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Beginner’s Guide to French Conjugation for Verbs

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Haven’t we all heard that we should live in the present, soak in the moment, and avoid dwelling on the past or fearing the future? Well…forget about all that as you jump on the conjugation train! You’ll learn how to talk about the past and tell cool life stories, and how to shape the future by planning for dates or festivities.

French conjugation can seem overwhelming at first, and it’s undeniably more complex than English conjugation, but once you start getting the inner logic, it will all make sense. With three groups, lots of tenses, and literal truckloads of exceptions, you’ll have plenty of material to stay busy for a while. But fear not: You really just need to learn the most useful verbs and how to handle regular verbs, and you can learn the rest of the French conjugation rules along the way.

In this article, we’ll cover all the French conjugation basics you need to get started, from the ABCs of French verb conjugation to the handling of regular (ER and IR) verbs and irregular verbs. And of course, we’ll provide plenty of examples for you to practice and get the hang of it!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Useful Verbs in French Table of Contents
  1. What is Conjugation?
  2. Verb Groups
  3. French Conjugation Examples
  4. Irregular Verbs and Their Conjugations
  5. Test Your Knowledge!
  6. How FrenchPod101 Can Help You Learn More French

1. What is Conjugation?

Top Verbs
French conjugation defines how verbs change depending on the person, mood, voice, and tense.

Now, what does that mean exactly? Let’s find out!

1- Person

1st person singularje“I”
2nd person singulartu / vous“you” (casual) / “you” (formal)
3rd person singularil / elle“he” / “she”
1st person pluralnous“we”
2nd person pluralvous“you”
3rd person pluralIls / elles“they” (male) / “they” (female)

Unlike in English, French verbs change with every different “person.”

For example:

  • Je parle. (“I talk.”)
  • Nous parlons. (“We talk.”)

2- Mood

Le mode (“the mood”) in French, refers to the attitude of the speaker toward the action of the verb. Do they believe the statement, is it hypothetical, or is it an order?

Indicatif
(“Indicative”)
Je parle.
(“I talk.”)
To express facts and reality. This is, by far, the most common mood in French.
Subjonctif
(“Subjunctive”)
Tu veux que je parle.
(“You want me to talk.”)
To express something possible or uncertain.
In our example, the fact that you want me to talk doesn’t imply that I will. It’s uncertain.
Conditionnel
(“Conditional”)
Je parlerais.
(“I would talk.”)
Often listed as a tense, it’s also a mood in French. It refers to a condition or possibility.
Impératif
(“Imperative”)
Parle !
(“Talk!”)
We use it to give orders or instructions.
Participe
(“Participle”)
Parlant
(“Talking”)
A word formed from a verb and used as an adjective.
Infinitive
(“Infinitive”)
Parler
(“To talk”)
Default, basic form of a verb.

3- Voice

Les voix (“voices”) are much simpler than the moods, as there are only two: passive and active.

  • In active voice, the subject performs the action.
    Sophie mange le fromage. (“Sophie eats the apple.”)
  • In passive voice, the action is performed on the subject.
    Le fromage est mangé par Sophie. (“The cheese is eaten by Sophie.”)

4- Tense

French has simple and compound tenses. Simple tenses are conjugated by just changing the verb, while compound tenses use an auxiliary (être or avoir) together with the verb.

For example:

  • Je parle. (“I talk.”) — Simple tense: Présent.
  • J’ai parlé. (“I have talked.”) — Compound tense: Passé composé.

Here’s the list of French tenses:

Indicatif présent
Indicatif imparfait
Indicatif passé simple
Indicatif futur simple
Subjonctif présent
Subjonctif imparfait
Conditionnel présent
Impératif présent
Indicatif passé composé
Indicatif plus-que-parfait
Indicatif passé antérieur
Indicatif futur antérieur
Subjonctif passé
Subjonctif plus-que-parfait
Conditionnel passé 1re forme
Conditionnel passé 2e forme
Impératif passé

It looks quite overwhelming, right? But to be fair, we typically use five or six tenses on a daily basis, often less in spoken French (many tenses are only for literary purposes).

Many Blocks of Cheese

Je mange du fromage. (“I eat cheese.”)

2. Verb Groups

It’s very common when learning French verbs to start with a lesson on verb groups. There are officially three groups:

  • French verbs ending with ER
  • French verbs ending with IR
  • French verbs ending with RE

In a perfect world, each of these groups would follow a strict set of rules, and knowing the groups would allow you to easily conjugate new verbs while dancing with happy unicorns in a field of rainbows. Of course, the reality is different, and French verb groups won’t help you much with anything.

