Conquer Conjugations in French: From Basics to Advanced

Ellison Clapton9 min
Created: Oct 11, 2023Last updated: Oct 11, 2023
Conjugations in French

One of the key components in achieving proficiency in French is understanding how to conjugate verbs. Their form changes based on the subject and the tense, similar to how English verbs like ‘write’ change to ‘wrote’ or ‘writing.’ Proper French verb conjugation is essential for clear communication. This guide will break down the fundamental principles of conjugation, list common verbs, and offer practical steps to navigate regular and irregular patterns.

Understanding Conjugations in French

Conjugation is the modification of verbs from their base form to communicate various attributes such as number, person, tense, and mood. In French, as in many languages, the conjugated form of a verb provides essential context that helps listeners or readers understand when and by whom an action is performed. Consider être (to be). Its conjugation changes based on who is acting and when:

PersonPresentPast (Passé Composé)Future
je (I)suisai étéserai
tu (you)esas étéseras
il/elle/on (he/she/one)esta étésera
nous (we)sommesavons étéserons
vous (you)êtesavez étéserez
ils/elles (they)sontont étéseront

The table above shows how être changes based on tense and person. These shifts in form are consistent across many verbs, with variations for regular and irregular types. French conjugation also communicates mood, such as the indicative (stating facts), the imperative (giving commands), the conditional (expressing possibilities), and the subjunctive (expressing doubts, wishes, or unknowns).

For anyone learning French, understanding conjugation is crucial. It enables the speaker to articulate thoughts clearly and accurately comprehend spoken or written French. It’s not just about knowing vocabulary; it’s about using the correct verb forms to relay and receive information effectively.

French Conjugation of -er, -ir, and -re Verb Groups Explained

In French, verbs are classified into distinct groups based on the endings of their infinitive forms. This classification greatly aids in understanding their conjugation patterns, especially in the present tense. At the heart of this system are three primary groups, which are the cornerstones for learners: the -er, -ir, and -re verbs. Here’s an overview of the types of verbs in French:

  • -er Verbs. The most widespread group, capturing the majority of French verbs.
  • -ir Verbs. Less common than the previous but still vital, these present unique conjugation patterns.
  • -re Verbs. The smallest of the trio, with some verbs in this category exhibiting irregularities.

Distinguishing between these three groups is crucial. Not only does it streamline the learning process, but it also provides clarity when navigating the intricacies of verb usage in various contexts. To illustrate, here’s a snapshot of how they are conjugated in the present tense:

Person-er (aimer)-ir (finir)-re (rendre)
je (I)aimefinisrends
tu (you)aimesfinisrends
il/elle/on (he/she/it)aimefinitrend
nous (we)aimonsfinissonsrendons
vous (you formal/plural)aimezfinissezrendez
ils/elles (they)aimentfinissentrendent

While tables like the one above offer a visual guide, practicing and applying these patterns in conversation is imperative. This practice cements understanding and enables learners to use the correct verb forms in real-time communication instinctively.

The Standouts: Key Irregular Verbs You’ll Encounter Often

Within the extensive repertoire of French verbs exists a group that doesn’t quite conform to the standard -er, -ir, and -re conjugation patterns. These are irregular verbs, and while they don’t follow the common rules, they are frequently used in everyday conversations, making them indispensable for anyone learning French.

Irregular verbs often rank high in terms of usage. French common verbs like être (to be)avoir (to have)aller (to go), and faire (to do/make) all fall into this category. Their irregular nature means they don’t fit neatly into the typical conjugation tables, and each must be learned individually. Below is a table showcasing the basic verbs in French:

Personêtre (to be)avoir (to have)aller (to go)faire (to do/make)venir (to come)

Despite their irregularities, these verbs are crucial because of the frequency with which they appear in communication. They are among the most common verbs in French, so consistent exposure and practice often lead to these conjugations becoming second nature over time. 

Compound Tenses and the Past Participle

French grammar boasts a feature that many learners initially find daunting but soon come to appreciate for the nuance it adds: compound tenses. These tenses are formed using an auxiliary verb, être or avoir, combined with the main verb’s past participle.

The compound tenses allow for a more detailed narration of events, providing context on the duration, repetition, or relation to other events. Two of the most commonly used compound tenses are the passé composé (a sort of present perfect) and the plus-que-parfait (akin to past perfect in English). The past participle is the verb form used in these tenses. For regular verbs:

  • -er verbs (parler) become -é (parlé).
  • -ir verbs (finir) retain -i (fini).
  • -re verbs (vendre) become -u (vendu).

However, irregular verbs, as always, have their own set of rules. For example, être becomes été, and avoir becomes eu. The choice of auxiliary can be tricky. While most use avoir, some verbs of motion or those indicating a change of state use être. For instance, aller (to go) in the passé composé is je suis allé (I went). Here’s a verb chart in French:

Personparler (to speak)finir (to finish)vendre (to sell)
jeai parléai finiai vendu
tuas parléas finias vendu
il/elle/ona parléa finia vendu
nousavons parléavons finiavons vendu
vousavez parléavez finiavez vendu
ils/ellesont parléont finiont vendu

These rules for conjugating irregular verbs and forming compound tenses may seem overwhelming. However, with consistent practice and exposure, everyone can become comfortable with them.


