French Present Tense

Now we are going to look at French Present Tense Regular Verbs.

Regular verbs are verbs which follow a regular pattern. Most, but not all, verbs are regular in French. What this means is if you learn some examples, you can use those examples for most other verbs in the language.

How do verbs work in French?

Verbs tell us what is being done and by whom. In French there are three types of regular verbs, namely those that end in er, re and ir. This is the form of verb that you will find in the dictionary by default.

The dictionary form is the English equivalent of ‘to……’ (known in English as the infinitive), for example:

  • Parler = To talk
  • Finir = To finish
  • Attendre = To wait

The words parler, finir and attendre are good for when we want to say ‘to talk’, ‘to finish’ and ‘to wait (for)’ (e.g. I want to talk).

However when we want to say ‘I talk, you talk, I finish, you finish, etc.’ they are no use with the er, ir and re left on the end. Why? We have no idea who is doing the action.

Forming the French Present Tense

To form the present tense verb, firstly you take off the two letters at the end of the dictionary form of the verb (i.e. remove the er, ir or re). This makes what is known as the verb stem. The verb stems for the three verbs above are therefore:

  • Parl = Talk (having removed the er from parler)
  • Fin = Finish (having removed the ir from finir)
  • Attend = Wait (having removed the re from attendre)

The stem of the verb tells us what is being done, but the words ‘parl’, ‘fin’ and ‘attend’ are useless by themselves. These words do not tell us who is doing the action i.e. who is doing the talking, eating or living.

In French we:

  • Use a word to tell us who is doing the action (just like in English ‘I’ = ‘Je’, ‘You’ = ‘You’, ‘Il’ = He, etc.)
  • We add an ending onto the verb stem to confirm who is doing the action. In French, the endings vary depending on who is doing the action and whether the dictionary form of the verb was ‘er’, ‘ir’ or ‘re’.

For example:

  • Je parle = I talk (The ‘I’ ending for ‘er’ verbs is ‘e’)
  • Je finis = I finish (The ‘I’ ending for ‘ir’ verbs is ‘is’)
  • J’attends = I wait (The ‘I’ ending for ‘re’ verbs is ‘s’)

Take a look at the following three verbs and take note of their endings.

Example of an ‘er’ verb: Parler

  • Parler = To talk (example of an ‘er’ verb)
  • Je parle = I talk
  • Tu parles = You talk (informal and singular ‘you’)
  • Il/Elle parle = He/she talks
  • Nous parlons = We talk
  • Vous parlez = You talk (plural ‘you’/formal ‘you’)
  • Ils/Elles* parlent = They talk

*‘Ils’ is used for ‘They’ when referred to males or a mix of males and females. ‘Elles’ by contrast is used when referring to all females.

Example of an ‘ir’ verb: Finir

  • Finir = To finish (example of an ‘ir’ verb)
  • Je finis = I finish
  • Tu finis = You finish (informal singular ‘you’)
  • Il/Elle finit = He/she finishes
  • Nous finissons = We finish
  • Vous finissez = You finish (plural ‘you’/formal ‘you’)
  • Ils/Elles finissent = They finish

Example of an ‘re’ verb: Attendre

  • Attendre = To wait (example of an ‘re’ verb)
  • J’attends = I wait
  • Tu attends = You wait (informal singular ‘you’)
  • Il/Elle attend* = He/she waits
  • Nous attendons = We wait
  • Vous attendez = You wait (plural ‘you’/formal ‘you’)
  • Ils/Elles attendent = They wait

*The ‘il/elle’ (he/she) ending of attendre has no ending.

You can use the endings for most other verbs

Essentially you use the endings from the verbs above for the majority of other verbs in French.  Therefore:

  • If you want to use another ‘er’ ending verb, for example, visiter (to visit), you would remove the er from the verb then add the same endings as parler (to talk) above, so:
    • Je visite = I visit
    • Tu visites = You visit (informal singular ‘you’)
    • Il/Elle visite = He/She visits
    • Nous visitons = We visit
    • Vous visitez = You visit (plural ‘you’/formal ‘you’)
    • Ils/Elles visitent = They visit
  • If you want to use another ‘ir’ ending verb, for example nourrir (to feed), you would remove the ir from the verb then add the same endings as finir (to finish) above, so:
    • Je nourris = I feed
    • Tu nourris = You feed (informal singular ‘you’)
    • Il/Elle nourrit = He/She feeds
    • Nous nourrissons = We feed
    • Vous nourrissez = You feed (plural ‘you’/formal ‘you’)
    • Ils/Elles nourrissent = They feed
  • If you want to use another ‘re’ ending verb, for example vendre (to sell), you would remove the re from the verb then add the same endings as attendre (to wait) above, so:
    • Je vends = I sell
    • Tu vends = You sell (informal singular ‘you’)
    • Il/Elle vend = He/She sells
    • Nous vendons = We sell
    • Vous vendez = You sell (plural ‘you’/formal ‘you’)
    • Ils/Elles vendent = They sell
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