French verbs have been traditionally classified in three groups, based on their endings and conjugation. One of these is, in fact, a "remnant" group including any verb that does not conjugate like the verbs of the first two. With the caveat of the irregular third conjugation, these groupings are similar to the tripartite system found in Italian (-are, -ere, -ire), Spanish/Portuguese (-ar, -er, -ir), and other Romance languages.
The three conjugations
- -er verbs (verbes en -er) form the first conjugation and match roughly Latin verbs in -āre. The prototypical verb is aimer (“to love”).
- -ir verbs (verbes en -ir) form the second conjugation. It is a slight misnomer as it specifically includes verbs who use the -iss- infix (derived from the Latin inchoative infix -esc-) in the indicative present and imperfect, and the subjunctive imperfect. They match roughly Latin verbs in -ēre and -īre. The prototypical verb is finir (“to end, to finish”).
- Verbs of the third conjugation match a variety of Latin verbs in -īre or -ere whose conjugation evolved in a fashion that gave them non-standard endings. As such, this family is highly irregular: it includes verbs in -ir, in -oir and -re, as well as a few exceptional verbs in -er.
- Traditionally, the third conjugation consisted of verbs ending in -oir, and the fourth conjugation was made up of -re verbs. This categorisation has, however, become unused.
- The second person singular always ends in -s, except in the first group's imperative and a few verbs in -eux (where the -x used to be a scribal abbreviations for -us).
- The plural endings almost always end in -ons, -ez and -ent (or -ont) in tenses other than the past historic.
- In the past historic, the first and second always end in -mes and -tes, with the preceding syllable's vowel taking a circumflex.
- In the indicative present, some verbs end in -tes instead of -ez: être, dire, redire, faire, and faire's derivatives.
- The verb être is the only verb without -ons in the indicative present (it has nous sommes).
- The imperfect indicative always ends in -ais, -ais, -ait, -ions, -iez, -aient.
- The imperfect subjunctive always ends in -sse, -sses, -t, -ssions, -ssez, -ssent, with the preceding syllable's vowel taking a circumflex in the third person singular.
- The conditional is always formed by adding the imperfect indicative endings to the future stem, that stem being identical to the infinitive in the first two conjugations.
The first conjugation is typified by the verb aimer. It has a few irregularities in the verb root, usually to preserve pronunciation, or due to shifts in the location of the stress. The same endings are used in all forms. It includes all verbs in -er except for aller, and envoyer and its derivatives.
- Infinitive: stem + -er
- Past: stem + -é
- Present: stem + -ant
- Present: stem + -e, -es, -e, -ons, -ez, -ent
- Imperfect: stem + -ais, -ais, -ait, -ions, -iez, -aient
- Past historic: stem + -ai, -as, -a, -âmes, -âtes, -èrent
- Future: stem + -erai, -eras, -era, -erons, -erez, -eront
- Conditional: stem + -erais, -erais, -erait, -erions, -eriez, -eraient
- Present: stem + -e, -es, -e, -ions, -iez, -ent
- Imperfect: stem + -asse, -asses, -ât, -assions, -assiez, -assent
- tu form: stem + -e
- nous form: stem + -ons
- vous form: stem + -ez
Spelling variations: verbs in -cer and -ger
In French, a c is pronounced /s/ before e, i and y, and when it has a cedilla (ç), but it is pronounced /k/ before a, o, and u. When a verb stem ends in a c, it becomes ç before the endings that begin in a or o, in order to maintain the pronunciation of the verb stem.
The prototypical verb in this case is placer (“to place”), conjugated as follows:
- Present (nous form): plaçons
- Imperfect: plaçais, plaçais, plaçait, placions, placiez, plaçaient
- Past historic: plaçai, plaças, plaça, plaçâmes, plaçâtes, placèrent
- Imperfect: plaçasse, plaçasses, plaçât, plaçassions, plaçassiez, plaçassent
- nous form: plaçons
In the same way as the pronunciation of the letter c changes, so does the letter g. It is pronounced /ʒ/ before e, i and y, but pronounced /ɡ/ before a, o, and u. This causes problems with verbs ending in -ger, as explained above. These verbs also change their spelling: the g changes to ge before a and o.
