French Grammar Guide for non-francophones

Present (e.g.: je parle)

An Overview of the Present Tense:

The present verb form usually indicates an action that takes place in the present (je regarde la télé). However, it can also describe actions that are generally true (j'adore les chiens) and can even be used for events that have not yet happened (e.g.: j'arrive demain).

To master writing verbs in the present tense, you need to learn the correct verb endings. In French, a verb’s ending varies according to two main factors: a) the subject (e.g. je in je parle) and b) the kind of infinitive (-er, -re, -ir). Let’s examine the different kinds of verbs (in the infinitive), and their corresponding endings for the different kinds of subjects. The relevant verb categories are:

  1. -er verbs, like parler, aimer, etc.
  2. -re verbs like prendre, vendre, etc.
  3. -ir verbs like partir, venir, etc.
  4. vouloir, pouvoir.
  5. irregular verbs, like être, avoir, faire and aller.

Let’s look at how each of these works in the present tense for different kinds of subjects (the other tenses are much more straightforward).

1. -er verbs, like parler, manger, etc.

The following table shows the endings for -er verbs, e.g.: parler:

subject ending example
je -e je parle
tu -es tu parles
il, elle, on -e elle parle
nous -ons nous parlons
vous -ez vous parlez
ils, elles -ent ils parlent

Note that the nous form of verbs ending in -ger is -eons, e.g.: nous mangeons.

Points to keep in mind for -er verbs in the present tense:

* Je verb forms always ends in -e (NEVER in -es).

* Tu verb forms always ends in -es (NEVER in just -e).

* Il, Elle, and On, always end in -e (NEVER in -es).

* Nous always ends in -ons.

* Vous always ends in -ez.

* Ils and Elles always end in -ent. (or -ont)

 *the root (to which you attach the endings) is simply the infinitive, minus the -er ending, e.g.: the root of parler is parl-

2. -re verbs like vendre, rendre, prendre, etc.

The following table shows the endings for -re verbs, e.g.: vendre:

subject ending example
je -s je vends
tu -s tu vends
il, elle, on -d, -t elle vend, on peint
nous -ons nous vendons
vous -ez vous vendez
ils, elles -ent ils vendent

Points to keep in mind for -re verbs in the present tense:

*Both je and tu forms end in -s (unlike what we saw with -er verbs).

*Il, elle, on and singular noun subjects usually end in -d, but there are some verbs ending in -eindre (like atteindre and peindre) that have a -t ending.

*the root form tends to be based on the infinitive, minus the -re ending, e.g.: the root of rendre is rend-. Still, there are some common verbs whose root is slightly modified for the nous, vous and ils/elles forms (e.g.: nous prenons, ils prennent).

 

3. -ir verbs like sortir, partir, venir, etc.

The following table shows the endings for -ir verbs, e.g.: sortir:

subject ending example
je -s je sors
tu -s tu sors
il, elle, on -t elle sort
nous -ons nous sortons
vous -ez vous sortez
ils, elles -ent ils sortent

Points to keep in mind for -ir verbs in the present tense:

*Both je and tu forms end in -s (unlike what we saw with -er verbs and similar to -re verbs).

*Il, elle and on forms always end in -t.

*The root form tends to be based on the infinitive, minus the -ir ending, e.g.: part-. There are some common verbs whose root is slightly modified for the nous, vous and ils/elles forms (e.g.: nous finissons, elles finissent); in other cases, it is the singular forms that use a slightly different root, as in the case of venir (je viens).

 

4. The case of vouloir, pouvoir.

The conjugations for these two common verbs are illustrated in the following table (using vouloir as an example):

subject ending example
je -x je veux
tu -x tu veux
il, elle, on -t elle veut
nous -ons nous voulons
vous -ez vous voulez
ils, elles -ent ils veulent

Points to keep in mind for vouloir and pouvoir in the present tense:

*both the je and the tu forms end in -x

*the stem changes to veu- for most forms (e.g: tu veux)

 

5. Irregular verbs, like être, avoir, faire and aller.

Some of the most frequent verbs in French are also the most irregular in the sense that they don't follow a predictable pattern. Still, since they are highly frequent, you must learn them. The most common ones are: être, avoir, aller, faire, savoir. The conjugation of these verbs is provided in the following tables:

 

 
subject être example
je suis Je suis content
tu es Tu es content
il, elle, on est Elle est contente
nous sommes Nous sommes contents
vous êtes Vous êtes contents
ils, elles sont Ils sont contents

 

subject avoir example
je ai J'ai deux soeurs
tu as Tu as deux soeurs
il, elle, on a Elle a deux soeurs
nous avons Nous avons deux soeurs
vous avez Vous avez deux soeurs
ils, elles ont Ils ont deux soeurs

 

subject aller example
je vais Je vais en France
tu vas Tu vas en France
il, elle, on va Elle va en France
nous allons Nous allons en France
vous allez Vous allez en France
ils, elles vont Ils vont en France

 

subject faire example
je fais Je fais des progrès
tu fais Tu fais des progrès
il, elle, on fait Elle fait des progrès
nous faisons Nous faisons des progrès
vous faites Vous faites des progrès
ils, elles font Ils font des progrès

 

subject savoir example
je sais Je sais qu'il vient
tu sais Tu sais qu'il vient
il, elle, on sais Elle sait qu'il vient
nous savons Nous savons qu'il vient
vous savez Vous savez qu'il vient
ils, elles savent Ils savent qu'il vient

 

You need to familiarize yourself with these by using the verb conjugator and doing the exercises below.

Points to keep in mind when using irregular verbs:

*the je and tu endings for irregular verbs is usually -s, e.g.: je suis, tu es, je fais, tu fais, je vais, tu vas (avoir is an exception since the je form is j'ai).

* the il, elle and on ending is usually -t, e.g.: il est, elle sait, on fait (both avoir and aller are exceptional since they are a and va).

Verb conjugation:
 
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