How to Conjugate French Verbs

by Lindsay Howell

Most French verbs end in -er, -ir, or -re. There are two kinds of French verbs: regular and irregular. Regular verbs follow a specific pattern when you conjugate them, whereas irregular verbs do not. Depending on the tense you are writing or speaking in, you will conjugate verbs a certain way. The three basic tenses are present, past and future. Learning to conjugate verbs for each of the basic tenses will help you begin a path of writing and speaking French proficiently.

Start with conjugating regular verbs, since these have specific conjugation patterns. For example, the verb "parler," which means "to speak" is conjugated in the present tense as such: je parle tu parles il/elle/on parle nous parlons vous parlez ils/elles parlent The root of the verb is "parl," and the ending changes for each pronoun; the endings are -e, -es, -e, -ons, -ez and -ent. Follow the same pattern with all regular -er verbs.

Practice conjugating verbs in the past tense. For most verbs, the past tense uses the verb avoir, "to have," followed by the action verb. For example, to say that you have said something, you would say "j'ai dit;" the verb dire means "to say." Complete the conjugation for the other pronouns: tu as dit il/elle/on a dit nous avons dit vous avez dit ils/elles ont dit

Other verbs use the conjugation of "etre," "to be," for the past tense. The common mnemonic device to remember which verbs use "etre" is Dr/Mrs. Vandertramp, where each letter stands for a verb: devenir, revenir, monter, rester, sortir, venir, aller, naître, descendre, entrer, retourner, tomber, rentrer, arriver, mourir and partir. For example, conjugate "partir," the word for "to leave" in the past tense: je suis parti(e) tu es parti(e) il/elle/on est parti(e) nous sommes parti(e)s vous etes parti(e)(s) ils/elles sont parti(e)s With "etre" past tense conjugations, the gender and plurality of the subject affects how you conjugate the verb. For example, if you are a female, when you wrote to tell someone that you left your house, you would say "je suis partie chez moi;" if male, this would be, "je suis parti."

Conjugate French verbs in the future tense.The future tense takes the full verb and adds different endings for each of the pronouns. For example, use parler again, but now in the future tense: je parlerai tu parleras il/elle/on parlera nous parlerons vous parlerez ils/elles parlerent Notice that "parler" is the root of the verbs in the future tense, which the stems being -ai, -as, -a, -ons, -ez and -ent.

Practice speaking and writing in various tenses to master conjugating the French verbs. Writing a verb in each tense, using each pronoun, will help you to memorize the proper conjugations for each new verb you learn.

About the Author

Lindsay Howell has been writing since 2003. Her works have been featured in "Bittersweet," her campus literary magazine. Howell has a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from Frostburg State University.

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