Master French Conjugation – Verbs

Coming up: I show you how to learn French conjugation without repeating each one 100 times like a parrot. The secret lies in youthful ignorance! Read on to find out how and why this will reduce your time to fluency by a lot….

Alternatively you can use our free grammar corrector to give you exactly the tense and conjugation you need!

Table of Contents

1) Introduction to Verb Conjugations

French is a beautiful language but a painful one at the same time. It’s very melodic and sounds great, but the grammar can be a major sticking point for many learners. 

In particular there are many forms of French verb conjugation you need to memorize and that’s just for normal verbs! There’s a huge collection of irregular verbs too.

However, don’t worry! I’ve developed a solution inspired by how children learn. It will shortcut your time to fluency by at least 10x (yes, really!).

In this article you will learn all common French tenses and their associated conjugations. This includes the preset, past and future. I will include references to the less used parts of conjugation but make it clear that you don’t need to learn these as a beginner (or even intermediate) learner!

1.a) The Automatic Way to Correct Your French

Before we continue I’d like to tell you about the Corrector grammar correction tool which will correct your written French verb conjugation in less than a second! To use it simply click here and select “French” in the dropdown menu.

Alternatively, read on!

2) Present Tense – French Verb Conjugation (le présent)

The general rule for present tense (French –  le présent) conjugation is that the ending of the verb is defined by the pronoun you’re using. Let’s jump straight to an example, with the endings highlighted for you. We will conjugate the verb “arriver” which means to happen or to arrive:

French Pronoun “er” verb conjugation Pronunciation Notes
Je J’arrive zha-reev An apostrophe separates “je” and the verb. Otherwise
there would be two vowels to be pronounced
(general rule in French)
Tu Tu arrives too-a-reev There is an “s” added to the “tu” form. This does not
mean this is plural. It’s just the convention for “tu”.
Il / elle / on Il arrive ill-a-reev All three pronouns are the same. There are no changes
for female or neutral pronouns. This is not the case for
other tenses (which we’ll see later on).
Nous Nous arrivons nooz-a-reev-on The “s” sounds like a “z” because “arriver” starts with
a vowel.
Vous Vous arrivez vooz-a-reev-ay Again, the “s” sounds like a “z” because “arriver” starts
with a vowel.
Ils / elles / ons Ils arrivent ills-a-reev A long ending but it sounds exactly the same as
je / tu / il conjugations
Table explaining present tense conjugation of regular French verbs ending in “er”.

As an English speaker you’re probably groaning inside! In English you don’t have all these changes to the end of the verb, except maybe an “s” here and there. Eg: I arrive, you arrive, he arrive(s) etc.

The good news is that the French present tense will become second nature for you very quickly as these conjugations are used everywhere and all the time! After a week or two you’ll know them intuitively.

2.a) Conjugation of Regular French Verbs – Present Tense

The example above showed you conjugation for a “regular” French verb. The word regular simply means that it follows a set pattern so you can apply this pattern to any similar regular verbs.

There are several regular verb types and they’re usually identified by the ending. The most common and easiest to learn, are verbs ending in “er”. For example, the verb we know best, “arriver” can be split into 2 sections:

  1. Arriv – the stem
  2. er – the ending

In a regular verb conjugation it’s only the ending that changes. The stem stays the same throughout conjugation.

  1. Je = stem + “e” = J’arrive 
  2. Tu = stem + “es” = Tu arrives
  3. Il, elle, on = stem + “e” = Elle arrive
  4. Nous = stem + “ons” = Nous arrivons
  5. Vous = stem + “ez” = Vous arrivez
  6. Ils, elles + stem + “ent” = Elles arrivent

See this post for an example of a regular verb conjugation (manger) through all 8 indicative tenses.

3) How to Learn Present Tense French Conjugations

Did you know that traditional conjugation teaching methods really set you back in your learning? Much too often we think learning is an exercise of reading and repeating but the truth is much more complex.

The worst way to learn French is to write down and repeat tables of conjugations!