The prototypical verb is manger (“to eat”), conjugated as follows:
- Present (nous form): mangeons
- Imperfect: mangeais, mangeais, mangeait, mangions, mangiez, mangeaient
- Past historic: mangeai, mangeas, mangea, mangeâmes, mangeâtes, mangèrent
- Imperfect: mangeasse, mangeasses, mangeât, mangeassions, mangeassiez, mangeassent
- nous form: mangeons
The pronunciation of some verbs changes when the ending begins with an unpronounced e (namely -e, -es, -ent and the future/conditional endings). This is usually because these vowels (/ə/ and /e/) are phonotactically not allowed in a stressed, closed syllable.
Verbs with vowel alternation
- Present: lève, lèves, lève, (levons, levez), lèvent
- Future: lèverai, lèveras, lèvera, lèverons, lèverez, lèveront
- Conditional: lèverais, lèverais, lèverait, lèverions, lèveriez, lèveraient
- tu form: lève
- Present: cède, cèdes, cède, (cédons, cédez), cèdent
- Future: cèderai, cèderas, cèdera, cèderons, cèderez, cèderont
- Conditional: cèderais, cèderais, cèderait, cèderions, cèderiez, cèderaient
- tu form: cède
- Instead of accenting the stressed vowel, the verbs appeler, interpeler, jeter and their derivatives duplicate the l or t:
- Present: appelle, appelles, appelle, (appelons, appelez), appellent
- Future: appellerai, appelleras, appellera, appellerons, appellerez, appelleront
- Conditional: appellerais, appellerais, appellerait, appellerions, appelleriez, appelleraient
- tu form: appelle
- Present: jette, jettes, jette, (jetons, jetez), jettent
- Future: jetterai, jetteras, jettera, jetterons, jetterez, jetteront
- Conditional: jetterais, jetterais, jetterait, jetterions, jetteriez, jetteraient
- tu form: jette
- Verbs like céder may retain the original é spelling, and /e/ pronunciation, of the final e in the future and conditional, reflecting a pronunciation where the schwa is not dropped. In such cases, they are spelled with an acute accent in these two tenses:
- ceder (alternative conjugation)
- Future: céderai, céderas, cédera, céderons, céderez, céderont
- Conditional: céderais, céderais, céderait, céderions, céderiez, céderaient
- Verbs with a penultimate vowel of /ɛ/, such as paresser, are conjugated normally like aimer, as are verbs in -éer, such as créer, and -eyer, like grasseyer. Some verbs in -eller or -etter exist as alternate spellings of equivalent forms in -eler and -eter; they do not vary either.
1990 spelling reform
Before 1990, the spelling of the forms of verbs in -eler and -eter was very complex. Some would always duplicate the consonant, other would conjugate like lever, and others could take both. Very often dictionaries would contradict each other, or even themselves, when giving conjugations. It is now recommended that all these verbs, with the exception of the most common (appeler and jeter) be conjugated like lever.
At the same time, it was recommended that verbs like céder conjugate the same way as lever in the future and conditional, as modern pronunciation did not match the spelling for many people.
