How to form the present tense in French

The present tense forms of a French verb are roughly the equivalent of English forms he ...s, he is ...ing, they are ...ing etc. Here is an example of a present tense form in French. It is from the verb travailler meaning 'to work':

il travaille le samedi
he works on Saturdays
il travaille aujourd'hui
he is working today
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As you can see, the French present tense is a simple tense. That is, it is a one-word form. English makes a distinction between works and is working; the single French word travaille can express both of these notions.

Verb endings

Note that in English it would sound strange to say:

*he work on Saturdays
*they works ...
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A comparable situation exists in French: the verb form must match the person (he, they etc). However, we will see that French verb morphology (its system of word forms) is more complex than in English. French also has some complexities in its spelling system that make the system of written forms more complex still.

The French and English verb systems do share some important features, though:

  • In both languages, a handful of frequent verbs have highly irregular forms. For example, the English verb be is the only verb to have a special present tense I form; apart from been and being, its forms hardly ressemble the infinitive at all (cf am, are, is, was, were).
  • In both languages, the vast vast majority of verbs follow a single, regular pattern.
  • In both languages, as well as the general pattern that most verbs follow, there are some sub-patterns or "variations" both in the spelling system and in actual pronunciation. For example, most English verbs add -s in the present tense. But catch becomes catches and in the spoken form gains an extra syllable. The verb go has the written form goes but this is merely a spelling complication: no extra syllable is added.

Now we have considered some of the general features of the present tense in English and French, we can move on and look at our first set of actual present tense forms: the present tense of regular -er verbs.

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This page written by Neil Coffey. Copyright © Javamex UK 2014. All rights reserved.