The present tense is the most common tense in everyday conversations.
Furthermore, when you conjugate French verbs, you often use a present verb form as a basis and then add another tense endings to that basis.
For these two reasons, it’s essential you know the present tense of your French verbs inside out.
Since most students learn their French verb conjugations from books, they often butcher the verb pronunciation… This free lesson comes with audio. If you’re learning French to speak French, the pronunciation is more important than the spelling!
How To Conjugate the Present Tense in French
To conjugate a verb in the present tense in French, we remove the ending of the verb in the infinitive (so the verb -er, -ir, or -re: it’s call “a stem”) and we add the following written endings to the French subject pronouns.
Play the audio recording to hear how the verb form endings sound. If there is no audio, it means the ending is silent and the verb pronunciation will end on the last letter of its stem (could be a consonant or a vowel sound)…
|Person||Translation||–er Verbs||–ir Verbs||-re Verbs|
|He / it|
She / it
One /We colloquial
|Vous||Formal / Plural||-ez||-issez||-ez|
Yes indeed, there are many silent letters in French verbs this is why learning your French verb conjugations with audio is a must!
Key To The French Present Tense Pronunciation
If you have to remember one thing of this lesson, let this be it:
|For most regular and irregular verbs in the present tense the je, tu, il, elle, on forms are pronounced exactly the same way. |
Only the spelling differs!
Before we dig deep into the various French verb forms, let me explain when we use the present indicative in French, and compare it to English.
What is The Present Tense?
The present tense focuses on the now: it can be when the speaker is speaking, an habitual action or a general truth.
This notion is then modified by the grammatical mood. Here is an article about French moods.
In this free French lesson, we will talk about the present tense of the indicative mood.
First, let’s explain the present tense in English.
The 4 Present Tense Forms In English
The present tense in English has 3 forms, each of them having a slightly different variation of the now:
- The present simple: “I speak French”.
The present simple tense is used to talk about general truth and habits.
- The present progressive: “I am speaking French”.
The present progressive tenses focuses on what is going on right now.
- The present emphatic “I do speak French”.
The present emphatic insists on a statement.
- The present perfect progressive: “I have been speaking French for one hour”.
The present perfect progressive focuses on the duration of something.
What is Le Présent?
In French, there is only one tense to translate the four English forms.
The French present tense is called “le présent“.
Je parle = I speak, I am speaking, I do speak, I have been speaking.
This is often a big problem for English speakers since you use the progressive form so much in English.
You must be careful to not translate these auxiliary verbs in French “to be” (progressive form) and “do” (emphatic form), but just use the appropriate French verb ending for the tense you wish to express.
What is The Present Progressive in French?
I cannot stress enough how important this point is in French: there is no progressive form in French! We don’t differentiate the action we are in the process of doing with the action we usually do.
Now let’s study in the various French verb groups in the present tense.
French Verbs Ending in Er
Verbs in -er follow a conjugation logic based on the infinitive of the verb minus its “er” ending.
What remains of the verb is called ‘the stem’: you add the present tense endings to it and the pronunciation of the stem holds the key to the pronunciation of the verb forms.
What is The First French Verb Group Conjugation?
Good news! 90% of French verbs end in -er and are perfectly regular: this means that their conjugation pattern is predictable and reliable.
Grammar methods tend to group the -er verbs in what they call the first group.
French Er Verb Conjugation Example & Pronunciation
Let’s take parler (to speak) as our example.
Play the audio recordings and focus on the fact that most verb forms are actually pronounced the same way!
|Finding the stem||Infinitive Minus er|
Parler -er = parl
|Written conjugation||Je stem+e, tu stem+es, il stem+e |
Je parle, tu parles, il parle
nous stem+ons / vous stem+ez / ils stem+ent
Nous parlons, vous parlez, ils parlent
|Spoken conjugation||Je stem, tu stem, il stem |
Je parl, tu parl, il parl
nous stem+on, vous stem+é, ils stem
nou parlon, vou parlé, il parl
5 Common French -Er Verbs Conjugated
Donner: to give
Donner -> donn
Je donne, tu donnes, il donne, elle donne, on donne, nous donnons, vous donnez, ils donnent, elles donnent
Aimer: to like, to be in love
J’aime, tu aimes, il aime, elle aime, on aime, nous aimons, vous aimez, ils aiment, elles aiment.
