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Conjugating the Simple Tenses of Regular French Verbs

If the infinitive of a regular French verb ends in –er, -ir, or –re, you can follow a fixed pattern
in conjugating the verb. If you learn to conjugate one verb in each of the groups, you will
know how to conjugate hundreds of others. The following chart has the conjugation of the
five simple tenses of three common regular verbs: parler (to speak), finir (to finish), and
vendre (to sell). Just take the appropriate stem for each tense and add the required ending.

Regular -er Verb Endings

Tense (stem) je tu il/elle/on nous vous ils/elles

Present (parl) -e -es -e -ons -ez -ent

Imperfect (parl) -ais -ais -ait -ions -iez -aient

Future (parler) -ai -as -a -ons -ez -ont

Conditional (parler) -ais -ais -ait -ions -iez -aient

Subjunctive (parl) -e -es -e -ions -iez -ent

Regular -ir Verb Endings

Tense (stem) je tu il/elle/on nous vous ils/elles

Present (fini) -s -s -t -ssons -ssez -ssent

Imperfect (finiss) -ais -ais -ait -ions -iez -aient

Future (finir) -ai -as -a -ons -ez -ont

Conditional (finir) -ais -ais -ait -ions -iez -aient

Subjunctive (finiss) -e -es -e -ions -iez -ent


Regular -re Verb Endings

Tense (stem) je tu il/elle/on nous vous ils/elles

Present (vend) -s -s (nothing) -ons -ez -ent

Imperfect (vend) -ais -ais -ait -ions -iez -aient

Future (vendr) -ai -as -a -ons -ez -ont

Conditional (vendr) -ais -ais -ait -ions -iez -aient

Subjunctive (vend) -e -es -e -ions -iez -ent


Conjugating Compound Tenses with Regular French Verbs
To conjugate French compound tenses, you need an auxiliary verb, usually avoir (to have)
or être (to be), plus the past participle of the desired verb. The following example shows
French compound tenses conjugated with the past participles of parler (to speak)
with avoir as the auxiliary and arriver (to arrive) with être as the auxiliary.

Creating Compound Tenses with the Auxiliary Avoir (Parler)

Tense je tu il/elle/on nous vous ils/elles

Passé ai parlé as parlé a parlé avons avez ont parlé


Composé parlé parlé

Pluperfect avais avais avait parlé avions aviez avaient


parlé parlé parlé parlé parlé

Future aurai auras aura parlé aurons aurez auront


Perfect parlé parlé parlé parlé parlé

Past aurais aurais aurait aurions auriez auraient


Conditional parlé parlé parlé parlé parlé parlé

Past aie aies ait parlé ayons ayez aient parlé


Subjunctive parlé parlé parlé parlé

Creating Compound Tenses with the Auxiliary Être (Arriver)

Tense je tu il/elle/on nous vous ils/elles

Passé suis es est arrivé sommes êtes sont


Composé arrivé arrivé (e) arrivés arrivé arrivés
(e) (e) (es) (e)(s) (es) (es)

Pluperfect étais étais était étions étiez étaient


arrivé arrivé arrivé (e) arrivés arrivé (e) arrivés
(e) (e) (es) (s) (es) (es)
Future serai seras sera arrivé serons serez seront
Perfect arrivé arrivé (e) arrivés arrivé (e) arrivés
(e) (e) (es) (s) (es) (es)

Past serais serais serait serions seriez seraient


Conditional arrivé arrivé arrivé (e) arrivés arrivé (e) arrivés
(e) (e) (es) (s) (es) (es)

Past sois sois soit arrivé soyons soyez soient


Subjunctive arrivé arrivé (e) arrivés arrivé (e) arrivés
(e) (e) (es) (s) (es) (es)

Imperative Forms of French Verbs

In French, the imperative mood expresses an order, request, or directive and is created with
regular verbs by using the verb directly and eliminating the subject pronoun. The imperative
uses the present tense of most verbs and the conjugations of three subject pronouns: tu
(when speaking to someone familiar), vous (when speaking to someone unfamiliar, older, a
group, or a superior), and nous (when including yourself in the group). Regular –er, -ir, and –
re verbs follow the same pattern in commands as shown in the following example, along
with an example of a command using a pronominal verb and pronoun.