The first group is mostly regular and we love it for that. The other two groups are a giant mess with so many irregularities that you could just forget about it. Yet, I still believe it’s important to know that these groups exist, as they’ll be frequently mentioned in grammar books or lessons. At the very least, you should be aware of their existence and general rules. Just don’t rely too much on their false promises!

3. French Conjugation Examples

Essential Verbs

Just like in any language, the more useful and common verbs are very likely to be irregular. Verbs like être (“to be”), avoir (“to have”), and faire (“to do”) are prime examples for this state of affairs.

But no matter what, learning how to deal with regular verbs will take you a long way. When you see how many verbs behave similarly, you’ll get a grasp of how regular verbs work. 

Penser (“To think”) ← This is the infinitive form of a first-group verb

Pens ← This is the “stem”

1st sg (“I”)2nd sg (“you”)3rd sg (“she”)1st pl (“we”)2nd pl (“you”)3rd pl (“they”)
Stem + eStem + esStem + eStem + onsStem + ezStem + ent
Je penseTu pensesElle penseNous pensonsVous pensezIls pensent

 Now, let’s dive into a few more verb examples!

1- First Group Verbs

The first group is the most regular group. Most verbs ending in -ER belong to this group, and they usually behave well. Of course, you can find plenty of exceptions, such as aller (“to go”), that look just like a first group verb but are not. But no need to worry about that now. Let’s start with our beloved regular verbs:


Parler (“To talk”) – 1st group verb

IndicativeSubjunctiveConditionalImperative
PresentSimple pastImperfectFuturePresentPresentPresent
jeparleparlaiparlaisparleraiparleparlerais
tuparlesparlasparlaisparlerasparlesparleraisparle
il / elleparleparlaparlaitparleraparlesparlerait
nousparlonsparlâmesparlionsparleronsparlionsparlerionsparlons
vousparlezparlâtesparliezparlerezparliezparleriezparlez
ils / ellesparlentparlèrentparlaientparlerontparlentparleraient

Aimer (“To love”) – 1st group verb

IndicativeSubjunctiveConditionalImperative
PresentSimple pastImperfectFuturePresentPresentPresent
jeaimeaimaiaimaisaimeraiaimeaimerais
tuaimesaimasaimaisaimerasaimesaimeraisaime
il / elleaimeaimaaimaitaimeraaimesaimerait
nousaimonsaimâmesaimionsaimeronsaimionsaimerionsaimons
vousaimezaimâtesaimiezaimerezaimiezaimeriezaimez
ils / ellesaimentaimèrentaimaientaimerontaimentaimeraient

Manger (“To eat”) – 1st group verb

IndicativeSubjunctiveConditionalImperative
PresentSimple pastImperfectFuturePresentPresentPresent
jemangemangeaimangeaismangeraimangemangerais
tumangesmangeasmangeaismangerasmangesmangeraismange
il / ellemangemangeamangeaitmangeramangesmangerait
nousmangeonsmangeâmesmangionsmangeronsmangionsmangerionsmangeons
vousmangezmangeâtesmangiezmangerezmangiezmangeriezmangez
ils / ellesmangentmangèrentmangeaientmangerontmangentmangeraient

Wait, this regular verb is behaving differently!

Why is it nous mangeons (“we eat”) and not nous mangons?

This is because we want the stem (mang-) to always keep the same [ʒ] sound (the first sound of je or jour).

When the letter G is followed by the letters A or O, it’s pronounced like a [g] sound (the first sound of gant or gorille). 

To preserve the original sound, we add the letter E between the stem (mang-) and the ending (ons). As a result, we get: mangeons.

The same goes for every verb with a stem ending with the letter G.

  • Changer (“To change”) — Nous changeons
  • Ronger (“To gnaw”) — Nous rongeons

Similarly, verbs with a stem ending with C change it to Ç (also to preserve the original sound of the stem).

  • Avancer (“To move forward”) — Nous avançons
  • Commencer (“To begin”) — Nous commençons
Two Women Talking to Each Other Outside

Elles aiment parler. (“They like to talk.”)

2- Second Group Verbs

So, the second-group verbs are the ones ending with -IR? Nope!

