French Conjugation: The Present Tense – 21 Most Common Verbs (With Charts and Examples)
French conjugation refers to the different endings of French verbs.
For example, think of the verb “to speak”, which in French is parler. In English, the verb is the same whether it’s I speak, you speak, or they speak.
In French, the verb changes:
- Je parle – “I speak”
- Tu parles – “You speak”
- Ils parlent – “They speak”.
We have conjugation in English, because our verb endings change, too. For example, you don’t say “she speak”, you say “she speaks”.
When you’re learning these French conjugations as a native English speaker, it can feel scary, but it doesn’t have to be.
Do you find French conjugation scary? If yes, you are not alone. Many learners think the same, especially in the beginning.
When I was a secondary school student learning French, it seemed impossible to learn how to conjugate the most basic verbs, let alone master French conjugation.
Even so, I decided to study languages at university. I lived in France and Belgium, and ended up teaching French to people from all over the world.
Today, I speak French on a daily basis.
The conjugations that scared me so much come naturally to me now. If I could go back in time and apply the knowledge I had today, I would have become fluent sooner.
So instead, I’ll share it with you!
Table of contents
- French Conjugation Can Be Easy
- The 3 Types of Verbs in French
- Is French Conjugation Hard?
- Most Common Verbs in French for Beginners
- 1. Parler (“To Speak”)
- 2. Penser (“To Think”)
- 3. Aimer (“To Like” / “To Love”)
- 4. Regarder (“To Watch”)
- 5. Appeler (“To Call”)
- 6. Donner (“To Give”)
- 7. Aider (“To Help”)
- 8. Manger (“To Eat”)
- 9. Habiter (“To Live”)
- 10. Finir (“To Finish”)
- 11. Choisir (“To Choose”)
- 12. Être (“To Be”)
- 13. Avoir (“To Have”)
- 14. Aller (“To Go”)
- 15. Venir (“To Come”)
- 16. Faire (“To Do” / “To Make”)
- 17. Vouloir (“To Want”)
- 18. Pouvoir (“To Be Able To” / “To Can”)
- 19. Savoir (“To Know”)
- 20. Voir (“To See”)
- 21. Prendre (“To Take”)
- How to Make Negative Sentences in French Present Tense
- French Pronunciation Tips for Verbs
- French Conjugation Tips
- So… You Mastered the French Present Tense. What’s Next?
To understand French conjugation, you need to know the different types of French verbs. We can divide French verbs into three groups:
- First group verbs: regular verbs ending with -er, like parler
- Second group verbs: regular verbs ending with -ir, like choisir
- Third group verbs: irregular verbs that don’t follow a specific rule, like faire
What is the difference between regular and irregular verbs? The conjugation of irregular verbs doesn’t follow a pattern, like with regular verbs.
Have a look at this table which compares the regular verb parler (“to speak”) to the irregular verb être (“to be”)
|Parler (regular verb)||Être (irregular verb)|
|je parle||je suis|
|tu parles||tu es|
|il/elle parle||il/elle est|
|nous parlons||nous sommes|
|vous parlez||vous êtes|
|ils/elles parl/ent||ils/elles sont|
Can you see how parler follows a pattern and être doesn’t? That’s the difference between regular and irregular verbs in French.
I have a piece of good news and a piece of bad news.
Good news: 80% of French verbs belong to the first group, regular verbs. If you know how to conjugate one of these verbs, it means that you can conjugate all of them.
For example, the verb parler, (“to speak”) belongs to the first group. All the other first group verbs follow the same logic as parler when it comes to conjugation in the present tense. This means you can apply your knowledge to all the other first group verbs and conjugate décider, arriver, manger, and thousands more.
Bad news, now? Some of the most common verbs in French are third group verbs, which means they are not regular.
Think of the verbs you use every day in English—”to have”, “to go”, “to come”, “to do”… You would use them on a regular basis in French as well—avoir, aller, venir, faire… They all belong to the third group.
Learning the most common French verbs would not only speed up your learning, but it will also help you get more fluent and more confident while you’re using the language.
Let’s conjugate some of the most common verbs together. To make it easier, we’ll start with the first group verbs and then move on to the irregular third group verbs.
Keep in mind that this list is not in order of frequency.
|Suffixes for 1st group verbs||Conjugation||Translation|
|-e||Je parle||I speak|
|-es||Tu parles||You speak|
|-e||Il/elle parle||He/she speaks|
|-ons||Nous parlons||We speak|
|-ez||Vous parlez||You speak|
|-ent||Ils/elles parlent||They speak|
Example sentence: Je parle français. (“I speak French.”)
Note: Parler is a first group verb. Here is how we conjugate these verbs in French present tense: we remove the -er and add the correct ending. As you can see in the chart, the ending for each person is different.
|Je pense||I think||1st|
|Tu penses||You think|
|Il/elle pense||He/she thinks|
|Nous pensons||We think|
|Vous pensez||You think|
|Ils/elles pensent||They think|
Example sentence: Tu penses à quoi? (“What are you thinking of?”)
