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How to Conjugate Irregular Verbs in French

French irregular verbs

French verbs of the third group are very (very) tricky to conjugate. Not because of the way they end (that’s tricky enough), but because in many cases the very useful root we’ve been using for the other 2 verb groups changes into forms hard to recognize by non-French speakers.

The only way to truly learn the conjugation of the French verbs in this group is to go over all of them. Fortunately, as explained in a previous learn French grammar lesson, the conjugation of many of these verbs follow the conjugation of a “master” verb in each sub-category. Once you learn what that verb is for each sub-group, and learn its conjugation, you will have the master keys to rule them all.  In terms of endings, the table below summarizes all the endings for group 3 (but not the changes of the roots).

Conjugation rules:

Step 1: Take the French verb from the third group. Remove the ending from the infinitive form. Modify the root according to the tense. We’ll use vouloir/to want, prendre/to take, ouvrir/to open as examples. In the case of vouloir, you might think the root would be voul-… but not so. In the first person of the present tense, for example, I want is “Je veux“.  The root has disappeared and is now unrecognizable.

Step 2:  Add the ending that corresponds to the appropriate tense and person. In this case, the endings can still be easily summarized.

Je/ITu/youIl,elle,on/he,she,it
Présentouvreprends veuxouvresprends veuxouvreprend veut
Imparfaitouvraisprenais voulaisouvraisprenais voulaisouvraitprenait voulait
Passé simpleouvrispris voulusouvrispris voulusouvritprit voulut
Futur simpleouvriraiprendrai voudraiouvrirasprendras voudrasouvriraprendra voudra
Subjonctif présentouvreprenne veuilleouvresprennes veuillesouvreprenne veuille
Sujonctif Imparfaitouvrisseprisse voulusseouvrissesprisses voulussesouvrîtprît voulût
Impératifouvreprends veuille
Infinitifouvrirprendre vouloir
Participe présentouvrantprenant voulant
Participe passéouvertpris voulu # fui
Nous/weVous/youIls,elles/they
Présentouvronsprenons voulonsouvrezprenez voulezouvrentprennent veulent ‡ font
Imparfaitouvrionsprenions voulionsouvriezpreniez vouliezouvraientprenaient voulaient
Passé simpleouvrîmesprîmes voulûmesouvrîtesprîtes voulûtesouvrirentprirent voulurent
Futur simpleouvrironsprendrons voudronsouvrirezprendrez voudrezouvrirontprendront voudront
Subjonctif présentouvrionsprenions voulionsouvriezpreniez vouliezouvrentprennent veuillent
Sujonctif Imparfaitouvrissionsprissions voulussionsouvrissiezprissiez voulussiezouvrissentprissent voulussent
Impératifouvronsprenons voulonsouvrezprenez voulez
Infinitif
Participe présent
Participe passé

Added for illustration purposes: faire => ils font

All tenses of the subjunctive are introduced by a “que” conjunction (e.g. que je veuille/that I want)

  • Infinitives of the 3rd group are too many too list in the table (see previous lessons).  They all give rise to different roots that change according to the tense.

Added for illustration purposes: fuir => tu as fui

The above covers the simple tenses of the 3rd group of verbs.  As  you can see, they’re anything but simple.  But if you learn the table, you will have taken a great step in the right direction!

Examples:

Présent:  Il accueille les invités / He greets the guests

Imparfait:  Nous cuisions une omelette / We were cooking an omelette

Passé Simple:  Tu dus partir rapidement / You had to leave rapidly

Futur Simple:  Je dirai la vérité / I will tell the truth

Subjonctif Présent:  Il faut que vous dormiez plus longtemps / You must sleep more

Subjonctif Imparfait:  Il fallait qu’elles réfléchissent avant qu’elles n’écrivassent au juge / They had to think things through before they could write to the judge

Impératif:  Asseyez vous! / Sit down!

Infinitif:  Il faut avoir le courage de ses convictions / One must have the courage of one’s convictions

Participe Présent:  Elle a pleuré en voyant le chat blessé / She cried upon seeing the wounded cat

Participe Passé:  Il a vécu au Japon / He has lived in Japan


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