, you’ve learned it for all – yay!

However, not all verbs fall into these categories. Those that don’t, the so-called 'irregular' verbs, have unique forms that only work for that specific verb or for a smaller set of verbs (although there are some patterns and similarities for irregular verbs).

Please note that we will not deal with reflexive verbs in this article. All the rules laid out here are also valid for reflexive verbs when you add the correct reflexive pronouns, as they follow the conjugation rules of every other verb. Now, let’s look at the three groups of regular verbs!

-er verbs conjugation

Regular verbs belonging to the first group end in -er. This is by far the largest category of regular verbs and includes very frequently used verbs such as aimer (to love), parler (to speak), manger (to eat), arriver (to arrive), travailler (to work), étudier (to study), voyager (to travel), acheter (to buy), and entrer (to enter).

As we mentioned, in order to conjugate these verbs, you’ll need to determine the stem first. The stem of -er verbs is obtained by removing the two letters -er from the infinitive. Thus, the stems of the verbs listed above would be aim-, parl-, mang-, arriv-, travaill-, étudi-, voyag-, achet-, and entr-.

Once you have the stem, you need to add the endings that correspond to the person and tense you need in your sentence (we won’t go into details about the mood, as this article only deals with the indicative mood).

Below, you’ll find the sets of endings for the présent, the futur simple, and the imparfait. The endings are marked in bold in the table. The passé composé works slightly differently, so we’ll treat it separately below.

Verbs conjugation chart for -er

Person Présent Futur simple Imparfait
je parle parlerai parlais
tu parles parleras parlais
il / elle parle parlera parlait
nous parlons parlerons parlions
vous parlez parlerez parliez
ils / elles parlent parleront parlaient

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Compound tenses: The passé composé

The présent, futur simple and imparfait are called simple tenses, because they consist of only one word. On the other hand, the passé composé is a compound tense, i.e. it is made of two words, therefore its conjugation works slightly differently.

Compound tenses are always made up of an auxiliary verb, which in French can be either être (to be) or avoir (to have), and the past participle (in English, this is also the second word in a compound tense - e.g. walked, talked, done, eaten, etc.).

In compound tenses, the part that gets conjugated is the first word, i.e the auxiliary verb, while the past participle is either unchangeable (when the auxiliary verb is avoir), or changes only to agree in gender and number with the subject (when the auxiliary verb is être), as you see in the table below.

The past participle of regular verbs is also derived from the stem. For regular verbs of the first group you need to remove -er and add -é. With verbs that take auxiliary verb être, you will also need to add an -e at the end of the past participle if the subject is feminine, an -s if the subject is masculine plural or mixed, and an -es if the subject is feminine plural.

Verb conjugation chart for -er: Passé composé

Person Verb conjugation Verb conjugation
je / j’ ai parlé suis arrivé(e)
tu as parlé es arrivé(e)
il / elle a parlé est arrivé(e)
nous avons parlé sommes arrivé(e)s
vous avez parlé êtes arrivé(e)s
ils / elles ont parlé sont arrivé(e)s

For a detailed explanation of how to conjugate and use the passé composé, check out our comprehensive guide. From now on in this article, we will group the passé composé together with the simple tenses, in order to give a comprehensive overview of the present, past, and future tenses.

Spelling-changing and stem-changing -er verbs

In the first group there are a few verbs that, while following the regular conjugation, need some spelling or stem adjustments in a few tenses, often in order to maintain the correct sound. We will give a brief overview of these cases in this section.

Verbs ending in -cer and -ger

Verbs ending in -cer and -ger, like effacer (to erase) and manger (to eat), need some spelling adjustments in the présent and imparfait in order to maintain the correct 'soft' c and g sound, where the letters -c and -g in the stem come before an -a or -o in the ending.

Verbs ending in -cer thus turn the -c to -ç in the first person plural in the présent, and also in the first, second and third person singular and third person plural in the imparfait.

Verbs ending in -ger need an -e added before the ending for the same persons in the présent and imparfait.

French conjugation chart for -cer verbs

Person Présent Futur simple Imparfait Passé composé
je / j’ place placerai plaçais ai placé
tu places placeras plaçais as placé
il / elle place placera plaçait a placé
nous plaçons placerons placions avons placé
vous parlez placerez placiez avez placé
ils / elles parlent placeront plaçaient ont placé

French conjugation chart for -ger verbs

Person Présent Futur simple Imparfait Passé composé
je / j’ mange mangerai mangeais ai mangé
tu manges mangeras mangeais as mangé
il / elle mange mangera mangeait a mangé
nous mangeons mangerons mangions avons mangé
vous mangez mangerez mangiez avez mangé
ils / elles mangent mangeront mangeaient ont mangé

Stem-changing -er verbs

For some -er verbs in the présent, some persons (namely first and second plural) are conjugated using the regular stem, while another set of persons (first, second and third singular and third plural) use a modified stem. In most cases, all the forms of the futur simple also use the modified stem.

