French Verb Conjugation Rules to Learn

French verb conjugation rules are made more straightforward with helpful patterns for you to remember.

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French verb conjugation rules are influenced by so many factors, like tense, mood, and gender in a sentence. Perhaps you’re looking to explain that something happened to yourself, or an event in the past — French verb conjugations are essential in every conversational situation. You might be thinking that there are so many different kinds to memorize – this is true! However, we’re here to help. Let’s get started by looking at regular vs irregular verb conjugations, before looking at how they’re affected by the eight different tenses in French.

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Soon you will learn the conjugation of French verbs that end in -ir, from “finis” to “finir” (to finish) to use in your daily conversations via Busuu’s free French online courses!

Regular verbs -er, -ir, and -re

The most basic form of the verb is called the infinitif (infinitive). In French there are three groups of infinite regular verbs. Verbs are split into each group depending on their ending. They are called “regular verbs” because they follow the same pattern when we use them. In French, verbs are classified into three groups, of which only the first and second have regular conjugations. Let’s see what they are:

  • Group 1: Verbs ending in -ir with a present participle ending in -issant

  • Group 2: Verbs ending in -er (except for aller which falls into the third group)

  • Group 3: All remaining verbs fall into the third group, and so have irregular conjugations. These include:

    • Remaining verbs ending in -ir
    • Verbs ending in -re
    • Verbs ending in -oir
    • The verb aller.

So, let’s look at the regular groups. We form regular verbs by adding the correct ending (-er /-ir /-re) to the stem of the verb. Then, we’ll get moving onto some examples of irregular verbs and their conjugations.

Verbs ending in -ir with a present participle ending in -issant

So, as we’ve mentioned before, verbs in this group always follow the same conjugation rules as each other. It therefore includes:

  • Choisir (to choose)
  • Remplir (to fill)
  • Gravir (to climb)
  • Durcir (to harden)
  • Fléchir (to bend)
  • Ralentir (to slow down).

As you can see, all of these verbs have an -issant present participle. For example, the infinite choisir becomes choisissant in the present participle. Since verbs in this category follow the same rules, this means that we can look at one example in order to get an understanding of how to conjugate it depending on the subject pronoun.

Regular verb -er aimer conjugation table

Subject pronouns Verb
je/j’ aim-e
tu aim-es
il/elle/on aim-e
nous aim-ons
vous aim-ez
ils/elles aim-ent

That covers all of the regular French conjugations to learn! In French, you also have irregular verb conjugations to look out for. We’ll talk about these, before moving on to tenses.

Irregular verb conjugations

Some verbs have irregular conjugations, which means that their endings don’t follow the same pattern as other verbs with the same ending. All the verbs that don’t fall into the two groups we’ve described above are irregular. So to recap, irregular conjugations include:

  • the remaining verbs in -ir (ex : courir)
  • verbs in -re
  • verbs in -oir
  • the verb aller

Some irregular verbs, however, still have an infinitif, which means that you add a different ending to the stem of the verb each time you need to conjugate it with a pronoun. Often, the irregular verb’s stem changes too, which means you’ll have to learn this each time as well.

One key irregular French verb conjugation that every learner should remember is aller (to go). Let’s see how the stem changes when you conjugate it according to the different subject pronouns – in the present tense:

Irregular verb conjugation example

Subject pronouns Verb
je/j’ vais
tu vas
il/elle/on va
nous allons
vous allez
ils/elles vont

As you can see, the stem changes when you conjugate it with certain subject pronouns. This means you’ll have to learn all of the different spellings, as it won’t follow the same rules as other -er verbs.

Tip: if a verb’s stem changes, does that make it irregular? For example, verbs ending in -yer often change their stem. So, envoyer (to send) becomes j’envoie. But verbs like these are still considered regular, as they otherwise still follow the same grammatical rules of regular -er verbs. Usually, the nous and vous conjugations behave in the same way as regular -er verbs, while the stem slightly changes for the others.

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French verb conjugation tense rules

French verb conjugations are also affected by the tense or mood of a sentence. There are eight different tenses in French, and they each can change the conjugation of a verb. There are three main tenses: past, present and future. On top of this, you’ll have to begin learning additional moods (which are all variations on past, present, and future.)

However, you might find that it’s actually quite useful to have moods in French, as you can start to differentiate between the far future, and the near future (or futur proche) – placing verbs along a timeline or chronology. That’s enough about tenses and moods in French – let’s look at the three most common tenses you’ll be using in everyday speech and writing! We’ve previously studied verb conjugations in the present tense, but what happens if you want to talk about the past and future?

Verbs and past tense conjugations

If you want to use the past tense in French, you’ll need to create a past participle out of a verb. Start by finding the infinitif or stem of the verb again. Remember our -er verbs? These will now have an -é ending instead in the past tense. With -ir verbs, you’ll remove the -ir instead. To conjugate regular -ir verbs in the past participle, all you have to do is remove the -ir ending and then add the ending -i. Then finally, with an infinitive that uses an -re ending, replace this with -u.

In order to create the past tense, you’ll also need another verb – avoir (to have). This is very similar to English, where you might say “I have watched a film”. In order to create the past tense in English, you need “have” as well as the past participle “watched”. In French, you’ll say “j’ai regardé un film”. As you can see, the verb regarder becomes regardé as the verb originally had an -er ending.

Some verbs use another verb than avoir – être (to be) to create the past tense of a reflexive verb, for example se brosser (brush).

In French, you’ll say “je me suis brossé les dents”. As you can see, the verb brosser becomes brossé as the verb originally had an -er ending.

Notice how in this particular example we’ve given, the sentence contains a reflexive verb – read our guide to reflexive verbs to find out how they’re used in all tenses.

Verbs and future tense conjugations

Fortunately, verb conjugations in the French future tense are quite straightforward. Unlike in English, where you need the verb “will” in order to form the future tense, French usually just involves changing the ending of the verb in the infinitive form if it is an -ir or an -er verb. With -re verbs, the final “e” in the infinitive drops off before adding the normal endings. This table will help you see how each conjugation changes according to the subject pronoun in the sentence. Let’s look at the verb brosser which we used in our last example:

Verb conjugation in future tense example

Subject pronoun Stem + new ending (verb brosser - to brush)
Je/j’ brosserai
Tu brosseras
Il/elle/on brossera
Nous brosserons
Vous brosserez
Ils/elles brosseront

Recap on French verb conjugations

We hope that now you’ve got a better grasp of how French verb conjugations work. While you should be able to pick up regular verbs with a bit of practice and by remembering the patterns, irregular verb conjugations will take more work. The basic tenses past, present, and future also have verb conjugation rules. This means that the verb conjugates depending on the subject pronoun as well as the tense the sentence is in. However, just like regular verbs, the tenses have their own rules which you can pick up through rote learning over time!

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