Irregular Verbs

Verbes du troisième groupe

French grammarians classify verbs into three categories:

  1. Verbes du premier groupe / la première conjugaison – "regular" -er verbs
  2. Verbes du deuxième groupe / la deuxième conjugaison – regular -ir verbs
  3. Verbes du troisième groupe / verbes irréguliers – irregular verbs

I don’t like this system at all, because two of the categories are far too broad. Verbes du premier groupe includes regular -er verbs, spelling change verbs, and stem-changing verbs. Though they do take the same verb endings, I simply cannot agree that the latter are regular. And verbes du troisième groupe is enormous: it includes aller, envoyer, irregular -ir verbs, and all -re verbs – it’s just a big mishmash.

Learning verb conjugations is all about finding patterns, and there are a lot that get lost in such huge, catch-all categories. So I find it helpful to use my own system:

Regular -er verbs   Irregular -er verbs
Regular -ir verbs   Irregular -ir verbs
Regular -re verbs   Irregular -re verbs

What do you think?

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5 Responses

  1. Timothy Koschmann 1 December 2018 / 7:12

    Laura, your way of breaking down the verb conjugations makes immanent sense to me. You are sorting first by morphology and then by verb-regularity. The traditional system mixes these two categorization schemes in a way that is very confusing to the beginner and demands excessive rote memorization. I tried to explain this to some friends of mine from France and they simply wouldn’t have it, but I’m with you.

  2. debora 23 September 2018 / 15:39

    I learned three categories in the ’60’s when I began my studies in Connecticut and continued in Paris at L’Institut Catholique. ER, IR, RE then irregular verbs for each of those 3 categories. Works for me.

  3. Lesley 4 August 2016 / 5:41

    Your way is the way verbs were categorised when I learnt French at school in the 60s. It worked for me and I have remembered the regular verbs to this day – and a lot of the irregular ones.

  4. lkl 28 July 2016 / 10:51

    Bonjour John,

    Thanks for your comment. When I said “French grammarians” I was referring to native French speakers – see Le Bon Usage, Bescherelle, etc. You’re right that most grammars written by English speakers talk about regular -re verbs as well.

  5. John Bowles 28 July 2016 / 3:27

    Hi Laura
    I’m surprised at your premise for this article because all the French grammar that I’ve ever been taught, and the text books/grammar books that I’ve looked at or referred to have essentially divided verbs into four categories: regular -er, regular -ir, regular -re, and then all irregulars lumped together. And that’s true going right back to my schooldays which is a very long time ago. My language is English(UK). I agree with you that a three category classification is daft.
    Best regards.