French ER Verbs – Present Conjugation and Pronunciation

Author: Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Let’s see how to conjugate in writing the French verbs in ER in the present indicative and as importantly, how to pronounce them.

According to “Bruno”, the administrator of “le conjugueur” from the huge French news site “le Figaro”, there are about 8000 verbs in French, 12000 if you count the “se” verb distinctly (this is what “Le Bescherelle”, the most famous French verb dictionary, counts).

“Bruno” continues by saying that about 2000 are used nowadays, and 500 are common.

What Are French -Er Verbs?

There is a very large group of verbs whose conjugation is predictable and reliable: the verbs ending in “-ER”, known as the first group (“chanter”, “parler”, “jouer”…).

The site “Conjugaisonfrançaise” claims they represent 90% of French verbs. All the sources I checked agree to say it’s the vast majority. This is good news for you!

French -ER Verbs – Pronunciation Versus Written Form

I will also point out that students learning French mostly for conversation should concentrate on the way the verbs are pronounced, not necessarily how they are spelled.

If you don’t plan on writing in French, then simplify your studies and focus on your verb pronunciation!

So first, let’s see how the French -ER verbs followed by a consonant are pronounced.

In this article, we are going to see how the French -ER verb conjugates in the present indicative, which is the tense and mood used to describe what happens regularly in the present time frame, or what is happening right now.

Verbs in ER + Consonant – Pronunciation

Please note that the way I spell the verbs here is not the way they ought to be spelled, but the way they are pronounced.

  1. Take the verb in the infinitive
    For example: “parler” = to speak, to talk
  2. Remove the “-er”, it gives you what is called “the stem” (important grammatical term which you should learn)
    Parler minus -er = parl
  3. The pronunciation is then very easy:
    Je = tu = il = elle = on = ils = elles = the stem
    Je parl, tu parl, il parl, elle parl, on parl, ils parl, elles parl
  4. Nous uses the stem + “on” – nous parlon
  5. Vous uses the stem + é sound – vous parlé
    The vous form sounds exactly like the infinitive “ parler ”.

There is no difference in pronunciation between the singular and the plural “il parl” and “ils parl”, “elle parl” and “elles parl”, but you will see there is a big difference in writing.

Please, once you’ve learned the written form, do not pronounce in your head the silent letters to memorize the spelling; it’s likely that you would then say them out loud and it would sound very bad if you did….

The pronunciation and conjugation of French -ER verbs is explained thoroughly with many examples and exercises, and then illustrated by a level-adapted ongoing novel in my beginner French audiobook learning method.

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4 – French Verbs in ER Written Form

Again, please don’t let the silent letters interfere with your pronunciation. Spoken and written French are quite different!

  1. Je stem + -e (e silent)
  2. Tu stem + -es (es silent)
  3. Il, elle, on stem + -e (e silent)
  4. Nous stem + -ons (s silent)
  5. Vous stem + -ez (pronounced like the infinitive er)
  6. Ils, elles stem + -ent (ENT SILENT)

So let’s do this again:

  1. Take the verb in the infinitive
    For example: “parler” = to speak, talk
  2. Remove the “-er”, it gives you what is called “the stem”
    Parler minus -er = parl
  3. The written form is then:
    Je parle, tu parles, il parle, elle parle, on parle, nous parlons, vous parlez, ils parlent, elles parlent

5 – How to Memorize the French ER verbs?

If this is new to you, you need to train, drill with the French ER verbs… In this article, I’m only explaining the logic, like a summary… But it’s not because you understand the logic that you’ll be able to apply it.

My French learning method comes with many exercises an examples… Beware of the “dangers” of the “free” lessons: this article is not enough to make you master the French verbs ending in -ER…

This is particularly important since I’m about to explain another type of French -ER verbs… In my French learning method, these 2 points are covered in 2 different chapters, with a lot of repetition so the info has time to sink in…

6 – French Regular ER Verbs Starting with a Vowel or an H

So good news – the endings are the same!

The difference is in the pronunciation.

The pronunciation of French regular -ER verbs starting with a vowel or an H is going to be affected by 3 pronunciation points: elision, gliding and liaison.

A – What is an elision?