Grant @

This failure to teach is not really our fault though as humans have a very linear way of thinking. We naturally assume that each repetition will increase our learning by some amount. 

Nothing could be further from the truth! Let me show you how your brain really works…

3.a) How Your Brain Really Works when Learning

Your brain is really, really good at picking up a pattern. This is why you can easily sing a song after hearing it a couple times. After a few listens you’d remember the melody, rhythm and words with no problem whatsoever.  

However, if I asked you to sing line 54 you would have no idea what it was! You’d have to sing the whole thing whilst counting the lines until you got to 54. 

The root problem is “linear” brain training. When singing the song you’re forming a pattern in your mind which is the primary way to recall the information. The whole thing goes wrong when I ask you to pick a certain piece of information because you now have to flip though your whole file to get at it.

Clearly this is useless during a conversation in French! If you have to conjugate prendre for nous then the other person isn’t going to wait for you to conjugate je, tu and il before you get to what you want! The French are impatient with learners at the best of times!

3.b) Conjugating French Verbs is not Linear – What Kids Can Teach Us!

So we want to learn language in a non linear way for verb conjugation.

If you’ve had a small child then you know that they don’t do linear for verbs! Instead they’ll pick up a phrase like “you fell down” and then repeat that hundreds of times across many contexts. 

In fact you’ll only ever hear them say “I, you, he” when they’re practicing pronouns, and usually that’s not in order either.

4) Don’t Practice French Conjugation in Order

Ever noticed that us adults start conjugation at the “beginning”? We always start with “je”. Because of this your brain prioritizes it over all the others. This is why it’s more difficult to remember we / you (plural) / they forms.

So let’s devise a simple method that will hurt your brain at first, but lead to a massive improvement in your conjugation….

4.a) The Most Effective Way to Learn French Verb Conjugation

  1. Pick up a dice and throw it
  2. The number corresponds to the pronoun you start with
  3. Say that conjugation and then repeat the process

So, for example, a “3” would mean you conjugate il / elle / on (he / she / it). A 5 would be vous (you plural).

We’re trying to disrupt the brains linear pattern region and force it to commit these conjugations to memory. You can only do this by thinking before conjugating and not practicing in order of pronouns. Throwing a random dice forces you to do this.

4.b) Don’t Forget the Hidden Subject Pronouns

Just a quick note here. When you come to il / ils don’t forget you also have elle / elles / on / ons. Occasionally use these other pronouns for your random conjugation exercises.

5) The 3 Classes of Regular Verb Conjugations

We have just seen the “er” verbs demonstrated but there are 2 more “regular” verbs in French. These are verbs ending in:

  1. ER
  2. IR
  3. RE

We’ve covered “er” verbs so far but the next 2 regular verbs (ir and re) have their own suffix patterns that correspond to the pronouns using them. Here are examples of both:

IR verb conjugation in present tense → choisir → to choose

je choisis nous choisissons
tu choisis vous choisissez
il/elle/on choisit ils/elles choisissent
Conjugation of French verb choisir – to choose. We drop the “ir” ending and add the endings in the table.

RE verb conjugation in present tense → vendre → to sell

je vends nous vendons
tu vends vous vendez
il/elle/on vend ils/elles vendent
Conjugation of French verb vendre – to sell. Drop the 2 letter ending “re” and add pronoun specific endings.

6) Regular vs Irregular Verbs – Present Tense In French

The 3 verbs we’ve looked at so far are the “regular” verbs. You can take any other regular verb and apply the same rules to get a perfect conjugation.

However, in French there are also irregular verbs that do not follow these patterns!

They either have endings that differ to the regular forms, or the verb stem could be changed. Sometimes both of these are true! And sometimes the word changes completely!

6.a) How Can you Identify Irregular French Verbs?

Unfortunately there is no shortcut to identify an irregular verb other than just knowing it but there is a better way to learn than you’re used to.

The secret is to forget trying to memorise anything. You see, by simply speaking and writing in daily life you will learn these verbs 10x faster than normal.

