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Lesson Transcript

Michael: How many tenses are there in french?
Aurore: And how do they work?
Michael: At FrenchPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following situation: Sasha Lee is confused about the number of tenses in French. She asks a befriended teacher, Sadia Simon,
"How many tenses are there in French?"
Sasha Lee: Combien est-ce qu'il y a de temps en français ?
Sasha Lee: Combien est-ce qu'il y a de temps en français ?
Sadia Simon: Il y a 22 temps, répartis en 7 modes.
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Sasha Lee: Combien est-ce qu'il y a de temps en français ?
Michael: "How many tenses are there in French?"
Sadia Simon: Il y a 22 temps, répartis en 7 modes.
Michael: "There are 22 tenses, distributed into 7 moods."

Lesson focus

Michael: English has three simple tenses: past, present, and future. The tense of the verb mainly refers to the 'time' of the action of the verb—whether it's the present, the past, or the future. In French, we have the same three simple tenses: "present" or
Aurore: [NORMAL] présent [SLOWLY] présent
Michael: "past,"
Aurore: [NORMAL] passé [SLOWLY] passé
Michael: and "future."
Aurore: [NORMAL] futur [SLOWLY] futur.
Michael: French, however, has a lot of variations on these three primary tenses. You see, French has a total of 22 verb tenses. This can be overwhelming, but the good news is you can be fluent in French by being familiar with just at least five of them, starting with the
Aurore: [NORMAL] passé composé [SLOWLY] passé composé
Michael: or the "past perfect" tense. This is the tense that is used to talk about actions that have been completed in the past. For instance, when you're telling a story, there's always a main storyline. Think of the French past perfect as the one you'll use when talking about it. At the same time, it's the tense you use when talking about a series of events. Here's an example:
Aurore: Ce matin j'ai pris mon petit-déjeuner et après j'ai regardé la télé.
Michael: "This morning, I ate breakfast, and I watched TV afterwards." Here, we see that the action has been completed in the past. The second tense you need to be familiar with is the
Aurore: [NORMAL] imparfait [SLOWLY] imparfait
Michael: or the "imperfect" tense. This is the equivalent of the English past continuous tense and is used to describe an action that was happening in the past. It's also the one used when describing continuing or repeated actions, such as habits. Here's an example:
Aurore: Je mangeais quand il est arrivé.
Michael: "I was eating when he arrived." The next one is
Aurore: [NORMAL] futur simple [SLOWLY] futur simple
Michael: or "future simple," which is used to talk about events in the future.
Aurore: Tu demanderas au professeur demain.
Michael: "You will ask the professor tomorrow." Next, we have the
Aurore: [NORMAL] conditionnel présent [SLOWLY] conditionnel présent
Michael: or the "conditional present." This one is similar to the future simple tense and is one of the most uncomplicated tenses in French. It's used to talk about a hypothetical reality or a situation that isn't happening. For instance,
Aurore: J'aimerais habiter à la plage.
Michael: "I would love to live at the beach." And, finally, we have
Aurore: [NORMAL] subjonctif présent [SLOWLY] subjonctif présent
Michael: or the "present subjunctive" tense. This is used when you want someone else to do something. It can also be used to express necessity or possibility.
Aurore: Il est possible qu'il soit toujours là.
Michael: "It's possible that he's still here." Again, while there are 22 French tenses, these five are the most commonly used in daily conversations. If you're going to start mastering the French tenses, it's ideal that you start with these.
Michael: In this lesson, we learned that, in French, there are a total of 22 grammatical tenses. We also learned that, while it's important to be familiar with all these tenses, mastering the most commonly used tenses should be a good start.
Michael: We've covered the most commonly used French tenses, so far, but if you want to learn all 22 of them in the future, the easiest way to do so is by understanding how they are grouped into moods, the first one being
Aurore: l'indicatif
Michael: or the indicative mood. Just like in English, this is the most commonly used mood in French, and is used to talk about facts or to ask questions. This is where the imperfect and future simple tenses, that we've covered earlier, fall under. The second one is
Aurore: le subjonctif
Michael: or the subjunctive mood. It is used to discuss unreality or uncertainty, and is often used when talking about one's feelings or about possibilities. We've covered one of the tenses belonging to this group earlier, which is the present subjunctive. The third group is
Aurore: l'impératif
Michael: or the imperative mood. This verb mood is used only in the present and past verb forms. Like in English, it's used to make commands, such as
Aurore: Arrêtez !
Michael: or "Stop!" Next, we have
Aurore: le conditionnel
Michael: or the conditional mood, which is used to talk about events that may or may not happen. In English, we use this mood with the word "would." We've covered one tense under this mood earlier—the conditional present. Of course, we also have
Aurore: l'infinitif
Michael: or the infinitive mood. The verb is in its most basic form when it's in the infinitive form. In French, infinitive verbs usually end in
Aurore: -er, -ir, and -re
Michael: such as in
Aurore: marcher
Michael: "to walk,"
Aurore: finir
Michael: "to finish,"
Aurore: lire
Michael: and "to read." The next one is
Aurore: le participe présent
Michael: or the present participle. In French, there is only one form of the present participle, although it can be used in several ways. In English, the present participle is a verb that ends in -ing. In French, the ending used is
Aurore: -ant.
Michael: And, finally, there's also the
Aurore: le participe passé
Michael: or the past participle. It's used in French compound tenses, or
Aurore: temps composé
Michael: verb forms that make use of two verbs, such as the one that we have already covered,
Aurore: passé composé
Michael: or "past perfect."
Cultural Insight/Expansion
Michael: French people are keen on details. They are very good at structuring their thoughts and make great storytellers. Perhaps this is the reason that, in spoken language, French people always use the
Aurore: passé composé
Michael: or the "past perfect" instead of the
Aurore: passé simple
Michael: or the "past simple." The French past perfect describes actions that make up the storyline, telling a series of events that took place in the story. This makes it the perfect tense to use when blogging about your latest travel experiences or simply sharing about your day with a loved one after a day's work. And, if you're wondering what the difference is between past simple and past compound, it's quite easy: meaning-wise, it's the same. Both tenses are used to tell stories; however, the past simple is quite old-fashioned, and, nowadays, you would only see it in books. So for day-to-day conversations, remember to use the past compound!


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Aurore: À bientôt !
Michael: See you soon!

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