French Verb Conjugations in Conditional and Future Tenses

The ability to talk about events that might happen or will happen in the future is fundamental in any language. French achieves this through the conditional and future tenses. Both tenses share similarities in their formation, especially for regular verbs, but serve distinct purposes in communication.

  • Future Tense (Futur Simple)

The future tense in French, as the name suggests, is used to describe actions that will happen in the future. Its formation is quite systematic. You take the verb’s infinitive as the stem and add the specific future endings: -ai, -as, -a, -ons, -ez, -ont. For example, parler (to speak) becomes:


Irregular verbs have different stems but use the same endings. For instance, être becomes ser- in the future tense: je serai. In daily speech, however, French speakers often prefer the near future construct, which uses aller + infinitive (I am going to speak becomes je vais parler).

  • Conditional (Conditionnel)

The conditional tense indicates actions that would or could occur under certain conditions. Its formation resembles the future tense. The stem is the infinitive for regular verbs, but the endings are those of the imperfect: -ais, -ais, -ait, -ions, -iez, -aient. For parler:


The conditional and future tenses are crucial for expressing hypothetical situations or planned events. A firm understanding of these grammatical features will unlock new realms of conversation in French, leading to clearer and richer dialogues.

The Intricacies of Reflexive Verbs

In French, reflexive verbs hold a special place. Often recognized by the pronoun se before the infinitive, they indicate actions that a subject performs on itself. They add depth to the language by denoting actions where the subject and the object are identical.

A classic example is se laver (to wash oneself). The conjugation of reflexive verbs involves using reflexive pronouns: me, te, se, nous, vous, se. These come before the verb and change based on the subject:

PersonReflexive PronounConjugation of se laver
jememe lave
tutete laves
il/elle/onsese lave
nousnousnous lavons
vousvousvous lavez
ils/ellessese lavent

Reflexive verbs are not limited to just physical actions done to oneself. They can also represent abstract ideas or states of being. For example, se souvenir means ‘to remember,’ and se sentir translates to ‘to feel.’

When constructing sentences with reflexive verbs, it’s essential to note that the past tense passé composé always uses être as the auxiliary verb. For instance, je me suis lavé(e) means ‘I washed myself’. Note the added ‘e’ for feminine subjects.

Solutions & Strategies for Conjugation Challenges

Every learner can navigate conjugation challenges effectively with the right strategies and tools. Let’s explore solutions and approaches that can aid:

  • Practice with Regular Patterns. Before diving into irregular verbs, solidify your understanding of regular -er, -ir, and -re verbs. These patterns provide a foundation that makes tackling irregulars less daunting.
  • Flashcards. Use physical or digital flashcards to test your knowledge. On one side, write the infinitive form; on the other, write the French verb conjugation list. Regularly shuffling and testing yourself helps reinforce memory.
  • Consistent Exposure. Read French books, listen to podcasts, or watch French films. The more you expose yourself to conjugated verbs in context, the better you’ll understand their usage and patterns.
  • Practice Writing and Speaking. Engage in writing exercises or speak with classmates. Active use of verbs helps cement their conjugated forms in your mind.
  • Accept Mistakes. Remember, mistakes are part of the learning process. Rather than getting discouraged, use them as feedback. Over time and with consistent practice, errors will diminish.

In conclusion, while French verb conjugation presents challenges, they aren’t insurmountable. With a blend of traditional and modern tools, consistent practice, and a positive mindset, learners can overcome these hurdles and achieve proficiency.

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French verb conjugation, with its myriad patterns and nuances, is a key component of mastering the tongue. Though it may initially seem daunting, learners can easily navigate with consistent practice, targeted strategies, and a keen understanding of the core groups. By embracing the regularities and irregularities within the French verbs list, one can unlock the richness of language.


How often should I practice conjugation to achieve proficiency?

Dedicate at least 15 minutes daily to verb conjugation exercises. Regular, short practice sessions are more effective than occasional lengthy ones, helping embed patterns in long-term memory. Like with any other language, consistency is the best way to learn French.

Do native French speakers always follow conjugation rules?

While native speakers generally use correct conjugation in formal settings, colloquial speech can sometimes deviate from textbook rules. However, these deviations have their patterns, much like ‘ain’t’ in English.

How does French verb conjugation compare to other Romance languages?

French, like Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, has its roots in Latin. While each has distinct conjugation rules, you’ll find some similarities in verb structures and patterns if you’ve learned a Romance language before.

Are there online tools that can assist in mastering French verb conjugation?

Absolutely. Websites like Conjugation-Fr and Le Conjugueur are popular platforms that offer comprehensive conjugation tables for virtually every verb. They are user-friendly and cater to beginners and advanced learners, providing instant conjugations in French.


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