Conjugation of French verbs is accomplished by isolating the verb stem and attaching a suffix. There are four groups of conjugations. In the first two the stem of the verb remains identifiable and essentially static. In the third and fourth groups, however, the stem becomes modified and is no longer consistent across all forms of the verb. The ending that is applied to the verb depends on the voice, mood, aspect, and tense that is being conveyed, as well as the person and number of the subject to which is applies. There is a high degree of syncretism among conjugated French verbs, meaning that several of the conjugations will sound the same and may possibly even look this same. This accounts for the fact that the French language does not allow for null subjects unlike the majority of the other languages within the Romance language group.
There are traditionally three categories into which French verbs are classified.
• The first group is comprised of those verbs with infinitives that end in –er, with the exception of some irregular verbs. This group is the majority of the verbs in the language and all follow similar conjugation patterns though there are some minor alterations applied to adhere to specific speech and sound considerations.
• The second group is comprised of those verbs with infinitives that end in –ir, and present participles that end in –issant¸ as well as the additional verb maudire. This accounts for over 300 verbs within the language and, with minor changes, they are conjugated in the same manner.
• The final group is comprised of all of the other verbs within the language. Though it does contain some of the most commonly used verbs it is the smallest of the groups in terms of verbs that are actually still in use.
There are two classifications of moods applied to French verbs. Finite moods include the indicative, subjunctive, and imperative, while non-finite moods include the infinitive, present participle, and past participle. Some linguists also include the conditional as a finite mood, though others believe that this is just a version of the indicative mood and therefore do not classify it as its own mood.
Tenses and Aspects
French verbs can be conjugated to express a variety of tenses and aspects. Depending on the category of verb it can illustrate:
• Future of the past
These often work in conjunction with the voices passive and active to express the full meaning and context of the verb.