Écouter: to listen to
Écouter -> écout
J’écoute, tu écoutes, il écoute, elle écoute, on écoute, nous écoutons, vous écoutez, ils écoutent
Chercher: to look for
Chercher -> cherch
Je cherche, tu cherches, il cherche, elle cherche, on cherche, nous cherchons, vous cherchez, ils cherchent, elles cherchent
Étudier: to study
Etudier -> étudi
J’étudie, tu étudies, il étudie, elle étudie, on étudie, nous étudions, vous étudiez, ils étudient
As you can see a regular -er verb can end on a vowel sound if the stem ends on a vowel like étudier = étudi, or jouer (to play) = jou…
2 Stem Verb Exceptions
However, among this “regular” group, you will find variations of spelling and pronunciation in the stem.
There are also minor spelling changes for verbs ending in “-cer”, “-ger”, “-yer”, etc…
- French verbs in -ger
We add an “e” before the “ons” to preserve the pronunciation
- French verbs ending in -cer
We add a “ç” before the “ons” to preserve the pronunciation
- French verbs ending in -yer
The “y” becomes an “i” in the singular forms as well as in the 3rd person plural “ils / elles”.
Envoyer (to send) : j’envoie, tu envoies, il envoie, nous envoyons, vous envoyez, ils envoient
- For many French verbs that end in -eler or -eter
The final consonant is doubled before a silent “e” (but there are many exceptions as well)
Appeler (to call) j’appelle, tu appelles, il appelle, nous appelons, vous appelez, ils appellent
Jeter (to throw) je jette, tu jettes, il jette, nous jetons, vous jetez, ils jettent
Exceptions: acheter, déceler, geler, haleter, harceler, modeler, peler…
So, French verbs in -ER are not always totally regular… Hum… My personal take on this is that it is a small change compared to irregular verbs which totally change spelling or pronunciation.
You need to study carefully the verbs with two stems if you are studying French to pass written exams. However, if you are learning French to speak, I wouldn’t worry about this too much at this time and consider the ‘verbs with 2 stems’ as a minor irregularity…
Only One Real -Er Irregular Verb
Let’s move on to the next French regular verb group.
French Ir Verb Conjugation
Traditionally, verbs ending in -ir form what grammar method call the second group of regular French verbs.
French Ir Verb Conjugation Example & Pronunciation
Let’s take finir (to end) as our example.
Play the audio recordings and focus on the difference between spelling and pronunciation!
|Finding the stem||Infinitive Minus ir|
Finir -ir = fin
|Written conjugation||Je stem+is, tu stem+is, il stem+it |
Je finis, tu finis, il finit
nous stem+issons / vous stem+issez / ils stem+issent
Nous finissons, vous finissez, ils finissent
|Spoken conjugation||Je stem, tu stem, il stem |
Je fini, tu fini, il fini
nous stem+isson, vous stem+issé, ils stem+iss
nou finisson, vou finissé, il finiss
5 Common French Ir Verb Conjugated
Let’s practice a bit with five common French Ir verbs.
Choisir: to choose
Choisir -> chois (ends on a z sound)
Je choisis, tu choisis, il choisit, elle choisit, on choisit, nous choisissons, vous choisissez, ils choisissent, elles choisissent
Grossir: to gein weigh
Grossir -> gross
Je grossis, tu grossis, il grossit, elle grossit, on grossit, nous grossissons, vous grossissez, ils grossissent, elles grossissent
Réussir: to succeed
Réussir -> réuss
Je réussis, tu réussis, il réussit, elle réussit, on réussit, nous réussissons, vous réussissez, ils réussissent
Guérir: to heel, get better
Guérir -> guér
Je guéris, tu guéris, il guérit, elle guérit, on guérit, nous guérissons, vous guérissez, ils guérissent, elles guérissent
Obéir: to obey
Obéir -> obé
J’obéis, tu obéis, il obéit, elle obéit, on obéit, nous obéissons, vous obéissez, ils obéissent, elles obéissent
Many verbs that come from French adjectives of colors are regular ir verbs: rougir, verdir, noirci, blanchir…
Way Too Many Irregular Ir Verbs
This being said, I personally don’t approve of this second verb group!
Why? Because many verbs ending in -ir in French are irregular. And this irregular -ir verbs are among the most commonly used one, such as venir, tenir, courir, partir, sortir, dormir etc…
The -ir verb subgroup absurdity
Some grammar methods present the Ir verbs with three sub-groups.
(endings that are not recorded are silent – so they only matter when writing French!)