Parler (to speak) Finir (to finish) Vendre (to sell) Se laver (to wash)

Parle! Finis! Vends! Lave-toi!

Parlons! Finissons! Vendons! Lavons-nous!

Parlez! Finissez! Vendez! Lavez-vous!


How To Build French Sentences
Type of
Form Sample Translation
Sentence

Simple S+V+O Maitresse aime ses Teacher loves her


Declarative éleves. students.

Negation S+'ne'+V+'pas'+O Je ne veux pas aller I don't want to go to


au cinéma. the cinema.

Interrogative 1. Preface sentence Est-ce-que tu as fait Have you done


sentences with 'est-ce-que' tes devoirs? your homework?
2. Reverse: V+S+O Pourrez-vous me Could you tell me
(formal) dire ou est la where the library
bibliothèque? is?

Imperative V+O Ouvre(z) la porte! Open the door!


sentence

Simple S+V+Adj La fille est belle. The girl is pretty.


declarative with (adj must 'agree' with Le chien est beau. The dog is pretty.
adjective subject!)

Adverbial S+'y'+V On y va! Let's go!


pronoun

Relative clauses 'que' for objects Le livre que tu m'as The book you gave
'qui' for people donné... me...
L'homme qui The man who is
chante... singing...

The Simple Declarative Sentence

The most common type of sentence in English and in French is the declarative sentence; a
simple expression stating a fact:

 Il fait beau. It (the weather) is nice.


 Catherine est une adolescente. Catherine is a teenager.
 J’ai faim! I am hungry!
 Ma mère est danseuse. My mother is a dancer.
 Il écoute la musique. He listens to music.

As in English, the declarative form in French is the core around which more complicated
sentences can be built.
Basic French sentences with nouns

When you learn a language, you start with basic sentences with the most common word order.

In French, this is SVO – Subject + Verb + Object. As for most Romance languages – and, indeed,
English – the subject (who is doing the action?) generally comes at the beginning of the
sentence.

There follows the verb, and then the direct object (what is he/she doing?). The sentences
above are all examples of the SVO construct.

We now expand on that basic sentence structure by adding an indirect object (for/to/with
whom is he doing it?):

Subject + Verb + Direct Object + Indirect Object

 Marie donne le livre à sa maîtresse. Marie gives the book to her teacher.
 Jean rend le cartable à son frère. Jean gives his brother his rucksack back.
 Suzanne apporte les pommes à la cuisine. Suzanne brings the apples to the kitchen.
 Lucie retourne les livres à la bibliotheque. Lucy returns the books to the library.
 Remi mange son dîner à table. Remi eats dinner at the table.

In each of these examples, the subject is doing something with the direct object for, to or with
the indirect object.

Until now, we’ve only shown sample sentences using action verbs: somebody or something
doing something. What about sentences that use a compound verb?

In French as in English, compound verbs consist of an auxiliary verb and a participle


verb form, either in past or present tense.

In English these ‘helper’ verbs are to be, to have and to do. In French, only the first two, être
and avoir, are used in compound structures with being être used less frequently.