In fact you can even use a tool like Corrector. Simply put in the spelling you think a verb should be and our systems will detect your pronoun and suggest the ending for you! This is known as a positive reinforcement feedback loop. If it’s right then you’re happy and more likely to remember. If it’s wrong then you’re also more likely to remember the correct answer!

We even support many other languages so your learning process will be ultra fast!

7) The Child Inspired Secret to Learning French Verb Conjugation

So far I’ve demonstrated that linear thinking is bad for learning French verb conjugation. In fact, look at children who are all extremely skilled at learning new languages.

This is because children do not apply linear logic to the task.

Children simply emulate and repeat what they read or hear. They don’t worry about how to spell. They don’t worry about how to conjugate the verb if it’s plural “you” or “we”. They just do it.

7.a) How You Can Learn French Verb Conjugation Ultra Fast

The first step is to realise that you should not parrot conjugation tables all the time. Only use them as a starting point and then to reference later on in this process.

The second step is to listen to some French pronunciation. I find that Google Translate is useful for this. You can type any French phrase and then press the speaker icon to listen to it.

The third step is to throw a dice and match the number to the pronoun. Eg: 2 = tu, 3 = elle etc. Then say the associated conjugation of the verb you just listened to in Google Translate.

Don’t worry about spelling at this point because you’ll find that many conjugations actually sound the same, no matter the pronoun being used! For example:

Je parle, tu parles, il parle, ils parlent are all pronounced the same! The only differences are nous parlons or vous parlez

Also, don’t forget that you can use our free tool (click here) to correct any written mistakes you may be making.

8) Conjugation of Past Tenses in French

When conjugating other French tenses such as the past or future we again follow a similar set of rules as for the present tense. The verb is broken into 2 parts – the stem and ending. The ending is dropped and a new ending is added. The form that the new ending takes is dependant on the kind of future or past tense.

Regardless of how much the verb changes with tense do not be tempted to parrot learn conjugation tables! In fact the same rule applies, as for the present tense:

You should learn in this order: listen → pronounce → write down

Before we dive into the details of conjugation in other tenses here’s a little preview to whet your appetite:

The verb “arriver” that we looked at earlier has a past tense in the form:

arrivé, arrivée, arrivés, arrivées

These all look different but every single one is pronounced in exactly the same way!

8.a) Passé Simple (Simple Past – Not Important)

The passé simple means the “simple past”. It is normally only used in formal writing, such as literary works and works of history. You may also hear it used during formal speech.

Beginners in French do not need to study the passé simple tense! Therefore we won’t cover it here as it’s something you can pick up once fluent.

8.b) Imparfait (imperfect) Tense in French

Imparfait is a very common tense that you’ll hear every day in France. The equivalent in English is the continuous past tense. It represents an action that was ongoing. You normally see it in English with the form: “was …”. For example “I was walking”.

Imparfait indicates a continuous action in the past.

You’ve probably heard the imperfect many times in English when someone was telling you a story (see how I used it just there).

Imparfait can also mean a state of action with no start or end, eg:

I worked in the shop last year >>> Je travaillais dans le magasin l’année dernière.

In English we don’t necessarily associate “I worked” with a continuous action but in French we do. If you really think about it, there is no defined beginning or end to the “worked” activity.

8.b.1) Conjugation of Imparfait Tense (simple 2 step process)

Once again, there are 3 “regular” French verb types we need to conjugate in imparfait. However, this time there are far fewer exceptions and the rules are pretty simple.

  1. Take the “nous” form of the present tense and remove the “-ons” ending
  2. Add the endings from the table below and you have imperfect tense!

8.b.2) Conjugation Table for Imperfect Tense in French (Imparfait)

Pronoun (Pronom) Ending Marcher (“er” verb) Manger (“er” verb) Finir (“ir verb”) Prendre (“re” verb)
Verb – to walk, was/were walking Verb – to eat, was/were eating Verb – to finish, was/were finishing Verb – to take, was/were taking
Je -ais marchais mangeais 1 finissais prenais
Tu -ais marchais mangeais 1 finissais prenais
Elle -ait marchait mangeait 1 finissait prenait
Nous -ions marchions mangions finissions prenions
Vous -iez marchiez mangiez finissiez preniez
Elles -aient marchaient mangaient finissaient prenaient
1. Note that singular pronouns keep the “e” for manger. Yep, French is weird but this extra “e” doesn’t affect pronunciation at all.