You’ll find that ninety percent of the most common verbs ending in -IR are from the third group, but nonetheless, many IR verbs fit the bill and follow the rules of the second group. Here’s how they look:

Choisir (“To choose”) – 2nd group verb

IndicativeSubjunctiveConditionalImperative
PresentSimple pastImperfectFuturePresentPresentPresent
jechoisischoisischoisissaischoisiraichoisissechoisirais
tuchoisischoisischoisissaischoisiraschoisisseschoisiraischoisis
il / ellechoisitchoisitchoisissaitchoisirachoisissechoisirait
nouschoisissonschoisîmeschoisissionschoisironschoisissionschoisirionschoisissons
vouschoisissezchoisîteschoisissiezchoisirezchoisissiezchoisiriezchoisissez
ils / elleschoisissentchoisirentchoisissaientchoisirontchoisissentchoisiraient

Finir (“To finish”) – 2nd group verb

IndicativeSubjunctiveConditionalImperative
PresentSimple pastImperfectFuturePresentPresentPresent
jefinisfinisfinissaisfiniraifinissefinirais
tufinisfinisfinissaisfinirasfinissesfiniraisfinis
il / ellefinitfinitfinissaitfinirafinissefinirait
nousfinissonsfinîmesfinissionsfinironsfinissionsfinirionsfinissons
vousfinissezfinîtesfinissiezfinirezfinissiezfiniriezfinissez
ils / ellesfinissentfinirentfinissaientfinirontfinissentfiniraient

Agir (“To act”) – 2nd group verb

IndicativeSubjunctiveConditionalImperative
PresentSimple pastImperfectFuturePresentPresentPresent
jeagisagisagissaisagiraiagisseagirais
tuagisagisagissaisagirasagissesagiraisagis
il / elleagitagitagissaitagiraagisseagirait
nousagissonsagîmesagissionsagironsagissionsagirionsagissons
vousagissezagîtesagissiezagirezagissiezagiriezagissez
ils / ellesagissentagirentagirentagirontagissentagiraient
Man Deciding Whether to Eat an Apple or Cake

Difficile de choisir (“Difficult to choose”)

4. Irregular Verbs and Their Conjugations

Nobody likes irregular verbs. They’re like rebellious teenagers, breaking the rules for the sake of it. But believe me, there’s no way around French irregular verbs. The top ten most useful French verbs are all irregular. And if you go further down the list, you’ll be surprised how long you have to browse before finding a well-mannered verb from the first or second group. How do you go about conjugating French verbs like this?

First of all, let’s talk about our auxiliaries. 

Être (“to be”) and avoir (“to have”) are auxiliary verbs, which makes them the two most important French verbs. We use them to form compound tenses such as passé composé and subjonctif passé.

Here’s an example of passé composé with the verb manger (“to eat”):

  • Présent: Je mange. (“I eat.”)
  • Passé composé: J’ai mangé. (“I have eaten.”)

Here’s another example with the verb tomber (“to fall”):

  • Présent: Je tombe. (“I fall.”)

Passé composé:Je suis tombé. (“I have fallen.”)

/! When should I use être or avoir?

We use avoir in most situations, except for these two cases:

1) We use être for all pronominal verbs (those starting with se)

For example: se lever (“to stand up”)
  • Présent: Je me lève. (“I stand up.”)
  • Passé composé: Je me suis levé. (“I have stood up.”)
2) We also use être for a few other verbs, most of them reflecting a change of direction, state, or movement.

Some examples: monter, rester, retourner, descendre, passer, venir, aller, entrer, sortir, arriver, partir, tomber

Now, let’s see how to conjugate our beloved auxiliaries:

Être (“To be”) – 3rd group verb

IndicativeSubjunctiveConditionalConditional
PresentSimple pastImperfectFuturePresentPresentPresent
je / j’suisfusétaisseraisoisserais
tuesfusétaisserassoisseraissois
il / elleestfutétaitserasoitserait
noussommesfûmesétionsseronssoyonsserionssoyons
vousêtesfûtesétiezserezsoyezseriezsoyez
ils / ellessontfurentétaientserontsoientseraient

Avoir (“To have”) – 3rd group verb

IndicativeSubjunctiveConditionalImperative
PresentSimple pastImperfectFuturePresentPresentPresent
j’aieusavaisauraiaieeusse
tuaseusavaisaurasaieseussesaie
il / elleaeutavaitauraaiteût
nousavonseûmesavionsauronsayonseussionsayons
vousavezeûtesaviezaurezayezeussiezayez
ils / ellesonteurentavaientaurontaienteussent

Next stop: more irregularities, with aller (“to go”), one of the most common and equally misbehaving verbs. 


Aller (“To go”) – 3rd group verb

IndicativeSubjunctiveConditionalImperative
PresentSimple pastImperfectFuturePresentPresentPresent
jevaisallaiallaisiraiailleirais
tuvasallaisallaisirasaillesiraisva
il / ellevaallaitallaitiraaillesirait
nousallonsallâmesallionsironsallionsirionsallons
vousallezallâtesalliezirezallieziriezallez
ils / ellesvontallèrentallaientirontaillentiraient
    → Learn more verbs and their pronunciations with our free vocabulary list on the Top 10 Travel Verbs.