Nevertheless, the structure remains the same: the verb that indicates what is happening stays
in second place:

 Le roi avait pardonné le mousquetaire. The king had pardoned the musketeer.
 J’ai fini la vaisselle. I have finished the dishes.
 Les parents ont gaté ces enfants! The parents have spoiled these children!
 Le maitre avait donné des devoirs. The teacher had given homework.
 Mon copain est arrivé hier soir. My mate arrived yesterday evening.
The only time a direct object might come after an indirect object is if there is additional
information attached to it, such as a relative clause:

 Jean rend à son frère le cartable qu’il lui avait prêté. Jean gives his brother back the
rucksack he had lent him.
 Ma soeur montre à ma mére les dessins que j’avais peint. My sister shows my mother
the drawings I painted.
 Mon collegue dit à nôtre patron que je suis fainéante! My colleague tells our boss that I
am lazy!
 Benoit lit à sa copine des pôemes qu’il trouve romantique. Benoit reads to his girlfriend
poems he finds romantic.
 Gabriel donne à sa soeur les bonbons qu’il avait promi. Gabriel gave to his sister the
sweets he had promised.

Naturally, you could structure the sentence in such a way that the direct object comes before
the indirect:

Gabriel a donné les bonbons qu’il avait promi a sa soeur. Gabriel gave the sweets he had
promised to his sister.

However, that makes the sentence meaning ambiguous: He promised the candies to his sister,
but who exactly did he give them to?

French being an exceedingly precise language, it is always best to follow the proper sentence
structure in order to convey your intended meaning.

Word order with pronouns

As in many other languages, French words are put into a different order if some or all of them
are pronouns.

Let’s take the sentence:

Marie montre son dessin à sa maman. Marie shows her drawing to her mum.

Subject pronouns stay at the beginning of the sentence:

Elle montre son dessin à sa maman. She shows her drawing to her mum.

Sometimes, in French, it is much more convenient to describe an object in a sentence by using a


pronoun.

Consider the sentence above: She shows her drawing to her mum. How can that sentence be
made less cumbersome?
Elle lui montre son dessin. – ‘lui’ takes the place of ‘maman’ even though, generally, ‘lui’
represents a male.
Elle le montre à sa maman. – ‘le’ takes the place of the picture. In this sentence, the gender
matches; dessin is masculine.
Elle le lui montre. – here, you have a combination of the two representations above,
with ‘le’ meaning ‘dessin’ and ‘lui’ in for ‘maman’.

Let us now suppose you are that dear mum, telling a jealous mother about how your daughter
creates artwork for you. You would say:

Son dessin? Elle me le montre! Her drawing? She shows it to me!

Because of its first person singular designation, “me” ranks higher than “le” – a mere article.
Therefore, you would place ‘me’ before ‘le’ in such sentences.

Object pronouns come BEFORE the verb but AFTER the subject. In what order they come
depends on the pronoun:

Subject + ‘me’, ‘te’, ‘se’, ‘nous’, ‘vous’ + ‘le’, ‘la’, ‘les’ + ‘lui’, ‘leur’ + (adverbial pronoun “y”) +
‘en’ + Verb.

Examples:

Elle nous les montre. She shows them to us. Note that ‘montre’ agrees with ‘elle’ – third person
singular.

You might also phrase it as a question:

Elle vous les montre? Does she show them to you? Either way, the order listed above remains.

‘En’ is an indefinite plural pronoun that, in this sentence’s case, represents the drawings. ‘en’ is
always placed just before the verb:

Elle montre des dessins à sa maman. -> Elle lui en montre. She shows some drawings to her
mum. > She shows her them.
Negative Sentences

The French negative words are: ne…pas and ne…point (the latter is archaic or regional).

“Ne” comes immediately after the subject.


“Pas” comes immediately after the verb.

 Marie ne montre pas son dessin à sa maman. Marie does not show her drawing to her
mum.
 Marie ne le montre pas à sa maman. Marie doesn’t show it to her mum.
 Marie ne lui montre pas son dessin. Marie doesn’t show her her drawing.
 Marie ne le lui montre pas. Marie doesn’t show her it.

Negation is pretty straightforward in French, however you should be aware of


using ‘any’ properly.

The equivalent of the English “no” or “not…any” is “ne…aucun”:

Marie ne montre aucun dessin à sa mère. Marie doesn’t show any drawing to her mother.

