Spelling Change Verbs -cer -ger

Verbes à orthographe corrective

There’s no official name for them,* but I refer to French verbs that end in -cer or -ger as "spelling change verbs" because they require a small spelling change in certain conjugations. For the most part, these verbs are conjugated just like regular -er verbs, other than a little problem in some conjugations that must be corrected for reasons of pronunciation. It’s easy enough to do, once you understand why and how. (Note that spelling change verbs are completely separate from stem-changing verbs).

-cer verbs

The letter c followed by e, as in the verb effacer, is pronounced [s]. But watch what happens when you conjugate it in the present tense:

j’ efface   nous effacons
tu effaces   vous effacez
il efface   ils effacent

For 5 of the 6 conjugations, there’s no problem: the c is followed by e, so the pronunciation is correct. But in "effacons," the c is followed by an o, which means the c is pronounced [k] (see "hard vs soft" in the vowels lesson). Since we want the c to be pronounced [s] like it is in all the other conjugations, we need to soften it by changing it to ç (c cédille). So the correct conjugation table is this:

j’ efface   nous effaçons
tu effaces   vous effacez
il efface   ils effacent

This same spelling change is required in all conjugations where c is followed by a or o:

present participle   effaçant
imperative   effaçons
imperfect   effaçais, effaçait, effaçaient
passé simple   effaçai, effaças, effaça, effaçâmes, effaçâtes
imperfect subjunctive   effaçasse, effaçasses, effaçât, effaçassions, effaçassiez, effaçassent

There is no spelling change in the other conjugations of the above tenses and moods, because the c is followed by e or i, so it’s already soft.

Likewise, there’s no spelling change in any of these verb forms:

  You can see all of these conjugations in action in the effacer verb table.

More -cer verbs

agacer   to annoy
amorcer   to initiate, to energize
annoncer   to announce
avancer   to advance
balancer   to swing
bercer   to rock, cradle
coincer   to jam, wedge
commencer   to begin
dénoncer   to denounce
déplacer   to move, displace
divorcer   to divorce
effacer   to erase
épicer   to spice
forcer   to force, compel
grincer   to creak, squeak
lancer   to throw
menacer   to threaten
percer   to pierce
placer   to put
prononcer   to pronounce
remplacer   to replace
renforcer   to reinforce
renoncer   to renounce
sucer   to suck
tracer   to draw, mark out

-ger verbs

Verbs that end in -ger have the exact same problem with a slightly different solution. The letter g followed by e, as in the verb bouger, is pronounced [ʒ]. But look:

je bouge   nous bougons
tu bouges   vous bougez
il bouges   ils bougent

Once again, for most of the conjugations, there’s no problem: the g is followed by e, so the pronunciation is [ʒ]. But in "bougons," the g is followed by an o, which means the g is pronounced [g]. To get back to [ʒ], we need to soften the g by adding an e between it and the o. Here is the correct conjugation table:

je bouge   nous bougeons
tu bouges   vous bougez
il bouges   ils bougent

This spelling change is required in all conjugations where g is followed by a or o – which are, of course, exactly the same conjugations as for -cer verbs:

present participle   bougeant
imperative   bougeons
imperfect   bougeais, bougeait, bougeaient
passé simple   bougeai, bougeas, bougea, bougeâmes, bougeâtes
imperfect subjunctive   bougeasse, bougeasses, bougeât, bougeassions, bougeassiez, bougeassent

There is no spelling change in the other conjugations of the above tenses and moods, since the g is followed by e or i, or in the past participle, conditional, future, or subjunctive.

  You can see all of these conjugations in the bouger verb table.

More -ger verbs   

abréger**   to shorten, abridge
affliger   to afflict
allonger   to lengthen, stretch
aménager   to fit, develop, adjust
arranger   to arrange
bouger   to move
changer   to change
corriger   to correct
décourager   to discourage
dégager   to release, clear
déménager   to move
déranger   to disturb
diriger   to direct
échanger   to exchange
encourager   to encourage
endommager   to damage
engager   to bind, to hire, to involve
envisager   to imagine
exiger   to demand
figer   to congeal, fix
héberger   to accommodate, harbor
infliger   to inflict
juger   to judge
loger   to lodge
longer   to border
manger   to eat
mélanger   to mix
nager   to swim
neiger   to snow
obliger   to oblige
partager   to share
piéger**   to trap
plonger   to dive
protéger**   to protect
ranger   to arrange, tidy up
rédiger   to write
ronger   to gnaw
songer   to dream
soulager   to soothe, relieve
télécharger   to download, upload
voyager   to travel

* Le Bon Usage discusses these verbs in a section called Observations sur le radical, a) Verbes en -er : faits purement graphiques (as opposed to faits aussi phonétiques).

** These are spelling change as well as stem-changing verbs.

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French spelling change verbs
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