Verbs in -yer
- Verbs ending in -oyer and -uyer (other than envoyer and renvoyer) replace the y with an i before an unpronounced e, turning the preceding syllable in a diphthong. The prototypical verbs are noyer and ennuyer, hence:
- Present: noie, noies, noie, (noyons, noyez), noient
- Future: noierai, noieras, noiera, noierons, noierez, noieront
- Conditional: noierais, noierais, noierait, noierions, noieriez, noieraient
- tu form: noie
- Present: ennuie, ennuies, ennuie, (ennuyons, ennuyez), ennuient
- Future: ennuierai, ennuieras, ennuiera, ennuierons, ennuierez, ennuieront
- Conditional: ennuierais, ennuierais, ennuierait, ennuierions, ennuieriez, ennuieraient
- tu form: ennuie
- Verbs ending in -ayer, however, may be conjugated either by turning the y into an i as above, or by keeping the y and using the exact same conjugation as aimer (prototypical example payer):
- Present: paie, paies, paie, (payons, payez), paient —OR— paye, payes, paye, (payons, payez), payent
- Future: paierai, paieras, paiera, paierons, paierez, paieront —OR— payerai, payeras, payera, payerons, payerez, payeront
- Conditional: paierais, paierais, paierait, paierions, paieriez, paieraient —OR— payerais, payerais, payerait, payerions, payeriez, payeraient
- tu form: paie —OR— paye
Irregular verb: envoyer
The verb envoyer has irregular future and conditional tenses. The future stem of this verb is enverr-, resembling voir more than envoyer. This gives the future tense j'enverrai, tu enverras, etc., and the conditional tense j'enverrais, tu enverrais, etc.
Regular verbs with peculiar spellings
- Verbs in -éer (mostly créer, recréer, agréer and béer) have unusual sequences of multiple "e"s; the feminine past participles of créer and agréer are among the only words in French to have sequences of three "e"s (créée, agréée).
- Verbs ending in -ier are pronounced normally (that is, they rhyme with words in -ie like manie), and the sequence of two "i"s found in the imperfect and subjunctive (and otherwise very rare) is preserved: (que) nous copiions, (que) vous copiiez.
The prototypical verb for the second conjugation is finir. The conjugation is marked by the vowel i and the infix -iss- in the indicative present and imperfect. It has only one irregular verb and one that can take an alternate conjugation.
- Infinitive: stem + -ir
- Past: stem + -i
- Present: stem + -issant
- Present: stem + -is, -is, -it, -issons, -issez, -issent
- Imperfect: stem + -issais, -issais, -issait, -issions, -issiez, -issaient
- Past historic: stem + -is, -is, -it, -îmes, -îtes, -irent
- Future: stem + -irai, -iras, -ira, -irons, -irez, -iront
- Conditional: stem + -irais, -irais, -irait, -irions, -iriez, -iraient
- Present: stem + -isse, -isses, -isse, -issions, -issiez, -issent
- Imperfect: stem + -isse, -isses, -ît, -issions, -issiez, -issent
- tu form: stem + -is
- nous form: stem + -issons
- vous form: stem + -issez
Irregular -ir verb families
- Verbs ending in -oir are usually considered part of the third conjugation (below).
- Some verbs ending in -rir (e.g., offrir, ouvrir) are conjugated in the present indicative, imperfect, and present subjunctive as if they were of the first conjugation (i.e. "offrer", "ouvrer", etc.):
- Present: offre, offres, offre, offrons, offrez, offrent
- Imperfect: offrais, offrais, offrait, offrions, offriez, offraient
- Present: offre, offres, offre, offrions, offriez, offrent
Special -ir verbs
- The verb fleurir can sometimes be conjugated as if its infinitive was florir when it means “prosper”. This is systematic in the imperfect indicative (je florissais, etc.) and present participle (florissant), and although much less common, also seen in all other tenses, including the infinitive itself.
- The verb haïr is conjugated exactly like finir, but its diaeresis remains for all the conjugation, with the exception of the singular present indicative, where the forms are written without it (je hais, tu hais, il hait) and pronounced accordingly /ɛ/, not /ai/. The verb was formerly spelled hayir, and the corresponding indicative forms (haïs, haïs, haït) are still used regionally (e.g. in Canadian French).
- Although maudire is conjugated like finir in all other forms, it is considered a third-group verb due to its irregular infinitive and past participle (maudit). Another third-group verb that often conjugates in regular second-group conjugation is bruire.
Verbs of the third group are an extremely disparate forms, several of which have missing, unresolved or variable conjugations. The verbs can be broken into several broad groups:
- The verb aller
- Verbs in -ir with a stem that varies or that loses a syllable in some tenses.
- Verbs in -re (-ore, -oire, -ire, -ure) and -oir
All in all, these verbs account for less than four hundred words and over seventy distinct conjugations. Only some of the most common and important conjugations are given and described here.
