Spelling Change Verbs -cer -ger

Verbes à orthographe corrective

C to ç and g to ge verbs
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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 not the same thing as stem-changing verbs, though a few verbs belong to both categories.

-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 nouseffacons
tueffaces vouseffacez
ilefface ilseffacent

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 the infinitive and 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 nouseffaçons
tueffaces vouseffacez
ilefface ilseffacent

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:

jebouge nousbougons
tubouges vousbougez
ilbouges ilsbougent

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:

jebouge nousbougeons
tubouges vousbougez
ilbouges ilsbougent

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.

 Related lessons

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French spelling change verbs

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