Learning the basics of French/Learn the tenses

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French Tenses - The Basics[edit]

In English, an infinitive is given with to in the front of it. To talk in English is an infinitive. In French, however, all infinitives are a single word. To talk in French is parler. Before reading, make yourself aware that there are three types of "regular" verbs in French. That is, these verbs follow a common pattern when conjugated. For these verbs, all you need to know is the infinitive and you can conjugate them for every tense. These verbs are the -er, -ir, and -re verbs. Meaning they all share the common -er, -ir, or -re ending. Just because a verb ends in one of these endings doesn't necessarily make it regular, it could still be irregular. Irregular verbs follow no real common pattern and must each be learned. In most cases, the form of an irregular verb is different from the common patterns that regular verbs follow in every tense.

In this chapter, we describe most of the conjugation tenses within French; in addition to past, present, and future, French has a series of conjugations depending on the usage of the verb. This resource is placed in three segments for present, past and future; the most important conjugations are located at the beginning of each major tense. There is no need to memorize the entire system, but you should take a look at the most common ones in each category; the more complex tenses can be learned or referred to later as necessary.

Indicative mood[edit]

See Indicative tense for conjugation.

The indicative mood for verbs is used to indicate that an action is taking place.

There are three tenses normally found here: The present, the past (also known as perfect), and the future.

Present Tense[edit]

This is the tense we talk in most often. This is what is happening now as we speak. In French they have one translation for three English phrases. In English, one could say "they were running" in three ways. I run. I do run. or I am running are all translated into French as je cours (this is the French verb to run and it is an irregular verb.)

Present imperative - l'impératif[edit]

The present imperative is a command given from the speaker. There are only three conjugations for tu, nous and vous, and their usage does not include the pronoun.

As with present, you remove replace ending. The second person singular conjugation for verbs ending in -er is -e, and all other regular verbs are conjugated normally according to present.

Present Participle - le participe présent[edit]

The present participle is used to indicate the manner at which another verb was completed.

This conjugation is formed from the present tense conjugation of nous, and replacing the -ons ending with -ant. There are three exceptions: être becomes étant, avoir becomes ayant, and savoir becomes sachant.

Conditional Present - le conditionnel présent[edit]

The conditional present is used for hypothetical situations.

It is formed by appending the endings for L'imparfait to the infinitve. As with futur simple, the spelling of some verbs may change.

Formation singular plural
first person je -ais nous -ions
second person tu -ais vous -iez
third person masculine il -ait ils -aient
feminine elle -ait elles -aient
Example singular plural
first person j'arriverais nous arriverions
second person tu arriverais vous arriveriez
third person masculine il arriverait ils arriveraient
feminine elle arriverait elles arriveraient

Subjunctive Present - le subjonctif présent[edit]

The subjunctive present is used to indicate feelings or beliefs or doubts rather than facts. It is normally used in specific dependent clauses.

This conjugation is formed from the third person plural, by removing -ent, and adding the endings below:

  singular plural
first person que je -e que nous -ions
second person que tu -es que vous -iez
third person masculine qu'il -e qu'ils -ent
feminine qu'elle -e qu'elles -ent

This conjugation tends to be difficult to understand for English speakers, since it doesn't have common usage in English.

Past tense[edit]

Imperfect past - l'imparfait[edit]

The imperfect past tense is a one-word past tense that indicates past action that is ongoing (for example, something that is continuous or habitual). It uses the stem from the present tense of the nous conjugation (with the exception of être, which has the stem ét), and uses the endings in the table below:

  singular plural
first person je -ais nous -ions
second person tu -ais vous -iez
third person masculine il -ait ils -aient
feminine elle -ait elles -aient


Immediate Past - le passé immédiat[edit]

The immediate past conjugation relates to an action that was performed recently in the past. Unlike passé composé, this tense indicates that the subject had just finished the activity, or is "coming from" said activity.

It is formed by conjugating the irregular verb venir (to come) in present tense, and adding the preposition de (from) followed by the infinitif.

The English translation can be interpreted as "I have just <verb>".

  singular plural
first person je viens <verb> nous venons <verb>
second person tu viens <verb> vous venez <verb>
third person masculine il vient <verb> ils viennent <verb>
feminine elle vient <verb> elles viennent <verb>


Past perfect - le plus-que-parfait[edit]

The Plus-que-parfait or past perfect tense is used to describe an event in the past, when in relation to a second event that is also in the past.

It is a compound conjugation, using either the verb avoir or être conjugated in its imperfect tense. For example:

  singular plural
first person j'avais <verb> nous avions <verb>
second person tu avais <verb> vous aviez <verb>
third person masculine il avait <verb> ils avaient <verb>
feminine elle avait <verb> elles avaient <verb>

Conditional past - le conditionnel passé[edit]

This tense indicates an action which would have taken place in the past if a condition is met.

This compound conjugation is formed by taking the present conditional of the auxillary verb (either avoir or être) and the past participle of the verb.

Future tense[edit]

Future perfect - le futur antérieur[edit]

This tense indicates an action which was completed in the past in comparison of another future event.

This compound conjugation is formed from the future tense of the auxillary (avoir or être) and the past participle of the verb.