French Verb Conjugation: The Basics
There are a few important things you need to know about French verbs before learning how to conjugate them. First, there are very few irregular French verbs. Second, you need to learn only 6 forms of a French verb. Third, there is a logical relation between the moods, the tenses, or the subject persons. And last, in French verb conjugation patterns, most verbs share a common conjugation pattern with one or more other verbs.
In French, in order to reflect the verb’s mood and tense, and concur with its subject in person and number, the verb is inflected. The set of inflected verb forms in French is known as the verb’s conjugation.
In English, the infinite tense is built by adding “to ” before the verb, while in French, the infinite tense is indicated by adding -er, -ir or -re to the verb ending, as in “parler (to talk)”, “finir (to end)”, and être (to be). It is important to note that different conjugation rules apply to each group of verbs.
Here is a list of all the French pronouns:
• Je (I)
• Tu (you, informal and singular)
• Il/Elle (he/she)
• Nous (we)
• Vous (you, formal and plural)
• Ils/Elles (they)
There are several verb tenses in French, but not all of them are used in the spoken language. The present tense is the simplest verb tense, and verb conjugation in the present tense is a little more complicated than in English because verbs termination differs in accordance with person and the verb group. For example, when the –er group verbs like “parler”, is conjugated, it comes to “je parle (I talk)”, “tu parles (you talk)”, and “il/elle parle (he/she talks)”, and so on. On the other hand, -ir group verbs like “finir” becomes “je finis”, “tu finis”, and “il/elle finit”.
Important point to note with French is that the English concept of ‘it’ doesn’t really apply, since all nouns are in either masculine or feminine (il or elle). While in English, there are three ways of expressing the present tense, the present tense in French uses only one form of expression, as in “je parle” which can imply “I talk”, “I am talking”, and “I do talk”.
The French verbs “être (to be)” and “avoir (to have)”, referred to as auxilliaries (such as to have, will, would, shall, should, can, could, in English), play a special role in French. They are, in fact, the only two auxiliary verbs used in the French language, and conjugating these verbs can be irregular. For example, in the present tense, “être” is conjugated as “je suis”, “tu es”, “il/elle est”, “nous sommes”, “vous êtes”, and “ils/elles sont”; while “avoir” is conjugated as “j’ai”, “tu as”, “il/elle a”, “nous avons”, “vous avez”, and “ils/elles ont”.