Traduire les conjugaisons de verbes
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French and English have a number of important differences in verb tenses and moods, which can make translating all the different conjugations from one language to the other a bit tricky. Here’s what to keep in mind when translating French verb conjugations.
Different tenses and moods
French and English each have about a dozen verb forms that are essential for everyday conversation, but they are not the same. For example, French has full sets of subjunctive conjugations for every verb, and while English does have a (rarely used) subjunctive, it’s nearly always the same verb conjugation as the simple present, so it offers no useful hint when translating into French. French also has several literary tenses that are reserved for written language (literature, journalism) that have no English counterpart. English, meanwhile, has five forms* that do not have straightforward French equivalents.
Somewhat different tenses and moods
Even when French and English have similar verb forms, like le présent and the simple present, they’re not exactly the same. Though le présent (e.g., je parle) is most often translated by the simple present (I speak), it’s sometimes equivalent to the present perfect (I have spoken) or the present emphatic (I do speak).
English uses modal (unconjugated) verbs to express certain nuances that French conveys with conjugatable verbs such as je dois, il doit, nous devons (I must, he must, we must).
Simple conjugations vs compound conjugations
Both languages have simple and compound conjugations: simple conjugations have a single word, such as je parle (I speak), while compound conjugations have two words, like j’avais parlé (I had spoken). However, some simple French conjugations are compound in English, such as je parlerai (I will speak).
Partly due to all of the above, and partly due to the nature of languages, many verb conjugations have two or more possible translations in the other language. (And that’s before you even consider how much this is compounded by verbs that have multiple meanings, like faire – to do, to make.)
Translating French verbs
With all of this in mind, take a look at the following pages for help translating every French verb tense and mood into English.
- Translating simple French tenses and moods
- Translating compound French tenses and moods
- Translating French imperatives, infinitives, and participles
Simple and compound French verb conjugations
If you need to start with a more general overview of French verb tenses and moods, take a look at these pages, with one of each type of verb conjugated into everything:
- Avoir verbs: the verb vendre (to sell)
- Être verbs: the verb aller (to go)
- Pronominal verbs: the verb se raser (to shave)
Back to the basics: Introduction to verb conjugation
* English has two progressive tenses ("I am going, I will be going") and three perfect progressive tenses ("I have been going, I had been going, I will have been going") that do not exist in French.
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