5. Test Your Knowledge!

Negative Verbs

Ready for a bit of practice? Take our French conjugations quiz! 

Try to fill in the blanks with the correct form for each verb. Don’t worry if you can’t find everything. We’ll go through it together. =)

  1. Elle (manger) ______ du fromage tous les jours.
    (“She eats cheese everyday.”)
  2. Je (guérir) ______ dans quelques jours.
    (“I will heal in a few days.”)
  3. Pendant les vacances, tu (dormir) ______ comme une souche !
    (“During the vacations, you were sleeping like a log!”)
  4. Ils (demander) ______ de l’aide.
    (“They have asked for help.”)
  5. Nous (répondre) ______ si nous avions le temps.
    (“We would answer if we had time.”)
Man and Woman Talking Next to Blackboard with Sticky Notes

“Look, blank post-its to write down your irregular verbs!”

Alright, let’s have a closer look at each of these bad boys:

1- “She eats cheese.” 

This is something that she does everyday. This looks like a case of présent (“present tense”).

If you go back to Chapter 3. 1- First Group Verbs, you’ll find the conjugation table for the verb manger. With elle, it’s gonna be: elle mange.

Note:  We also use présent for an action that’s happening right now:

  • “I eat cheese.” (Je mange du fromage.)
  • “I’m eating cheese.” (Je mange du fromage.)

Answer: 

Elle mange du fromage tous les jours.
(“She eats cheese everyday.”)

2- “I will heal” is something that will happen in the future. I’m sick or injured, and I will heal in a few days.
Let’s use the futur (“future tense”).


Guérir is a regular verb from the second group and behaves like choisir. In future tense, with je and the future tense, we have: Je guérirai.

Note: We also have the equivalent of “I’m going to” for the near future. And luckily, it’s very similar in English and French, as we use the verb aller (“to go”):

  • “I will heal.” (Je guérirai.)
  • “I’m going to heal.” (Je vais guérir.)

Answer: 

Je guérirai dans quelques jours.
(“I will heal in a few days.”)

3- “You were sleeping” is a continuous action in the past, making it an ideal candidate for imparfait (“imperfect tense”).

Dormir really looks like a second-group verb, right? Well, it’s not! If you check its conjugation table, you’ll find how to put it in imperfect tense: Tu dormais.

Answer: 

Pendant les vacances, tu dormais comme une souche !
(“During the vacations, you were sleeping like a log!”)

4- “They have asked” is a brief action in the past and a perfect fit for the passé composé (“perfect tense”).

Demander ends with ER, so it’s safe to say that this is a first-group verb. Have a look at the conjugation tables in the early chapters, and you’ll find: Ils ont demandé. When in doubt, you can always double-check it online.

Answer: 

Ils ont demandé de l’aide.
(“They have asked for help.”)

5- “We would answer” describes a condition or a possibility. This is a textbook case of conditionnel (“conditional”).

Répondre ends with RE, which makes it part of the third group. On its conjugation table, you’ll find what we need here: Nous répondrions.

Answer: 

Nous répondrions si nous avions le temps.
(“We would answer if we had time.”)

    → Do you feel ready for more verbs? Be sure to visit our article on the 100 Must-Know French Verbs. It’s full of tips and examples to help you handle any daily situation!
Little Boy Learning Words in Book with mother

Average French kid learning his 458th irregular verb.

6. How FrenchPod101 Can Help You Learn More French

In this guide, you’ve learned all the basics of French verb conjugation, from ER and IR verbs, to tenses, common irregular verbs, and how to deal with them all.

Did we forget any important tense or rule you’d like to learn about? Do you feel ready to grab some of these French verbs by the horns and conjugate the pulp out of them, using everything you’ve learned today?

Make sure to explore FrenchPod101, as it has plenty of free resources for you to practice your grammar and learn new words. Our vocabulary lists are also a great way to review the words and learn their pronunciations.

Remember that you can also use our premium service, MyTeacher, to get personal one-on-one coaching. Practice conjugating French verbs in various tenses with your private teacher so they can give you personalized feedback and advice, and help you with the pronunciation.

Happy French learning!

About the Author: Born and bred in the rainy north of France, Cyril Danon has been bouncing off various jobs before he left everything behind to wander around the wonders of the World. Now, after quenching his wanderlust for the last few years, he’s eager to share his passion for languages.

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