See how simple the imparfait is! Just make sure you know the present tense version of “nous”, drop the ending and add the above endings.

Now, is it absolutely necessary to learn the imparfait tense? I’m 50 / 50 split on this. If you’re totally new to French verbs then it’s probably better to start with the perfect tense described below. But if you’re finding it easy so far then go ahead and learn the imparfait, it’s pretty simple after all!)

8.c) The Perfect Tense in French (le Passé Composé)

This is the tense we use most often in English when we think of past actions. However, in French it is usually only used to describe an action that has finished or had some defined time boundaries.

For example “I ate” is a singular point in the past. It has a start and end and was not an ongoing activity.

In French perfect tense this is conjugated as j’ai mangé.

You’ll notice that the verb changes its form but there is also an additional verb before the main verb. This additional verb is always either avoir or être for le passé composé. If you translate literally from French we get “I have eaten”.

We use the avoir verb (to have) for most of the perfect tense in French.

The verb être (to be) is used for a few common verbs and it is always used with reflexive verbs. These are verbs that point to the pronoun doing an action to themselves, eg “se laver” – to wash [oneself].

8.c.1) Perfect Tense endings for French Verbs (le Passé Composé)

You’ll be pleased to know that all verbs have a very simple rule. Drop the ending and add the following letters to the ends:

Verb Type Stem of Verb + perfect ending Example (French) Translation (English)
er (manger, parler etc) mang + é Nous avons mangé We ate
ir (venir, finir etc) fin + i J’ai fini I finished
er (prendre, attendre etc) attend + u Vous avez attendu You waited

8.c.2) Conjugation Table for Avoir Verbs in Perfect Tense (le Passé Composé)

Pronoun (pronom) er verb (to eat) ir verb (to finish) re verb (to wait)
je j’ai mangé j’ai fini j’ai attendu
tu tu as mangé tu as fini tu as attendu
il / elle / on il a mangé il a fini il a attendu
nous nous avons mangé nous avons fini nous avons attendu
vous vous avez mangé vous avez fini vous avez attendu
ils / elles / ons ils ont mangé ils ont fini ils ont attendu

8.c.3) Conjugation Table for être Verbs in Perfect Tense, le Passé Composé

You’ll immediately notice that the avoir perfect tense verbs do not take the gender or plurality into account for endings. However, because être verbs are reflexive (doing to oneself) then you have to change the ending to account for the gender or plurality of the pronoun:

Pronoun (pronom) er verb (to arrive / happen) ir verb (to come) re verb (to be expected2)
je je suis arrivé / arrivée1 je suis venu / venue je suis attendu
tu tu es arrivé / arrivée tu es venu / venue tu es attendu / attendue
il / elle / on il est arrivé / elle est arrivée il est venu / elle est venue il est attendu / elle est attendue
nous nous sommes arrivées / arrivées3 nous sommes venus / venues nous sommes attendus / attendues
vous vous êtes arrivés / arrivées vous êtes venus / venues vous êtes attendus / attendues
ils / elles / ons ils sont arrivés / elles sont arrivées ils sont venus / elles sont venues ils sont attendus / elles sont attendues
1. If the subject is feminine then we add an “e”. This applies to the plural pronouns too, although it goes before the “s”.
2. Attendu: it means “waited” if you use the “avoir” perfect tense. If you use “être” then its meaning becomes “was expected”.
3. If the pronoun is a plural form (we, you, they) then we add an “s”. If all of the subjects are feminine then add an “e” before the “s”. If even a single one is male then the whole group is seen as male and we don’t use the “e”!