Note: Penser is also a first group verb so we conjugate it the same way as parler, using the same endings.
|Tu aimes||You like|
|Il/elle aime||He/she likes|
|Nous aimons||We like|
|Vous aimez||You like|
|Ils/elles aiment||They like|
Example sentence: Il aime sa famille. (“He loves his family.”)
Note: When the verb starts with a vowel, we do a contraction for je and for je only. For example, instead of saying je aime, we should say j’aime.
|Je regarde||I watch||1st|
|Tu regardes||You watch|
|Il/elle regarde||He/she watches|
|Nous regardons||We watch|
|Vous regardez||You watch|
|Ils regardent||They watch|
Example sentence: Vous regardez la télé tous les jours. (“You watch TV every day.”)
|Tu appelles||You call|
|Il/elle appelle||He/she calls|
|Nous appelons||We call|
|Vous appelez||You call|
|Ils/elles appellent||They call|
Example sentence: Ma mère m’appelle. (“My mother is calling me.”)
Note: You already know this verb. How? Think of the first sentence you’ve learned in French. It’s probably je m’appelle. Although it is used as “my name is,” its literal meaning is “I call myself.” Makes sense right?
|Je donne||I give||1st|
|Tu donnes||You give|
|Il/elle donne||He/she gives|
|Nous donnons||We give|
|Vous donnez||You give|
|Ils/elles donnent||They give|
Example: Je donne le livre à ma sœur. (“I givethe book to my sister.”)
|Tu aides||You help|
|Il/elle aide||He/she helps|
|Nous aidons||We help|
|Vous aidez||You help|
|Ils/elles aident||They help|
Example: J’aide mon ami. (“I help my friend.”)
Note: Here’s a trick to remember the verb aider: think of “first aid” in English. It comes from Old French which originates from Latin.
|Je mange||I eat||1st|
|Tu manges||You eat|
|Il/elle mange||He/she eats|
|Nous mangeons||We eat|
|Vous mangez||You eat|
|Ils/elles mangent||They eat|
Example: Je mange trop de sucre. (“I eat too much sugar.”)
Note: While we’re conjugating, we must keep in mind the pronunciation as well. French is not a phonetic language, which means that it’s not pronounced the same way it’s written.
Now check out nous mangeons. It looks like there’s an extra -e there, right? It’s just there so that the G in mangeons sounds like the rest of the verb.
|Tu habites||You live|
|Il/elle habite||He/she lives|
|Nous habitons||We live|
|Vous habitez||You live|
|Ils/elles habitent||They live|
Example: Elle habite à Paris. (“She lives in Paris.”)
Note: The letter “h” usually counts as a vowel in French and it is always silent. This is why we say j’habite and not je habite.
|Suffixes for 2nd group verbs||Conjugation||Translation|
|-is||Je finis||I finish|
|-is||Tu finis||You finish|
|-it||Il/elle finit||He/she finishes|
|-issons||Nous finissons||We finish|
|-issez||Vous finissez||You finish|
|-issent||Ils/elles finissent||They finish|
Example: Elles finissent dans 10 minutes. (“They finish in 10 minutes.”)
Note: Finir is a second group verb. To conjugate these verbs, we first remove the -ir infinitive and add the right ending. We can apply this to all of the second group verbs.
|Je choisis||I choose||2nd|
|Tu choisis||You choose|
|Il/elle finit||He/she chooses|
|Nous choisissons||We choose|
|Vous choisissez||You choose|
|Ils/elles choisissent||They choose|
Example: Je choisis la deuxième option. (“I choose the second option.”)
Note: Choisir belongs to the second group as well so it has the same endings as finir.
12. Être (“To Be”)
|Je suis||I am||3rd|
|Tu es||You are|
|Il/elle est||He/she is|
|Nous sommes||We are|
|Vous êtes||You are|
|Ils/elles sont||They are|
Example sentence: Je suis malade. (“I am sick”)
Note: Although être is an irregular verb, it’s likely to be one of the first verbs you learn in French. I’d recommend learning it very well as—spoiler alert—être will be very important as you learn other tenses in French.
|Tu as||You have|
|Il/elle a||He/she has|
|Nous avons||We have|
|Vous avez||You have|
|Ils/elles ont||They have|
Example sentence: J’ai 25 ans. (“I am 25 years old.”)
Tip: Don’t forget that we use the verb avoir, not être to talk about our age in French. You’re literally saying “I have 25 years” instead of “I am 25 years old.”
|Je vais||I go||3rd|
|Tu vas||You go|
|Il/elle va||He/she goes|
|Nous allons||We go|
|Vous allez||You go|
|Ils/elles vont||They go|
Example sentence: Mon frère va à l’école. (“My brother goes to school.”)
Tip: Aller is a tricky verb. Although it ends with -er, it is an irregular verb and it belongs to the third group. You can see that its conjugation is very different from first group verbs.
|Je viens||I come||3rd|
|Tu viens||You come|
|Il/elle vient||He/she comes|
|Nous venons||We come|
|Vous venez||You come|
|Ils/elles viennent||They come|
Example sentence: Tu viens du sud. (“You come from the south.”)