- Verbs in -ir 1st group
Endings: is, is, it, issons, issez, issent
The majority of -ir verbs
- Verbs in -ir 2nd group
Endings: e, es, e, ons, ez, ent
Offrir, accueillir, couvrir, cueillir, découvrir, ouvrir, souffrir etc…
- Verbs in -ir 3rd group
Ending: s, s, t, ons, ez, ent
Dormir, courir, fuir, mentir, partir, sentir, servir, sortir etc…
Ok, I get that patterns are a good thing. But so is reliability.
If you cannot rely on the fact that most ir verbs are going to follow one constant pattern, then, the ir ending is not a useful way to sort them!
My own -ir verb tip
My own tip is to recognise the possible patterns, but then learn each verb individually.
And the best way to memorize irregular French verbs is to drill – drill out-loud, with audio recordings, out of order and develop an ear for how the verb should sound.
Now, let’s take a look at the third regular verb group.
French Re Verb Conjugation
Many methods who teach French as a foreign language include a third “regular” French verb group pattern: the verb in Re.
French Re Verb Conjugation Example & Pronunciation
The supposedly typical conjugation pattern is the following:
Remove the “re” to get the verb stem.
Add: s, s, nothing, ons, ez, ent.
Vendre (to sell)
Vendre -> vend
Je vends, tu vends, il vend, elle vend, on vend, nous vendons, vous vendez, ils vendent, elles vendent
Now, it’s interesting to note that original French grammars do not list a third group of regular verbs. In French, the -re verbs are usually just considered irregular.
And there is a reason why…
The Re Regular Group Absurdity
Indeed, as we saw in the previous chapter with the -ir verbs, there are some patterns involved. So it is tempting to form groups.
Yet, once more, when there are more exceptions to the rules than verbs following the main pattern, how reliable a group is it?
Here is the list of supposedly “regular” -re verbs.
How many would you actually be likely to use in an everyday conversation?
For fun, I listed in bold the ones I may have used in the present tense in the last week – I’m likely to have used more in the passé-composé.
19 Regular -er verbs
- attendre – to wait (for)
- confondre – to confuse
- correspondre – to correspond
- défendre – to defend
- dépendre – to depend
- descendre – to descend
- entendre – to hear, to understand
- étendre – to stretch
- fondre – to melt
- mordre – to bite
- pendre – to hang, suspend
- perdre – to lose
- prétendre – to claim
- rendre – to give back, to return
- répandre – to spread, to scatter
- répondre – to answer
- suspendre – to suspend
- tordre – to twist
- vendre – to sell
That’s less than twenty verbs.
5 among 19 being truly commonly used in the present tense.
Now let’s compare this to other verbs that “sound” like they could be a regular -re verb because the end on a French R sound.
50 Irregular R sounding verbs
- construire, conduire, cuire, déduire, détruire, instruire, introduire, nuire, produire, reproduire, réduire, séduire, traduire
- vivre: suivre, poursuivre, revivre, survivre
- prendre, apprendre, comprendre, surprendre
- recevoir, apercevoir, concevoir, décevoir, devoir, percevoir
- atteindre, craindre, éteindre, joindre, peindre, plaindre, teindre, boire, croire, dire, écrire, faire, lire, plaire, rire, avoir, devoir, mouvoir, pouvoir, savoir, voir, vouloir
That’s 50 confusing “R” sounding verbs versus 5 truly useful verbs following the typical -re group verb conjugation.
I raised my case.
4 Important Irregular Verbs: Avoir, Être, Aller and Faire
Here are the most common irregular verbs conjugated in the French present indicative tense.
|j’ai||je suis||je vais||je fais|
|tu as||tu es||tu vas||tu fais|
|il/elle/on a||il/elle/on est||il/elle/on va||il/elle/on fait|
|nous avons||nous sommes||nous allons||nous faisons|
|vous avez||vous êtes||vous allez||vous faites|
|ils/elles ont||ils/elles sont||ils/elles vont||ils/elles font|
I’ve written a complete guide to conjugate être – to be in French – with 450 audio recordings! You’ll find all the conjugations at all the tenses and moods in the affirmative and the negative, and since this verb is so important, I’ve included the everyday pronunciation of être verb forms.
How to Memorize the French Present Tense?
Many students of French spend hours learning to write their verbs. And then freeze when it comes to using the correct verb form. It’s such a shame.
First, you need to understand when to use the tenses with a clear French language course with audio recordings and many examples.
Then, once you understand the tenses, you need to drill. Verb conjugations, like anything else in French, need to be learned with audio so you get the right pronunciation, liaisons and elisions with the negative or the French pronouns.
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