Introduction to Verbs

Initiation aux verbes

Verbs are action words that express the action (He runs) or state of being (I am tired) of a sentence. They are one of the main parts of speech.

French verbs have to be “conjugated” or “inflected”; that is, changed according to how they are used. They have five to six different conjugations for each tense and mood.

The basic form of a verb is called the infinitive and is the name of the verb. The English infinitive is “to” followed by a verb, while the French infinitive is a single word with one of three infinitive endings:

1. -er parler (to speak)  Regular -er verbs Irregular -er verbs
2. -ir finir (to finish) Regular -ir verbs Irregular -ir verbs
3. -re vendre (to sell) Regular -re verbs Irregular -re verbs

  When learning any new verb, be sure to learn its infinitive, since this is used as the basis for just about everything you do with it.

Most French verbs are conjugated by removing the infinitive ending to find the “radical” or “root” and then adding the appropriate ending. There are a total of five elements in conjugation: number, person, tense, mood, and voice.

Number and Person

Number and person together indicate the grammatical person: who or what is performing the action of the verb – see subject pronouns.

Tense

Tense refers to the time of a verb’s action: present, past, or future. There are two kinds of tenses:

  1. A simple tense is a single word
    je veux (I want), nous parlons (we talk), il arrivera (he will arrive).
     
  2. A compound tense has two words: auxiliary verb + past participle
    j’ai regardé
    (I have watched), il aurait étudié (he would have studied)

    Simple vs compound conjugations

  Fais gaffe !

Simple and compound tenses aren’t always the same in French and English. For example, (il) arrivera is a simple tense in French, while its translation “(he) will arrive” is a compound tense in English.

Mood

Mood indicates the attitude of the speaker toward the action/state of the verb – how likely or factual the statement is, as well as how the action/state is being presented. French has six moods:

  1. Indicative – what you might call the “normal” mood. It indicates a fact:
    J’aime lire
    (I like to read)
  2. Subjunctive expresses subjectivity, such as doubt and unlikelihood. Note that the subjunctive is rare in English but common in French.
    Je veux que tu le fasses (I want you to do it)
  3. Imperative gives a command:
    Aidez-moi ! (Help me!)
  4. Conditional sets a condition:
    Je t’aiderais si tu me demandais (I’d help you if you asked).
  5. Participle is the adjectival form of a verb:
    des yeux souriants (smiling eyes)
  6. Infinitive is the noun form of a verb (as well as its name)
    Voir, c’est croire (Seeing is believing)

Voice

Voice indicates the relationship between the subject and verb. The three voices are

  1. Active – The subject performs the action of the verb (the most common, “normal” voice).
    Je lave la voiture – I’m washing the car.
  2. Passive – The action of the verb is performed on the subject by an agent.
    La voiture est lavée – The car is washed.
  3. Reflexive – The subject performs the action on itself (more common in French than English).
    Je me lave – I’m washing (myself).

 French Verb Conjugations

Related lessons

French for beginners French for beginners

Self-study checklist with lessons, quizzes, and comprehension exercises.

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