Stem-Changing Verbs -e_er -é_er -yer

Verbes à deux radicaux

There doesn’t seem to be an official name for them in French,* but in English, verbs with two different stems or radicals in the present tense may be called stem-changing verbs, shoe verbs, or boot verbs. The last two names come from the fact that a line drawn around the stem-changed, present tense conjugations creates a shoe or boot.**

Stem-changing verbs take the same conjugation endings as regular -er verbs, but have two different verb stems depending on the grammatical person the verb is conjugated for: the first and second person plural use the same stem as the infinitive, while all of the singular conjugations as well as the third person plural have slightly different stem. Though there are different types of stem-changed verbs, the grammatical persons and tenses affected are the same for all of them, so once you learn the patterns, you can conjugate any stem-changing verb.

There are fewer than 100 stem-changing verbs, all recognizable by the last four letters of the infinitive. They fall into seven conjugation groups which can be reduced to three patterns.

1. Accent grave verbs

All verbs that end in –é_er change the é to è in the stem-changed conjugations:***

Most verbs that end in –e_er change the e muet (the penultimate e) to è:

  A few verbs that end in –eler and –eter undergo a different stem change.

2. Doubled consonant verbs

Instead of following the above pattern, the following French verbs that end in –eler and –eter double the l or t in the stem-changed conjugations.

3. Y to I verbs

Verbs that end in –ayer, –oyer, or –uyer stem-change the Y to an I.

For –oyer and –uyer verbs, the stem change is required.

For –ayer verbs, the stem change is optional: both je paie and je paye are correct.

   
Quiz: Stem-changing verbs

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

** The conjugations with stem changes vary by verb tense and mood:

  1. In the present tense, subjunctive, and imperative, the stem change occurs in all conjugations except nous and vous.
  2. In the future and conditional, the stem change occurs in all conjugations.***
  3. However, in the imperfect, present participle, past participle, passé simple, and imperfect subjunctive, there is no stem change.

Confused? You can see how all of these stem changes and non-stem changes look in the verb conjugation tables – click any of the verbs above.

*** For é_er verbs, the stem change is optional in the future and conditional.

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French boot verbs
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4 Responses

  1. Blanche 21 April 2017 / 8:53

    I really like the boots. The infographic really helps remember details. Thanks.

  2. Jane 29 August 2014 / 13:30

    Thanks for your informative lessons. I always find the clarity or reasoning I seek towards certain rules or exceptions. Merci beaucoup !

  3. Jaya Kaelberer 12 August 2014 / 17:04

    This is hands-down the best explanation of verbs I have read! You have arranged them so logically, it is easy to remember the conjugations and how to form them. I have several French books and Internet sites but none of them provide as clear and as complete a description!
    Thanks!

  4. Eduardo Burgue 9 August 2014 / 20:01

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