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French Verb Tenses Explained (Beginner's Guide)

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.


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