When it comes to learning French, you just cannot get around memorizing French verb conjugation. While some learners find conjugation to be challenging, it doesn't have to be if you learn some simple rules and start with the basics of learning present, past and the future tenses.
Regular French Verb Conjugation
The best way to learn French Verb Conjugation is to focus first on regular verbs in the most common tenses. Just like English, French is full of irregularities however, those are often best memorized after the basics are mastered. Every regular verb is conjugated in the same manner.
Whenever you're conjugating verbs, you always start with a "root word." With regular verbs, the root word is found by simply dropping the last two letters whether they be, -er, -ir, or -re. After you have your root of the verb, you simply add on the ending that goes with your subject:
- Parler--the root word is parl
- Vendre--the root word is vend'
il/elle vend (add nothing)
- Choisir--the root word is chois
In French, there are two basic past tenses: the imparfait or the past continuous tense) and passé composé. The imparfait is used to describe:
- Things that happened more than once in the past as in, "I used to go to the beach every summer."
- Time, age, weather, or feelings in the past as in, "I was eight years old when. . ." or "It was rainy. . ." etc.
- Events in the past of "unspecified duration" as in, "I was taking a class to learn French."
- General background information when telling a story or even that took place in the past.
Conjugating the imparfait is very simple because you conjugate it the same way for all irregular and regular verbs. The root is found by dropping the '-ons' of the first person plural form in the present tense and adding the specified endings:
The passé composé describes something that happened once in the past or something of a specified duration. It is used to describe specific events that have a specified beginning and end. (Note:) The passé composé uses either avoir or être as an auxiliary verb plus the present participle. In the examples below, the auxiliary verb has simply been included. More complete conjugations and examples can be found on our French Verb Conjugation Chart). You should also note that in special cases, past participles are required to agree with their subjects, such as with reflexive verbs and verbs that take the auxiliary être (for example elles se sont parlées; because it's reflexive, the past participle gets a feminine 'e' and a plural 's' to denote that the subject is feminine and plural. Another special case is that a past participle with the auxiliary avoir must agree with the direct object of the verb, if and only if the direct object precedes the past participle. For example j'ai acheté une table vs. la table que j'ai achetée; in the second phrase, the past participle gets a feminine 'e' added to it to denote that the direct object (the table) is feminine.
tu as parlé
il a parlé
elle a parlé
nous avons parlé
vous avez parlé
ils ont parlé
elles ont parlé
The future tense is used whenver you want to talk about something in the future. For -er and -ir verbs, it is formed by using the infinitive and adding the appropriate ending. For -re verbs, the future is formed by dropping the -e and adding the ending.
More on Conjugating Verbs
Fortunately, you don't have to guess as to whether or not you've gotten something right. There are several online quizzes and conjugation helps to guide you through your learning:
- French Verb Conjugation allows you to enter the infinitive of the verb and then it will give you a chart of the conjugations.
- The Cactus 2000 Project has a list of verbs that you can choose from and links to a very comprehensive chart for all the possible conjugations of that verb.