REGULAR -ER verbs

A majority of French verbs are conjugated following the same basic pattern. These verbs have an infinitive (the form found in the dictionary) which ends in -er. Think of porter, écouter, fermer, regarder (to carry or to wear, to listen, to close, to look at or to watch).

The conjugation is as follows:

porter
je
porte
nous
portons
tu
portes
vous
portez
elle, il, on
porte
elles, ils
portent

(Although there are five different written forms among the six conjugations, there are only three different pronunciations, since 'je porte', 'tu portes', 'il or elle porte' and 'ils or elles portent' are all pronounced the same way:     [click for sound?]. This makes the 's' on the end of 'tu portes' very easy to forget in written French, as well as the 'nt' in 'ils portent'.)

Depuis 25 ans mon père porte des pantalons à patte d'éléphant. Maintenant ils sont à la mode et tous les jeunes les portent. Mon père, mon frère et moi, nous portons les mêmes vêtements. C'est inimaginable !

For 25 years my father's been wearing bell-bottoms. Now they're in fashion and all the kids are wearing them. My father, my brother and I all wear the same clothes. It's unthinkable!

Other verbs conjugated like porter:

90% of French verbs


-CER verbs

So far, so good. Unfortunately, there are some variations that complicate things.

Take the verb 'commencer' (to begin), for example. Like all verbs which end in -cer, it conjugates with a slight variation, as follows.

commencer
je
commence
nous
commençons
tu
commences
vous
commencez
elle, il, on
commence
elles, ils
commencent

Note the cedilla (ç) on the 'c' in the 'nous' form.

The cedilla is there because the letter 'c' represents two different sounds in French
a k sound ('hard' c), as in le cahier, if the 'c' is followed by an 'a', an 'o', a 'u' or a consonant
an ss sound ('soft' c), as in la France, if the 'c' is followed by an 'e' or an 'i' (see accents)

In French this rule is always true (amazing!) (unlike in English where it is just almost always true - notice the horrible inconsistencies in a sentence such as 'Caesar saw Celtic coelenterates').

Sometimes, though (and this is the case with 'commençons'), a soft c sound unwittingly ends up in front of an 'a', an 'o' or a 'u', almost by accident. So what do you do?

If you want to write a soft c sound coming before an 'a', an 'o' or a 'u', you have to add a cedilla. A cedilla takes a hard 'c' sound, and makes it soft. (see accents)

(In other words, when spoken this verb is as regular and as normal as any other -ER verb. The cedilla is an attempt to maintain that in the written form.)

Chaque fois que je commence à comprendre les verbes, je trouve une exception aux règles.
Every time I begin to understand verbs, I find an exception to the rules.

Mes amis et moi, nous commençons à nous intéresser à la culture française, surtout aux cafés !
My friends and I are starting to take an interest in French culture, especially the cafes!

Other verbs conjugated like commencer:

placer to place remplacer to replace
forcer to force lancer to throw
influencer to influence menacer to threaten
prononcer to pronounce    

 


-GER verbs

Funnily enough, the verbs ending in -GER follow the same pattern as -CER verbs:

manger
je
mange
nous
mangeons
tu
manges
vous
mangez
elle, il, on
mange
elles, ils
mangent

except that they use an extra 'e' instead of a cedilla. Note, however, that the extra 'e' is not pronounced - 'mangeons' is still a two-syllable word.

Like the letter 'c', the letter 'g' is always
soft (zh as in treasure) before an 'e' or an 'i', as in la page
hard (g as in got) before an 'a', an 'o', a 'u' or a consonant, as in regarder
hard(g as in great) before all consonants, as in agréable (except before 'n', as in agneau)

In French this rule is always true (and this is where English is really inconsistent - 'My girlfriend's getting some margarine').

(As with -CER verbs, when spoken this verb is as regular and as normal as any other -ER verb. The added 'e' is an attempt to maintain that in the written form.)

Aux États-Unis nous mangeons à 5 ou 6 heures du soir. Les Français, par contre, mangent typiquement à 7 ou 8 heures du soir.
In the US we eat at 5 or 6 in the evening. The French, on the other hand, typically eat at 7 or 8 in the evening.

Arrête ! Tu manges comme un cochon !
Stop it! You're eating like a pig!

Other verbs conjugated like manger:

changer to change ranger to tidy up
voyager to travel partager to share
arranger to arrange bouger to move
nager to swim déménager to move (houses)

 


-E*ER verbs

(Verbs whose stem ends with a weak e)

Sometimes it's the vowel that needs to be altered to reflect the pronunciation accurately. As in the verb 'se lever':

se lever
je
me lève
nous
nous levons
tu
te lèves
vous
vous levez
elle, il, on
se lève
elles, ils
se lèvent

If you know how the word is pronounced, you can deduce the spelling. Or if you know how the word is spelled, you can deduce the pronunciation. (Unfortunately you have to know one or the other.)

So what's so unspecial about the nous and the vous forms that they don't get to have an accent?

Well, the 'lev' of the stem in these forms is followed by a pronounced ending ('ons' or 'ez'). They have an extra syllable, and it is this last syllable - the ending - that gets the stress. It changes the pronunciation of the 'le-' syllable, which becomes a lot more humble. It becomes a 'stressed e', pronounced like the 'e' in 'le' or 'je'.

In the other forms, the 'lev' of the stem happens to be the last syllable of the word (and it ends in a pronounced consonant). So it is pronounced with a little more stress, and a more open 'e' sound.

Listen to the way the first 'e' is pronounced in the following words:

lève     [click for sound file]
levez    [click for sound file]

This more open 'e' sound is what the accent grave is there to represent. (see accents)

It's all a question of balance, really. When one side is down, the other is up:

So in the singular forms, as well as the third-person plural (whenever the ending is not pronounced, in other words), the last syllable of the stem will change to an 'è'.

Sometimes this happens to an unaccented e:

acheter

j'
achète
nous
achetons
tu
achètes
vous
achetez
elle, il, on
achète
elles, ils
achètent

Moi, j'achète les boissons pour la boum, et vous achetez les pizzas
I'm buying the drinks for the party, you are buying the pizzas.

Other verbs conjugated like acheter:

mener           to lead

Sometimes it happens to an e accent aigu:

célébrer
je
célèbre
nous
célébrons
tu
célèbres
vous
célébrez
elle, il, on
célèbre
elles, ils
célèbrent

Les Américains célèbrent leur indépendance le 4 juillet. En France on célèbre la Révolution le 14 juillet. Nous célébrons tous les deux avec des feux d'artifice.

Americans celebrate their independence on July 4. In France they celebrate the Revolution on July 14. We both celebrate with fireworks.

Other verbs conjugated like célébrer:

préférer to prefer
espérer to hope
suggérer to suggest
accélérer to accelerate

Sometimes, the change in pronunciation is marked by a doubling of the following consonant (which achieves the same thing as an è (e accent grave)):

s'appeler
je
m'appelle
nous
nous appelons
tu
t'appelles
vous
vous appelez
elle, il, on
s'appelle
elles, ils
s'appellent

Moi, je m'appelle Bernardette. Comment vous appelez-vous ?

My name is Bernardette. What's your name?

Other verbs conjugated like s'appeler:

se rappeler to recall
jeter to throw

(There are even some verbs which can be spelled either with an e accent grave or with a double consonant, but they're too obscure to worry about.)

Let me try some exercises!

-er verbs / -ir verbs / -re verbs
être / avoir / faire / aller / prendre / connaître
venir, tenir / pouvoir, vouloir / savoir, devoir / dormir, sortir, servir
lire, dire, écrire / voir, croire