Or: Marie shows no drawings to her mother.

Adding Adjectives, Adverbial Phrases


Adverbs and adverbial phrases

The adverbial phrase or complément circonstanciel can come at the beginning, the end or
the middle of the sentence. They are emphasised if they are put at the beginning or the end; it
is more colloquial to only put single-word adverbs in the middle.

Such phrases may denote a time:

 Marie lui montrera son dessin demain. Marie will show him/her her drawing tomorrow.
 Demain, Marie lui montrera son dessin. Tomorrow, Marie will show him/her her
drawing.
 Marie lui montrera demain son dessin. Marie will show him/her tomorrow her drawing

Or a place:

 Marie lui montrera son dessin à l’école. Marie will show her drawing at school.
 À l’école, Marie lui montrera son dessin. At school, Marie will show her drawing.

However, if you are using a complément circonstanciel construction to denote a


place where an activity has happened, you cannot put that location in the middle of the
sentence:
Marie lui montrera à l’école son dessin. Marie will show him/her at school her drawing.

You’ll note that, as we do not know who the ‘lui’ in question is, it might represent a male or a
female – hence both pronouns.

Adverbial pronouns

The adverbial pronoun “y” (directional) comes after most other pronouns but before the plural
pronoun “en”. It is generally used to denote a progressive action, or one that is about to take
place. However, ‘y’ can only be used if the listener knows what the speaker is talking about:

Marie va à l’école. Marie goes to school. If the listener knows where Marie is headed, the
speaker could say: Marie y va – Marie is going.

Another example:
Nous irons au bois. We go to the forest. Contrast that with the much simpler:
Nous y allons. We’re going – the usage is contingent on it being known where we are going!

Caution! You should never say:

Marie y va à l’école or Nous y allons au bois – it suggests the listener both knows and doesn’t
know the destination.

Adjectives and their placement in the sentence.

Unlike in English, Adjectives are generally placed right after the noun:

Whereas an English speaker would say: ‘the red balloon’, in French, the proper order is: ‘le
ballon rouge’. Here are some more examples:

 The hungry lion = le lion affamé.


 The sleepy child = l’enfant somnolent(e).
 The playful cat = le chat (la chatte) ludique.
 A good book = un bon livre.

Do you know of the BAGS group? It denotes constructions wherein the adjective
comes before the noun:

 Beauty: Un joli ballon. A pretty balloon. More: Une jolie femme (a pretty woman),
une belle chanson (a pretty song)
 Age: Un vieux ballon. An old balloon. More: Un viel homme (an old man),
une vieille bicyclette (an old bicycle)
 Goodness: Un méchant ballon. A mean balloon. More: un bon vin (a good wine),
une bonne amie (a good friend).
 Size: Un grand ballon. A big balloon. More: Un petit ballon (a small balloon),
une petite fille (a small girl).

Adjectives used with verbs expressing a state come after the verb:

 Le ballon est vert. The balloon is green.


 Le ballon semble petit. The balloon seems small.
 Le ballon deviendra grand. The balloon will become big.

Note that adjectives should always agree with the noun they are qualifying in gender and
number.

 La chatte deviendra grande. The (female) cat will become big.


 La fille semble petite. The girl seems small.
 La voiture est verte. The car is green.

Dependent and relative clauses

Most dependent or relative clauses come right after the main clause, at the end of the
sentence.

Relative clauses

Relative clauses are introduced by the relative pronoun “que” if the noun is
an object and “qui” if the noun is human.

These clauses are usually placed at the end of the sentence and come right after the noun they
are qualifying – meaning that these nouns are sometimes moved from their usual place in the
sentence.

An exception is if the qualifying noun is the subject, then the relative clause is moved forward.
If it is very long it can be put between commas.