- Past: été
- Present: étant
- Present: suis, es, est, sommes, êtes, sont
- Imperfect: étais, étais, était, étions, étiez, étaient
- Past historic: fus, fus, fut, fûmes, fûtes, furent
- Future: serai, seras, sera, serons, serez, seront
- Conditional: serais, serais, serait, serions, seriez, seraient
- Present: sois, sois, soit, soyons, soyez, soient
- Imperfect: fusse, fusses, fût, fussions, fussiez, fussent
- tu form: sois
- nous form: soyons
- vous form: soyez
Avoir (“to have”) is another highly irregular auxiliary. It was worn down from frequent use, leading to its current forms.
- Past: eu (note pronunciation /y/)
- Present: ayant
- Present: ai, as, a, avons, avez, ont
- Imperfect: avais, avais, avait, avions, aviez, avaient
- Past historic: eus, eus, eut, eûmes, eûtes, eurent
- Future: aurai, auras, aura, aurons, aurez, auront
- Conditional: aurais, aurais, aurait, aurions, auriez, auraient
- Present: aie, ais, ait, ayons, ayez, aient
- Imperfect: eusse, eusses, eût, eussions, eussiez, eussent
- tu form: aie
- nous form: ayons
- vous form: ayez
Note that fais- followed by an ending is always pronounced with a mute e sound (/fəz/) in this verb.
- Past: fait
- Present: faisant
- Present: fais, fais, fait, faisons /fəzɔ̃/, faites, font
- Imperfect: faisais /fəzɛ/, faisais, faisait, faisions, faisiez, faisaient
- Past historic: fis, fis, fit, fîmes, fîtes, firent
- Future: ferai, feras, fera, ferons, ferez, feront
- Conditional: ferais, ferais, ferait, ferions, feriez, feraient
- Present: fasse, fasses, fasse, fassions, fassiez, fassent
- Imperfect: fisse, fisses, fît, fissions, fissiez, fissent
- tu form: fais
- nous form: faisons
- vous form: faites
It is possible that aller is the single most irregular French verb. Its conjugation involve no less than three distinct stems from synonymous Latin roots: all-/aill- (from the Late Latin alare, from Latin ambulare), v- (from vadere) and ir- (from Latin ire). Aside from this, most endings are those of first conjugation (-er) verbs.
- Past: allé
- Present: allant
- Present: vais, vas, va, allons, allez, vont
- Imperfect: allais, allais, allait, allions, alliez, allaient
- Past historic: allai, allas, alla, allâmes, allâtes, allèrent
- Future: irai, iras, ira, irons, irez, iront
- Conditional: irais, irais, irait, irions, iriez, iraient
- Present: aille, ailles, aille, allions, alliez, aillent
- Imperfect: allasse, allasses, allât, allassions, allassiez, allassent
- tu form: va (but vas-y)
- nous form: allons
- vous form: allez
Rendre and prendre
Most verbs in -dre conjugate like rendre (major exceptions are those in -indre and -oudre). Prendre and its compounds, however, have a very different conjugation, where the d is only kept in the future and conditional.
- Past: rendu
- Present: rendant
- Present: rends, rends, rend, rendons, rendez, rendent
- Imperfect: rendais, etc.
- Past historic: rendis, etc.
- Future/conditional: rendrai, etc.
- Present: rende, rendes, rende, rendions, rendiez, rendent
- Imperfect: rendisse, etc.
- tu form: rends
- nous form: rendons
- vous form: rendez
- Past: pris
- Present: prenant
- Present: prends, prends, prend, prenons, prenez, prennent
- Imperfect: prenais, etc.
- Past historic: pris, etc.
- Future/conditional: prendrai, etc.
- Present: prenne, prennes, prenne, prenions, preniez, prennent
- Imperfect: prisse, etc.
- tu form: prends
- nous form: prenons
- vous form: prenez
Tenir and venir
Verbs derived from tenir and venir form a major group of verbs who reproduce the peculiarities of several Spanish verbs like poner and gains a d in the future and conditional. These verbs are the only verb to have a nasal vowel in the past historic and imperfect subjunctive.