Note: Just like the verb aller, venir is also a third-group verb—don’t let the -ir ending fool you.
|Je fais||I do/make||3rd|
|Tu fais||You do/make|
|Il/elle fait||He/she does/makes|
|Nous faisons||We do/make|
|Vous faites||You do/make|
|Ils/elles font||They do/make|
Note: Have you noticed something in common between faire and venir? In both these verbs, je and tu are conjugated the same way. Il/elle end with -t, nous ends with -ons, and vous ends with -ez.
What about ils/elles in faire? That’s very different from venir. Well, check out aller this time!
|Je veux||I want||3rd|
|Tu veux||You want|
|Il/elle veut||He/she wants|
|Nous voulons||We want|
|Vous voulez||You want|
|Ils/elles veulent||They want|
Example sentence: Je fais du sport tous les jours. (“I do sports every day.”)
Example sentence: Il veut beaucoup de cadeaux pour son anniversaire. (“He wants a lot of presents for his birthday.”)
|Je peux||I can||3rd|
|Tu peux||You can|
|Il/elle peut||He/she can|
|Nous pouvons||We can|
|Vous pouvez||You can|
|Ils/elles peuvent||They can|
Example sentence: Je peux parler français. (“I can speak French.”)
|Je sais||I know||3rd|
|Tu sais||You know|
|Il/elle sait||He/she knows|
|Nous savons||We know|
|Vous savez||You know|
|Ils/elles savent||They know|
Example sentence: Je ne sais pas. (“I don’t know.”)
Note: Check out the similarities between the conjugations of vouloir, pouvoir, and savoir.
|Je vois||I see||3rd|
|Tu vois||You see|
|Il/elle voit||He/she sees|
|Nous voyons||We see|
|Vous voyez||You see|
|Ils/elles voient||They see|
Example sentence: Je vois une voiture devant le supermarché. (“I see a car in front of the supermarket.”)
|Je sais||I know||3rd|
|Tu sais||You know|
|Il/elle sait||He/she knows|
|Nous savons||We know|
|Vous savez||You know|
|Ils/elles savent||They know|
Example sentence: Vous prenez le bus à 10h. (“You take the bus at 10 o’clock.”)
Note: In French, there are many important verbs that derive from prendre. Comprendre, for example, means “to understand.” You would conjugate it the same way as prendre.
The most common way to make a negative sentence in French is to use the words ne and pas. The verb would go in the middle of these two words. If you check example 19, you will see the negation in action: je ne sais pas (“I don’t know”).
Here are some other ways to form negative sentences in French:
|ne … pas||not||Je ne parle pas.||I don't speak.|
|ne … rien||anything||Tu ne fais rien.||You don't do anything.|
|ne … personne||nobody/no one/anybody/anyone||Elle ne voit personne.||She doesn't see anyone.|
|ne … jamais||never, not … ever||Vous ne fumez jamais.||You never smoke.|
|ne … plus||any more||Il n'est plus là.||He's not here anymore.|
It is true that spelling these verbs correctly is important, especially if you’re a student. But don’t forget that pronunciation is equally important. This is the part where it gets easier though.
Let’s explain by using the verb parler again. As we just covered, the present tense conjugations for the verb parler are je parle, tu parles, il/elle parle, nous parlons, vouz parlez, ils/elles parlent.
Among these six conjugations, parle, parles and parlent are all pronounced the same. That’s four out of six which means that you have more than a 50% chance of getting the pronunciation right! This is only one of the reasons why speaking French is easier than you think. You only need to learn how to say the nous form and the vous form, which is not that hard—you just don’t pronounce the last letter.
In French, there is also an alternative word for nous. It’s called on and it means “we,” just like nous. But on is conjugated in the same way as il/elle, not nous. Native speakers use on instead of nous in informal situations such as when they are speaking with their friends. So if you say on parle instead of saying nous parlons, you would sound more fluent. Plus, it’s easier to conjugate.
This will boost your confidence as you’ll start to understand French more and more. When you learn the common verbs, you’ll be able to conjugate the more uncommon ones more easily as well.
Even in irregular verbs, there are some patterns. For example, vous conjugations end with -ez in many verbs.
Try identifying these patterns so that you’ll spend less time finding the right conjugation for each verb.
Don’t be afraid to speak even though you’re not 100% sure if you are conjugating the verbs correctly. If you don’t know a word, there is always a way to work around it to make yourself understood.
By speaking with fellow French speakers, you will get a lot of speaking practice, including conjugation.
Besides improving your vocabulary, you’ll also hear correctly-conjugated French verbs all the time. Plus, you’ll listen to nice songs and watch cool films. Win-win!
You can use different techniques to practise your verbs and see what works best for you. Writing verbs on flashcards, reading them out loud, or using a language learning app can all be options.
Also, keep in mind that everyone has a different learning style. For example, I learn by writing and speaking.
I’d say once you’re confident conjugating aller, venir, avoir, and être and a handful of the common verbs, you can move on to futur proche (near future) or passé composé (present perfect/simple past).
Next articles? Possibly!
Bonne chance! (“Good luck!”)