An elison occurs when a short word drops its vowel and becomes the first sound of the following word.
Je + aime = j’aime

The dropped vowel is replaced in writing by an apostrophe. The remaining consonant is then pronounced as if it was the first letter of the following word.

B – What is a gliding?

A gliding is what happens in modern spoken French, when we glide over some letters, kind of like “gotta run” instead of “I have got to run” in American English.
It’s very common nowadays in French, and reinforces the difference between spoken and written French.

C – What is a liaison?

A liaison occurs when a silent consonant (like the -s of “nous”) is followed by a vowel or a mute H.
In a liaison, the silent letter becomes the first sound of the following word. Most consonants keep their usual sound in liaison, except for S which makes a liaison sound Z, X which becomes Z, and D which becomes T.
Nous aimons = noo zaimon in pronunciation

Listen carefully to the audio in my French learning method, and liaisons will become obvious to you.

Make sure you do your liaisons, they are a key ingredient to sounding French.

D – French ER Verbs + Vowels / H Pronunciation

Now let’s see how this all affects the pronunciation of these French verbs ending in -ER.

  1. The je becomes j’ with elision, and is pronounced as if it was the first sound of the verb.
  2. The il and elle forms glide into the verb.
  3. The on, nous, vous, ils and elles forms have strong liaisons ( N for on, Z for the others).

Now let’s take the example of how the French regular -ER verb “aider” (to help) would be pronounced.

  1. j’aide – pronounced Jed (soft French “j” sound)
  2. tu aides – tu ed
  3. il aide – eeled
  4. elle aide – eled
  5. on aide – on(nasal)ned
  6. Nous aidons – noo zedon(nasal)
  7. vous aidez – voo zedé
  8. ils aident – eel zed
  9. elles aident – el zed

E – French Verbs Change At the End AND at the Beginning

Most methods would insist on the changes of endings with French verbs.

Yet, they don’t insist enough on the fact that the pronunciation of the French verbs can change both at the end AND at the beginning.

This is why studying EVERYTHING in French with audio is a must. Vocabulary for sure, but grammar and conjugation as well.

Spelling Rules and 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… 

The only French verb ending in -ER which is truly irregular is “aller“.

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…

French verbs ending in -ger

We add an e before the letter “o” of the “ons” in the nous form in order to preserve the pronunciation of the “g”.
manger – je mange, tu manges, il/elle/on mange, nous mangeons, vous mangez, ils/elles mangent

French verbs ending in -cer

The “c” becomes “ç” before the letter “o” of the “ons” in the nous form in order to preserve the pronunciation.
lancer – je lance, tu lances, il/elle/on lance, nous lançons, vous lancez, ils/elles lancent

French verbs ending in -yer

The y becomes an i in the singular forms as well as in the 3rd person plural “ils / elles”.
For verbs ending in -ayer, we can write either “i” or “y”.
envoyer – j’envoie, tu envoies, il envoie, nous envoyons, vous envoyez, ils/elles envoient
payer – je paye/paie, tu payes/paies, il paye/paie, nous payons, vous payez, ils payent/paient

For many French verbs that end in -eler or -eter,

The final consonant is doubled before a silent “e” (but see exceptions below)
jeter – je jette, tu jettes, il jette, nous jetons, vous jetez, ils jettent
appeler – j’appelle, tu appelles, il appelle, nous appelons, vous appelez, ils appellent

For the verbs acheter, déceler, geler, haleter, harceler, modeler, peler), we add a grave accent to the stem (except for the “nous” and “vous” forms)
Acheter (to buy) – j’achète, tu achètes, il/elle/on achète, nous achetons, vous achetez, ils/elles achètent
Peser (to weigh) – je pèse, tu pèses, il/elle/on pèse, nous pesons, vous pesez, ils/elles pèsent

The verb aller (to go) is irregular.

Remember, the verb aller is the only verb ending in -er which is truly irregular. You need to learn it by heart!
Aller – je vais, tu vas, il/elle/on va, nous allons, vous allez, ils/elles vont

Author: Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Born and raised in Paris, I have been teaching today's French to adults for 25+ years in the US and France. Based on my students' goals and needs, I've created unique downloadable French audiobooks focussing on French like it's spoken today, for all levels. Come to Paimpol and enjoy an exclusive French immersion homestay with me in Brittany.

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