- Past: tenu
- Present: tenant
- Present: tiens, tiens, tient, tenons, tenez, tiennent
- Imperfect: tenais, etc.
- Past historic: tins, tins, tint, tînmes, tîntes, tinrent
- Future/conditional: tiendrai, etc.
- Present: tienne, tiennes, tienne, tenions, teniez, tiennent
- Imperfect: tinsse, tinsses, tînt, tinssions, tinssiez, tinssent
- tu form: tiens
- nous form: tenons
- vous form: tenez
Battre and mettre
For all purpose but spelling, battre and its derived verbs are conjugated like rendre. The only difference is in spelling, as native French words may not end in tt or tts, thus the indicative present singular of these verbs goes bats, bats, bat. Mettre and its family show the same changes, but additionally have a past participle, past historic, and subjunctive imperfect in mi-:
- Past: battu
- Present: battant
- Present: bats, bats, bat, battons, battez, battent
- Imperfect: battais, etc.
- Past historic: battis, battis, battit, battîmes, battîtes, battirent
- Future/conditional: battrai, etc.
- Present: batte, battes, batte, battions, battiez, battent
- Imperfect: battisse, battisses, battît, battissions, battissiez, battissent
- tu form: bats
- nous form: battons
- vous form: battez
- Past: mis
- Present: mettant
- Present: mets, mets, met, mettons, mettez, mettent
- Imperfect: mettais, etc.
- Past historic: mis, etc.
- Future/conditional: mettrai, etc.
- Present: mette, mettes, mette, mettions, mettiez, mettent
- Imperfect: misse, etc.
- tu form: mets
- nous form: mettons
- vous form: mettez
Verbs in -uire such as cuire, conduire and détruire conjugate as follows. The only exceptions are luire, reluire and nuire, which have two possible forms in the past historic and no t to their past participles, and bruire, which conjugated as regular -ir verbs except in the infinitive.
- Past: cuit
- Present: cuisant
- Present: cuis, cuis, cuit, cuisons, cuisez, cuisent
- Imperfect: cuisais, etc.
- Past historic: cuisis, etc.
- Future/conditional: cuirai, etc.
- Present: cuise, cuises, etc.
- Imperfect: cuisse, etc.
- tu form: cuis
- nous form: cuisons
- vous form: cuisez
- Past: lui
- Present: luisant
- Past historic: luis, etc.
Cuire is often, by analogy, conjugated the same in the past historic. The third person plural *cuirent in particular is fairly common.
Hesitations and variations
- For other hesitations see Appendix:French irregular verbs
- In the 1990 spelling reform, it was recommended that receler and assener be written with an accent: recéler/asséner. This may affect the conjugation of these verbs.
- The verb faillir was traditionally conjugated similarly to falloir (which was, in fact, a variant of it). Nowadays, it is more usually conjugated like finir, or assaillir, although literary usage still uses the original forms on occasion:
- Indicative present: je faus, tu faus, il faut
- Indicative future/imperfect: faudr+first-conjugation endings
- Chauvir is an uncommon verb for which usage hesitates between the conjugation of finir (which classical pundits rejected) and that of offrir (except for the past participle, which is always in -i).
- Traditional grammar holds that, depending on meaning, saillir is conjugated either like a second-group verb or like assaillir. In practice, there is hesitation and a tendency to always use the assaillir conjugation.
The vast majority of French verbs are conjugated with the auxiliary avoir. The traditional rule to know which verbs take être is given as "verbs in the pronominal form, verbs of movement and verbs expressing change". However, the second and third element, although they do encompass most of the verbs that take être absolutely or most often, does not apply to a number of other verb where avoir is sole possible or favored. Furthermore, the precise sense may affect the auxiliary: verbs used transitively don't take être.
The following verbs always take être when used intransitively:
- devenir (and redevenir)
- entrer (and rentrer)
- naître (and renaître)
- partir (and repartir)
- sortir (and ressortir)
- tomber (and retomber)
- venir (and revenir)