Verbs ending in -é_er

Verbs ending in _é_er (those with a grave accent in the second or third to last position before the infinitive ending) change the accent from grave to acute for the stem-changing persons in the présent.

French conjugation chart for é_er verbs

Person Présent Futur simple Imparfait Passé composé
je / j’ répète répéterai répétais ai répété
tu répètes répéteras répétais as répété
tu répètes répéteras répétais as répété
il / elle répète répétera répétait a répété
nous répétons répéterons répétions avons répété
vous répétez répéterez répétiez avez répété
ils / elles répètent répéteront répétaient ont répété

Verbs ending in e_er

Verbs ending in e_er (those with e muet in the second to last position before the infinitive ending) change that e muet to an with acute accent in the stem-changing persons of the présent and all the forms of the futur simple.

French conjugation chart for e_er verbs

Person Présent Futur simple Imparfait Passé composé
j’ achète achèterai achetais ai acheté
tu achètes achèteras achetais as acheté
il / elle achète achètera achetait a acheté
nous achetons achèterons achetons avons acheté
vous achetez achèterez achetez avez acheté
ils / elles achètent achèteront achetaient ont acheté

Doubled consonant verbs ending in -eler and -eter

As an exception to the above rule, some verbs ending in -eler and -eter double the consonant (l or t) in the stem-changing persons of the présent and for all the forms of the futur simple.

French conjugation chart for -eler and -eter verbs

Person Présent Futur simple Imparfait Passé composé
j’ appelle appellerai appelais ai appelé
tu appelles appelleras appelais as appelé
il / elle appelle appellera appelait a appelé
nous appelons appellerons appelons avons appelé
vous appelez appellerez appelez avez appelé
ils / elles appellent appelleront appelaient ont appelé

French conjugation chart for -eter verbs

Person Présent Futur simple Imparfait Passé composé
je / j’ jette jetterai jetais ai jeté
tu jettes jetteras jetais as jeté
il / elle jette jettera jetait a jeté
nous jetons jetterons jetons avons jeté
vous jetez jetterez jetez avez jeté
ils / elles jettent jetteront jetaient ont jeté

Verbs ending in -ayer, -oyer, and -uyer

The last category of stem-changing -er verbs consists of verbs ending in -ayer, -oyer, and -uyer, which change the y to i for the stem-changing persons in the présent and for all the forms of the futur simple.

Notice that while the stem change is compulsory for -oyer and -uyer verbs, it is optional for -ayer verbs, meaning that both spellings (for example, je paye or je paie, je payerai or je paierai) are accepted.

French conjugation chart for -oyer and -uyer verbs

Person Présent Futur simple Imparfait Passé composé
je / j’ nettoie nettoierai nettoyais ai nettoyé
tu nettoies nettoieras nettoyais as nettoyé
il / elle nettoie nettoiera nettoyait a nettoyé
nous nettoyons nettoierons nettoyons avons nettoyé
vous nettoyez nettoierez nettoyez avez nettoyé
ils / elles nettoient nettoieront nettoyaient ont nettoyé

French conjugation chart for -ayer verbs

Person Présent Futur simple Imparfait Passé composé
je / j’ paie / paye paierai / payerai payais ai payé
tu paies / payes paieras / payeras payais as payé
il / elle paie / paye paiera / payera payait a payé
nous payons paierons / payerons payions avons payé
vous payez paierez / payerez payiez avez payé
ils / elles paient / payent paieront / payeront payaient ont payé

Now that you know all about the first group of regular verbs, including the spelling adjustments required by some sub-categories of verbs, we are ready to move to the second and third groups!

-ir verbs conjugation

The second group of regular verbs have an infinitive ending in -ir. To obtain the stem of these verbs, you need to remove -ir from the infinitive and add the correct endings, which you’ll find in bold in the table below.

