Apprendre la langue Française (Part Vingt) – les verbes (une introduction)

Source:, Berlitz French Grammar Handbook

Verbs are words that define actions, feelings, or states.

Je voyage beaucoup. I travel a lot.
J’aime mon travail. I like my work.
Je suis représentant. I am a salesman.

In French, verbs have to be conjugated meaning, they have different forms depending on what the subject is. They can have up to 6 conjugations, one for each subject pronoun like I, you, he, etc. In English, there’s only one conjugation and that is for the third person singular of a verb (for example, I sing vis-à-vis he sings); and the verb to be has three conjugations – I am, you are, he is. It’s as simple as that in English.

But wait, there’s even more! French verbs come in many varieties particularly, tenses, voices, and moods. And there are different conjugations for each variety! Computing the probable number of verbs to keep in mind will horrify you definitely. But don’t fret since there are patterns to the conjugations of most verbs. Whew.

All French verbs are classified to 5 categories. The first three categories namely, -ER verbs, -IR verbs, and -RE verbs, are regular verbs. Regular verbs that end in these letters are all conjugated the same way in all of the tenses.

A fourth category is called stem-changing verbs, although these verbs are actually sub-category of -ER verbs. They are all -ER verbs that take the same endings as the regular verbs, but their root changes depending on the subject.

The last category is irregular verbs whose conjugations are unique to them, so these must be memorized separately.

French verbs take simple tense forms, using single words, or compound forms made up with part of the verb avoir or the verb être. For example:

J’ai travaille toute ma vie dans l’eléctronique. I have worked in electronics all my life.
Je suis devenu représentant à l’âge de trente ans. I became a salesman at the age of thirty.
(Here, the verb “suis devenu” is in compound form, but if translated in English, the verb “became” is in single form.)

And when avoir and être are used in this way to created compound forms, they are known then as auxiliary verbs. For example:

J’aurais préféré devenir medecin. I would have preferred to become a doctor.
Si seulement j’avais réussi mes examens. If only I had passed my exams.
Je me serais sérieusement avantagé. I would have given myself a real boost.


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