Now, if you’ve been following along then you’ll now that I prefer if you speak French before you try to spell it. This is because every single one of the above perfect tense verbs is pronounced the same. Even if it has an extra “e” or “es”, you simply can’t tell when you’re listening!

9) Conjugation of Future Tenses in French

Just like the past tense, future tenses in French can have different forms depending on the meaning you want to convey.

In English you’d typically use the “will / shall” forms for the future. Eg, “I will go to the shop” or “I shall eat”. French is similar but with some subtle distinctions.

9.a) Simple Future Tense in French (Le Futur Simple)

The futur simple tense is closest to the English equivalent “will / have”. However, it is probably the most difficult tense to remember as there are many, many irregular forms of the verbs!

Don’t despair though as le futur simple is not used very much in French these days! In fact this tense is only really used for hypothetical and grandiose future plans. For example:

When I’m the King >>> Quand je serais le roi

The next section on “futur simple” is for information only. Feel free to read or skip to the “le futur proche” which is by far the most common form of future tense in French.

9.a.1) Conjugation of Simple Future Tense in French

I’ll list some common verbs in the table below. A good rule of thumb for the simple future tense is to take the “avoir” verb in the present tense (eg: tu as, il a etc) and apply that to the entire infinitive form of the verb. Hence if you say “I will talk” it becomes “Je parlerai“.

Pronoun (pronom) er verb (parler – to talk) ir verb (avoir – to have) re verb (être – to be)
je je parlerai j’aurais1 je serai2
tu tu parleras tu auras tu seras
il / elle / on il parlera il aura il sera
nous nous parlerons nous aurons nous serons
vous vous parlerez vous aurez vous serez
ils / elles / ons ils parleront ils auront ils seront
Conjugation of le futur proche for parler, avoir and être
1. Note that avoir becomes “aur” which then gets the present tense “avoir” conjugation added to the end.
2. The verb être becomes “ser” with the usual endings applied.

As you can see there are some weird verb transformations for être and avoir. However for many verbs you can take the infinitive form and just add the endings shown. Once again, we don’t need to go in depth here with ir or re verbs as you can safely ignore this tense until you’re way, way more advanced in French (basically fluent!).

The best section is “le futur proche” which is much more common.

9.b) Future Tense in French (Le Future Proche)

In French this tense denotes an action that’s going to happen. In fact you’ve just read the English equivalent of it:

It’s going to happen

In English the construction is **Pronoun + to be + to go + the verb**. Conveniently, the construction is similar in French except we drop the “to be” part of it:

French Future tense (Proche): Il va venir – He is going to come

You’ll notice that the forms of “going” in both French and English are the present tense. This never changes in French you’ll be pleased to hear! Now let’s get to conjugation….

9.b.1) Conjugation of Future Tense in French (Le Future Proche)

Let’s take 3 verbs of the “er”, “ir” and “re” varieties and see what conjugation looks like:

Pronoun (pronom) er verb (parler – to talk) ir verb (avoir – to have) re verb (être – to be)
je je vais parler je vais avoir1 je vais être
tu tu vas parler tu vais avoir tau vas être
il / elle / on il va parler il va avoir il va être
nous nous allons parler nous allons avoir nous allons être
vous vous allez parler vous allez avoir vous allez être
ils / elles / ons ils vont parler ils vont avoir ils vont être
1. The “s” in “vais” is a hard “z” sound as the next word starts with a vowel.

If you ask me this is the by far the easiest tense to conjugate in French! You simply learn present tense for “to go” and then add the infinitive form of the verb after that! The same rule applies across all verbs and there is no such thing as regular or irregular.

Aren’t you happy I saved the best tense for last 😉

10) French Verb Conjugation Learning Checklist

  • Pronounce verbs out loud. Forget about spelling / feminine / plurals for now as most conjugations sound the same.
  • ALWAYS include the pronoun when learning, you may be tempted to skip it but that will set you back in your journey.
  • Drill conjugation randomly using dice to randomise.
  • Learn the present, simple past and future (proche) tenses. You don’t need anything more than that for now.

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