French conjugation chart for -ir verbs

Person Présent Futur simple Imparfait Passé composé
je / j’ finis finirai finissais ai fini
tu finis finiras finissais as fini
il / elle finit finira finissait a fini
nous finissons finirons finissions avons fini
vous finissez finirez finissiez avez fini
ils / elles finissent finiront finissaient ont fini

-re verbs conjugation

The third group of regular verbs end in -re (or -dre). Grammar books don’t usually consider these to be regular verbs, but since so many verbs ending in -dre have the same conjugation pattern, we believe it’s useful to think of these as their own group.

In order to obtain the stem of these verbs, you need to remove -re and add the correct endings, which you can find in bold in the table below.

French conjugation chart for -re verbs

Person Présent Futur simple Imparfait Passé composé
je / j’ réponds répondrai répondais ai répondu
tu réponds répondras répondais as répondu
il / elle répond * répondra répondait a répondu
nous répondons répondrons répondions avons répondu
vous répondez répondrez répondiez avez répondu
ils / elles répondent répondront répondaient ont répondu

*you don’t need to add any ending here, as the stem is the same as the conjugated form.

Great! So far we’ve seen the conjugation of all three groups of regular verbs in the present tense, future tense, imparfait and passé composé.

Now that you've got the hang of what verb conjugation means and how you conjugate 'regular' verbs, let’s move on to a new challenge – irregular verbs!

Irregular verbs

Irregular verbs do not belong to any of the three groups we’ve seen above, so their conjugation is unique, or sometimes shared among a smaller group of verbs. The idea is still that we attach endings to a stem, like for the regular verbs, and the endings are often very similar to the ones we use for regular verbs, if not the same.

However, these verbs do not follow consistent patterns like regular verbs do, so the combination of stem and endings is unique for each verb. Thus, it’s easiest to look at these verbs individually, and if possible identify patterns shared with other verbs.

It is, of course, not possible to include all irregular French verbs in this article, so we’ll just look at the ones we think are the most useful or commonly used. As you will see, often irregular verbs are not obscure verbs at all, but on the contrary, they are verbs people use every day.

Let’s start from the most important irregular verbs: avoir and être. They are not only extremely common verbs on their own, which we use in communication all the time, but also function as auxiliary verbs, meaning they make up the first word in compound tenses, as we’ve seen above for the passé composé.

They are completely irregular verbs, especially in the present tense, and it might be best to just learn them by heart!

Être conjugation chart (to be)

Person Présent Futur simple Imparfait Passé composé
je / j’ suis serai étais ai été
tu es seras étais as été
il / elle est sera était a été
nous sommes serons étions avons été
vous êtes serez étiez avez été
ils / elles sont seront étaient ont été

Avoir conjugation chart (to have)

Person Présent Futur simple Imparfait Passé composé
j’ ai aurai avais ai eu
tu as auras avais as eu
il / elle a aura avait a eu
nous avons aurons avions avons eu
vous avez aurez aviez avez eu
ils / elles ont auront avaient ont eu

Even in these two extremely irregular verbs, you can probably notice the patterns that make the endings very similar to, if not the same as, the regular ones. Let’s continue with two other high-frequency verbs - aller (to go) and faire (to do / to make).

Aller conjugation chart (to go)

Person Présent Futur simple Imparfait Passé composé
je / j’ vais irai allais suis allé(e)
tu vas iras allais es allé(e)
il / elle va ira allait est allé(e)
nous allons irons allions sommes allé(e)s
vous allez irez alliez êtes allé(e)s
ils / elles vont iront allaient sont allé(e)s

Faire conjugation chart (to do or to make)

Person Présent Futur simple Imparfait Passé composé
je / j’ fais ferai faisais ai fait
tu fais feras faisais as fait
il / elle fait fera faisait a fait
nous faisons ferons faisions avons fait
vous faites ferez faisiez avez fait
ils / elles font feront faisaient ont fait

You might have noticed that some tenses tend to be more regular than others. The imparfait tense, for example, is virtually always regular – in fact, only être is properly irregular in the imparfait.

We could add many more verbs to this list, but our aim here is not to give you a comprehensive list of irregular French verbs – that would be impossible in the space of an article! – but a selection of the ones that can be more useful to you as a learner.

Wrapping up

The process of French verb conjugation is key to using verbs correctly in communication and to expressing yourself correctly and fully in French. As you’ve learned in this article, the main steps of the process are getting the stem of a verb and adding the correct ending for the mood, tense, and person you need.

While regular verbs follow fixed conjugation patterns, irregular verbs have different, sometimes unique, ways of combining stem and endings.

In this article, we have provided you with a list of some of the most useful French verb patterns, which we hope will be helpful in your journey to becoming a French conjugation expert!

Need more help in this journey?

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