Learning the basics of French/Learn the tenses/Indicative

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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.)

Regular Verbs[edit]

With regular verbs, each verb has a stem, which is the part that is common to all its inflected variants. With a regular verb, you will take the stem and add the ending that agrees with the subject.

For all of the regular verbs you simply drop the ending, either -er, -ir, or -re. For example, the stem for parler is parl (An example of an -er verb, all other regular -er verbs are the same.). This process is the same for -re, -ir, and -er verbs all alike, respectively (i.e. Finir becomes fin, and attendre becomes attend). So the stem for the verb parler (to talk) is parl, and to say I talk, you would simply add the corresponding ending -e. So, I talk in french is je parle.

Verbs ending in -er.[edit]

  singular plural
first person je(I)= -e nous(we)= -ons
second person informal tu(you)= -es vous(you all)= -ez
formal vous(you)= -ez
third person masculine il(he)= -e ils(they)= -ent
feminine elle(she)= -e elles(they)= -ent

Verbs ending in -re.[edit]

While verbs ending in -re tend to follow this conjugation table, verbs in this group are generally conjugated irregularly.

  singular plural
first person je(I)= -s nous(we)= -ons
second person informal tu(you)= -s vous(you all)= -ez
formal vous(you)= -ez
third person masculine il(he)= -(no ending) ils(they)= -ent
feminine elle(she)= -(no ending) elles(they)= -ent

Irregular Verbs[edit]

Irregular verbs are verbs that do not follow the rules for regular verbs. In English, they include "to do" (I do, you do, he/she/it does, we do, you do (plural), they do) and in French they include "être" and "avoir" ("to be" and "to have"). They are a little more difficult to learn because they tend not follow rules, but don't let this put you off... It really is worth the effort to learn them off by heart!

We'll take the two french verbs mentioned above, "être" and "avoir", and I'll show you the conjugations for them:

Être - To Be
Je suis - I am
Tu es - You are (singular, informal)
Il/Elle est - He/She is
On est - One is (very informal)
Nous sommes - We are
Vous êtes - You are (plural, formal)
Ils sont - They are (male or including a male)
Elles sont - They are (entirely female)
Avoir - To have
J'ai - I have
Tu as - You have (singular, informal)
Il/Elle a - He/She has
On a - One has (very formal)
Nous avons - We have
Vous avez - You have (plural, formal)
Ils ont - They have (male or including a male)
Elles ont - They have (entirely female)

An other irregular verb :

Aller - To go
Je vais - I go
Tu vas - You go (singular, informal)
Il/Elle va - He/She goes
On va - One goes (very informal)
Nous allons - We go
Vous allez - You go (plural, formal)
Ils vont - They go (male or including a male)
Elles vont - They go (entirely female)

Irregular verbs are also scattered throughout the verbs ending with -er, -ir, and -re. While they may share some aspects of conjugation, their endings are usually different from one stage to another.

Past tense - Passé composé[edit]

The past tense indicates that an action occurred in the past. In English, you will see "He had finished...", with French using a similar pattern with "Il a fini..."

Regular verbs[edit]

The regular conjugation for the past tense involves conjugating Avoir, and adding the past participle afterwards. This past participle is created by taking the stem of the verb in question (removing the -er, -ir or -re ending) and replacing it with the past tense ending, as shown below:

  • J'ai écouté - I had listened
  • Tu as fini - you had finished
  • il a attendu - he has waited

As you can see, the passé composé ending for the three conjugations are é, i, and u respectivly.

Irregular verbs[edit]

The irregular verbs in french have a varying ending for passé composé, and there is no specific method for determing which one to use. As a result, you will need to consult a reference book or memorize them.

As an example, take a look for avoir and etre

  • J'ai eu
  • J'ai été

Être in passé composé[edit]

With some verbs in past tense, you need to conjugate them with être instead of avoir - these verbs usually include a change of state.

Verb English meaning
Devenir to become
Revenir to return
Monter to mount
Rester to remain
Sortir to go out/ to exit
Venir to come
Aller to go
Naître to be born
Descendre to descend
Entrer to enter
Rentrer to return
Tomber to fall
Retourner to return
Arriver to arrive
Mourir to die
Partir to leave

The first line of these verb forms a mimic DR MRS VANDERTRAMP This list is not exclusive, as verbs used in an intrasitive fashion (without a direct object) are also conjugated with être - for example, it is possible to see "Il est fini", which has a different meaning than "Il a fini".

Many anagrams and tricks are used in schools to remember this list of words; particularly the anagram: DR. MRS. VANDERTRAMP

Future tense[edit]

Close Future - futur proche[edit]

This tense is used to indicate that something is going to occurr in the near future. This conjugation results in a compound verb; first, aller is conjugated as if it were in the present tense, and is then followed by the infinitive of the original verb. Unlike passé composé, there is no change in the infinitive. Attention in French grammar is not considered a tense but as a grammatical construction.

In English, the literal translation of this tense is "subject is going to..."

  singular plural
first person je vais <verb> nous allons <verb>
second person tu vas <verb> vous allez <verb>
third person masculine il va <verb> ils vont <verb>
feminine elle va <verb> elles vont <verb>

Future - Futur simple[edit]

This tense involved an action that will occurr in the future (but not necessarily in the near future.)

It is formed by appending the endings below to the infinitive. Some verbs have a minor spelling change when conjugated in this tense; these exceptions must be memorized.

  singular plural
first person je -ai nous -ons
second person tu -as vous -ez
third person masculine il -a ils -ont
feminine elle -a elles -ont