French Grammar Guide for non-francophones

Present (e.g.: je parle)

Questions about je in the present:

Q: Why is it je parle and NOT je parles?

For -er verbs, the je ending is always -e, that’s all there is to it! For example, je parle, je mange, je commence, etc. So, can the je form of an –er verb ever end in –s? No, not in the present tense. However, all imperfect and conditional forms of je do in fact end in –s (e.g.: je parlais, je mangeais, etc.)

Q: Why is it je prends and NOT je prend?

When the infinitive verb ends in -re (like prendre), the je form of the verb does end in -s, e.g.: je vends, je prends, etc. The most common mistake with these verbs is to leave the -s off, but now you know better (and so does BonPatron!)

Q: Why is it je finis and NOT je finit

If the infintive ends in -ir, like partir and venir, the verb always ends in -s when je is the subject. For example, je pars, je viens. Make sure you do not omit the -s with this type of verb.

Q: Why is it je peux and NOT je peut

For the verbs pouvoir and vouloir, the ending for je and tu is -x, e.g.:  je peux, je veux. It is never -s or -t.

Q: Why is it je vais NOT j'alle?

The is the correct "je" form of the irregular verb aller.

A verb is irregular if it doesn’t follow the general pattern of most verbs (i.e. the conjugated form is not made by dropping the infinitive’s ending. This can make things a little difficult, but you need to learn the correct form of irregular verbs since they are very frequent (e.g.: être, avoir, faire, savoir, aller, devoir). However, when it comes to the verb's ending, irregular verbs are straightforward. With the exception of avoir (j’ai) the ending is always -s (je suis, je fais, je sais, je vais, je dois).

In summary, when je is the subject, the verb can end in -e, -s, or -x.

  • je + -er verb: ending is -e (e.g.: je mange)
  • je + -pouvoir/vouloir: ending is -x (e.g.: je peux)
  • All other verbs: ending is -s (e.g.: je viens, je prends, je fais)

That’s all there is to it!

Mistakes to avoid:

  • je manges (for -er verbs, the ending is -e)
  • je peut (for pouvoir and vouloir, the ending is -x)
  • je vien (for -ir verbs, the ending is -s)
  • je prend (for -re verbs, the ending is -s)
  • je fait (for irregular verbs, the ending is -s)

What about other tenses? For other tenses, always use -s, e.g.: j’avais, j’aimerais, etc. The only exception is the future tense ending which is -rai, e.g.: je viendrai.

Questions about tu in the present:

Q: Why is it tu parles and NOT tu parle?

When tu is the subject, the verb ends in either -s or -x. By far the most common ending is -s though, since it is used for all verbs except vouloir and pouvoir. For example, one writes, tu manges, tu viens and tu fais (but tu peux, and tu veux). The most common mistake is the absence of either -s or -x. If you put final -s instead of a final -x, or vice versa, BonPatron will be there to let you know!

Q: Why is it tu finis and NOT tu finit?

Remember that for all verb, the tu endings is -s.

Mistakes to avoid:

  • tu mange (for -er verbs, the ending is -s)
  • tu peut (for pouvoir and vouloir, the ending is -x)
  • tu vien (for -ir verbs, the ending is -s)
  • tu prend (for -re verbs, the ending is -s)

What about for other tense? For all other tenses, always use -s, e.g.: tu avais, tu viendrais, tu seras.

Questions about il, elle, on or singular nouns in the present:

Q: Why is it il mange and NOT il manges?

When the subject is il, elle, on or any singular noun (e.g.: mon ami, le cheval, Pierre), the verb’s ending is either -e, -t or -d (except for avoir, e.g.: elle a). The particular one you use depends on the category of verb.

Here are the general rules for the present tense: a) for -er verbs, the ending is -e, e.g.: il mange, mon ami commence demain; b) for -re verbs, the ending is -d, e.g.: elle descend, mon ami comprend; c) for all other verbs, the ending is -t, e.g.: il vient, on est, mon ami part demain.

Q: Why is it l'eau bout and NOT l'eau bouillit?

When conjugating the verb bouillir in the present, the verb does not end in -llit (even if you think it should!).

In summary, when il, elle or on is the subject, the verb can end in -e, -d or -t.

  • il, elle, on + -er verbs: the ending is -e (e.g.: elle mange)
  • il, elle, on + -re verbs, the ending is -d (e.g.: il rend)
  • il, elle, on + -ir verbs, the ending is -t (e.g.: elle sort)

Mistakes to avoid:

  • il manges (for -er verbs, the ending is -e)
  • elle peux (for pouvoir and vouloir, the ending is -t)
  • on viens (for -ir verbs, the ending is -t)
  • il prens (for -re verbs, the ending is -d)
  • elle fait (for irregular verbs, the ending is -t)

Questions about nous in the present:

Q: Why is it Nous aimons and NOT Nous aiment?

When the subject is nous, the verb always ends in -ons (with the exception of nous sommes). Make sure that you don’t use another plural ending (like -ent) when nous is the subject.

Q: Why is it ils nous aiment and NOT ils nous aimons?

Keep in mind that nous is not always the subject. Take the following sentence: Ils nous voient. Here, the form nous is not performing the action of the verb. In this instance, nous is the object. In cases like this, the verb agrees with the subject (ils), so be careful not to use the -ons ending here.

In summary, when nous is the subject, the verb ends in -ons.

Mistakes to avoid:

  • Nous manges (the nous ending is -ons)
  • Nous adorent (the nous ending is -ons)
  • Nous sont (the nous form for être is sommes)
  • Nous fairons (the nous root for faire is fais-)

Questions about vous in the present:

Q: Why is it Vous parlez and NOT Vous parlent?

When the subject is vous, the verb always ends in -ez (with the exception of vous êtes, vous faites and vous dites). Make sure that you don’t use another plural ending (like -ent) when vous is the subject. Another point to keep in mind is that vous is not always the subject. Take the following sentence: Ils vous adorent. Here, the form vous is not performing the action of the verb. In this instance, vous is the object. In cases like this, the verb agrees with the subject (ils), so be careful not to use the -ez ending here.

Q: Why is it vous dites and NOT vous disez?

This is an exception to the normal pattern whereby vous forms usually end in -ez. Another common exception is the verb faire (vous faites).

Mistakes to avoid:

  • Vous manges (the vous ending is usually -ez)
  • Vous adorent (the vous ending is usually -ez)
  • Vous disez (the vous form for dire is dites)
  • Vous faisez (the vous form for faire is faites)

Questions about ils, elles in the present:

Q: Why is it ils disent and not ils dit?

When the subject is ils, elles or any plural noun (e.g.: mes amis, les chevaux, etc.), the verb always ends in -nt. This is true of regular -er verbs (e.g.: ils commencent demain), -ir verbs (e.g.: elles partent en même temps), -re verbs (e.g.: ces enfants apprennent très vite) and irregular verbs (e.g.: ils font, elles sont, les gens savent, etc.). Furthermore, this is true for all tenses (e.g.: ils disent, ils disaient, ils diront, ils diraient). We see then that the singular forms (like il commence) are never written the same as the plural forms, even though many of them are pronounced the same way.

Q: Why is it ils finissent and NOT ils finirent?

For some verbs, the root changes.

In summary, when ils or elles is the subject, the verb always ends in -nt. For some verbs, the root is slightly different.

Mistakes to avoid:

  • Ils manges (the ils/elles ending is always -nt)
  • Elles adorons (the ils/elles ending is always -nt)
  • Ils ditent (the ils/elles form for dire is disent)
  • Elles faisent (the ils/elles form for faire is font)
Verb conjugation:
 
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