How to Use French Verbs

Learn all about French verbs and how they are affected by tenses, moods, and whether they’re irregular or regular.

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In this article, we’ll be looking at French verbs and their conjugations. Verbs are important to most sentences, as you use them to describe an action. As French has irregular as well as regular verbs, it’s useful to grasp the differences between the two, as well as patterns to look out for when it comes to regular verbs. We’ll look at how tenses and moods work, too.

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What are French verbs?

There are some differences between English and French verbs which are worth bearing in mind before you begin learning them. As French has more tenses than English, you might find that you’ll have to learn how to conjugate for more tenses and moods than in English.

Like English, there are rules for conjugating verbs on the basis of the subject pronouns, but there are more irregular verbs to learn in French.

French verbs are classified into 3 groups:

  • -er ending verbs (except "aller")
  • -ir ending verbs when their present participle ending is "-issant"
  • All the other verbs : -re, -oir, as well as those ending in -ir but with a different present participle ending

Both first and second group verbs have regular conjugations that follow the rules of their group, while those of the third group are irregular.

Tenses and moods in French

A verb tense and mood will affect the conjugation of a verb in French. If you want to be able to conjugate a verb into a different tense, you’ll have to remove the ending of the verb, which is usually (-er, -ir, or -re), and create the stem of the word. Then, you’ll replace this with an ending which is based on both the tense and the subject. Bear in mind that if you’re using simple tense, then you’ll only need a conjugated verb, and not the subject in the sentence.

In French, you also have to remember moods as well as tenses. The French verb moods are: indicative (indicatif), subjunctive (subjonctif) conditional (conditionnel), imperative (impératif), impersonal, which involves both infinitive (infinitif) and participles (participes). If you’re looking to dive deeper into how tenses and moods affect verbs in French, why not read our guide on French verb tenses?

Let's now look at some regular French verbs, and patterns to help you remember them. One of the easiest places to learn the difference between irregular and regular verbs is to start with -er verbs.

Regular French -er verbs

Habiter (to live), acheter (to buy), and parler (to speak) have the same -er ending. They are regular verbs which means they always follow the same pattern.

Here’s some good news: about 90% of French verbs end in -er, and, apart from only one verb (aller), they all follow the same rules! As we explore in our guide to 25 of the most common verbs in French, there are many common -er verbs, like jouer (to play), donner (to give), trouver (to find), and marcher (to walk).

To create the different forms of regular -er verbs we need to:

  1. Take away -er so that we are left with the stem (the verb without the ending)
  2. Add the correct ending depending on who is performing the action, as well as the tense.

The same applies for the plural form of -er verbs as well as singular. Below is a table to help you memorize how to conjugate a regular -er verb according to different singular and plural subject pronouns:

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Regular -er verbs

Je/j’ (I) Habit - e
Tu (You) Habit - es
Il/elle/on (He/she/one) Habit - e
Nous Habit - ez
Ils Habit - ent

Irregular -er verbs

While most -er verbs are indeed regular, let’s briefly look at the only irregular -er verb: aller (to go). Below is a table to help you memorize the -er verb aller and its conjugations in the present tense:

Aller conjugation

Subject pronoun Conjugation of the verb aller (to go)
Je/j’ (I) vais
Tu (You) vas
Il/elle/on (He/she/one) va
Nous allons
Vous allez
Ils vont

Wrapping up with French verbs

Hopefully this has provided you with a clear explanation of what happens when a verb is regular, and what happens to the conjugation when a verb is irregular. Unfortunately, with irregular verbs, you’ll have to learn a different conjugation chart each time – meaning that there are no universal rules to help you memorize every single one.

We hope that learning French verbs becomes easier with this guide, including some pointers as to how tenses and moods can change the spelling of a French verb. While it might be difficult to pick up on these changes straight away – especially when you’re dealing with irregular vs regular verbs, you’ll pick them up with practice over time.

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