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French Verb Tenses

We know that the English language uses "tenses" for verbs to indicate when an action takes place, and the same is true for French. In the present tense, the action is taking place now, in the future tense, it will take place and in the past tense, it already took place. In both English and French, there are many complicated tenses, many of which we don't even use in everyday speech. So for these French lessons, we will only learn the most common tenses: the present, future and past. You don't even need to know the French names for theses tenses, you only need to know at which time the action is taking place.

French verbs have different endings to indicate the tense of the verb. Those endings depend on the "type" of verb. There are two types of verbs in French, regular and irregular verbs. Regular verbs always have the same endings, whereas irregular verbs have their own unique endings. Of the regular there are three kinds: "er" verbs, "ir" verbs and "re" verbs.

ALL regular "er" verbs will have the same endings that the verb Parler (to speak) has.

Present Tense Future Tense Past Tense
Je parle Je parlerai J'ai parle
Tu parles Tu parleras Tu as parle
Il/Elle parle Il/Elle parlera Il/Elle a parle
Nous parlons Nous parlerons Nous avons parle
Vous parlez Vous parlerez Vouz avez parle
Ils/Elles parlent Ils/Elles parleront Ils/Elles ont parle

ALL regular "ir" verbs will have the same endings that the verb Finir (to finish) has.

Present Tense Future Tense Past Tense
Je finis Je finirai J'ai fini
Tu finis Tu finiras Tu as fini
Il/Elle finit Il/Elle finira Il/Elle a fini
Nous finissons Nous finirons Nous avons fini
Vous finissez Vous finirez Vouz avez fini
Ils/Elles finissent Ils/Elles finiront Ils/Elles ont fini

ALL regular "re" verbs will have the same endings that the verb Mettre (to put) has.

Present Tense Future Tense Past Tense
Je mets Je mettrai J'ai mis
Tu mets Tu mettras Tu as mis
Il/Elle met Il/Elle mettra Il/Elle a mis
Nous mettons Nous mettrons Nous avons mis
Vous mettez Vous mettrez Vouz avez mis
Ils/Elles mettent Ils/Elles mettront Ils/Elles ont mis

Save these tables to use as a reference as we move forward in speaking French. You will notice consistency in the endings for the verbs, and once we start discussing pronunciation you will see that, at least in spoken French, there is not as much to remember as it first appears. Many letters are sounded the same, and some letters are not pronounced at all. Again, don't worry about pronunciation at this point. When we start working with pronunciation guides, once you get used to one sound, you will see it used over and over.

The other type of verb is the irregular verb. There are many irregular verbs, but only a few that are used very consistently and therefore need to be memorized. You noticed in the regular verbs that the "stem" of the verb always stayed the same. That is, there is always a "par" in any form of parler, and always an "fin" in any form of finir. Irregular verbs may actually change the stem in forming the different tenses, so it is difficult to form any rules about them. For the moment, we will just memorize the two most important irregular verbs, "etre (to be) and "avoir" (to have).

The tenses of "Etre:

Present Tense Future Tense Past Tense
Je suis Je serais J'ai ete
Tu es Tu seras Tu as ete
Il/Elle est Il/Elle sera Il/Elle a ete
Nous sommes Nous serons Nous avons ete
Vous etes Vous serez Vouz avez ete
Ils/Elles sont Ils/Elles seront Ils/Elles ont ete

The tenses of "Avoir"

Present Tense Future Tense Past Tense
J'ai J'aurai J'ai eu
Tu as Tu auras Tu as eu
Il/Elle a Il/Elle aura Il/Elle a eu
Nous avons Nous aurons Nous avons eu
Vous avez Vous aurez Vouz avez eu
Ils/Elles ont Ils/Elles auront Ils/Elles ont eu

As you can see, both etre and avoir change quite a bit; sometimes etre starts with an "s", sometimes with an "e"; sometimes avoir starts with an "a, sometimes with an "o". These are two important verbs that just have to be memorized.

What Did We Learn?

  1. In the present tense, the action is taking place ___.
  2. There are two types of verbs in French, regular and ________ verbs.
  3. There are three kinds of regular verbs: "er" verbs, "ir" verbs and ___verbs.
  4. _____is and "er" verb.
  5. "Finir" is an ____ verb.
  6. The French word for "to put" is _____.
  7. The most important verbs to learn in French are _____ and ____ because they are used a lot in their own right, and because they form "auxiliary" verbs.
  8. Je suis, tu es, il ___.
  9. Nous avons, vous avez, ils ___.
  10. Etre and Avoir are irregular verbs, so they must be _________.


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