 J’aime la chanson que tu chantes. I like the song you are singing.
 La chanson que tu chantes est belle. The song you are singing is pretty.
 Marie donne à Daniel le livre qu’elle a acheté. Marie gives Daniel the book she bought.
 Marie, qui aime la danse, donne le livre à Daniel. Marie – who likes dancing – gives the
book to Daniel.

Conjunctive clauses

Conjunctive phrases are clauses that are the object of a verb. The verb in question generally
deals with thoughts and emotions and the expression of them. They are either infinitive
clauses or are introduced with the conjunction “que”.

 J’ai décidé de prendre le train. I decided to take the train.


 Elle aide William à apprendre le français. She helps William learn French.
 Il pense que je t’aime. He thinks I love you.
 Tu dis que tu veux mon amitié. You say you want my friendship.

The French Interrogative Sentence

French has several ways to build an interrogative. Here are some tips to improve your French
dialogue:

Est-ce-que

Putting “est-ce-que” at the beginning of a sentence is the easiest way to formulate a question
in French. You can use the usual word order following it.

 Est-ce-que vous pouvez m’aider? Can you help me?


 Est-ce-que vous savez où se trouvent les toilettes? Do you know where the toilets are?
 Est-ce-que l’éléphant est le plus grand mammifère terrestre? Is the elephant the biggest
land-bound mammal?
 Est-ce-que ce siège est pris? Is this seat taken?

It is considered inelegant to preface your questions in this manner. During your French lessons,
your teacher might insist you use reversal instead.

Reversing subject and predicate

The more elegant phrasing is to reverse subject and predicate, putting the verb at the
beginning of the sentence and hyphenating the subject-verb group:

Pouvez-vous m’aider? Can you help me?


Savez-vous où se trouve les toilettes? Do you know where the toilets are?

If the subject of the sentence is not the person you are addressing, it stays at the beginning of
the sentence, and an additional subject “il” is added:

L’éléphant est-il le plus grand mammifère terrestre? Is the elephant the largest land mammal?
Ce siège est-il pris? Is this seat taken?

Question words

For questions that cannot be answered by yes or no, French uses question words. They come
at the beginning of the sentence, and are followed by the inverted subject-verb
group (also more idiomatically, they can also come at the end of a basic sentence).

Here is a list of French words for asking questions:


 Qui: who. Qui es-tu? Who are you?
 Que: what. Que fais-tu? What are you doing?
 Quoi: in rare cases, replaces “que”: Quoi faire?
 Où: where. Où vas-tu? Where are you going?
 Comment: how. Comment vas-tu? How are you?
 Pourquoi: why. Pourquoi manges-tu ces frites? Why are you eating those chips?
 Combien: how much. Combien coûte cette baguette? How much does this baguette
cost?
 Quel/quelle/quels/quelles: which. Should agree with the noun it is qualifying: Quels
cinémas jouent-ils le nouveau Star Wars? (Which cinema is showing the new Star Wars?)
“Quel” can be combined with adverbial prepositions: Dans quel château Edmond Dantès
était-il emprisonné? (In what castle was Edmond Dantès imprisoned?) Après quelle date
peut-on manger des huîtres? (After what date can you eat oysters?)

Indirect questions

Indirect questions are questions that are related rather than asked. They are introduced by the
usual question words:

Ils se demandent quels cinémas montrent le nouveau Star Wars. They are asking themselves
which cinemas are showing the new Star Wars film.
Elle demande comment il va. She asks how he’s doing.

My Superprof tutor taught me the correct word order during our French lessons online!

The French Conditional Sentence

The language of Voltaire uses the pair of French words “si… alors” to express a condition over
two clauses, though in some French phrases, “alors” is left off. It is considered more colloquial.

Si tu veux apprendre la langue, alors il faut bien apprendre ton vocabulaire français.
If you want to learn the language, so you will have to learn your French vocabulary.

“Si tu ne m’aimes pas je t’aime, et si je t’aime prends gare à toi!”


If you don’t love me, I love you; and if I love you: take care! (from the opera “Carmen”, by Bizet)

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