The present tense of regular -er verbs

The vast majority of French verbs end in -er in the infinitive and are classed as regular -er verbs. There are a few spelling and pronunciation variations to consider, but basically every verb ending in -er conforms to the pattern outlined below. This pattern is also productive: that is, newly coined verbs also follow this pattern.

Written form of the present tense

To form the present tense of an -er verb, replace the final -er with the appropriate ending from the list below:

SubjectEndingExample
je I-eje travaille I work, I am working
tu you-estu travailles you work, you are working
il he
elle she
on we, one, they
-eil travaille he works, he is working
elle travaille she works, she is working
on travaille we work, we are working
nous we-onsnous travaillons we work etc.
vous you-eznous travaillez you work etc.
ils they (masc)
elles they (fem)
-entils travaillent they work etc.
elles travaillent

For any verb, there is always a single 'he/she/it' form used for il, elle and on; and there is always a single 'they' form used for both masculine (ils) and feminine (elles) subjects.

So that means that if the subject is a singular noun (phrase) like le garçon, la femme or Jacques, you need the ils/elles form. If the subject is a plural noun (phrase) like les femmes, you need the plural ils/elles form.

If you want to practise forming the present tense of different verbs, then click here. If you'd like to see a couple more examples first, then read on to the next section.

Further examples

We want to say......so here's what we do...
she gives
  1. she is elle;
  2. (to) give is donner;
  3. we remove -er from donner, leaving donn-;
  4. we choose the ending that goes with elle, namely -e (see the table);
  5. we put donn- and -e together;
  6. for she gives, we get:
    elle + donn- + -e --> "elle donne".
I am singing
  1. we remember that French makes no difference between I sing and I am singing;
  2. I is je;
  3. (to) sing is chanter;
  4. we remove -er from chanter, leaving chant-;
  5. we choose the ending that goes with je, which is also -e (see the table);
  6. we put chant- and -e together;
  7. for I am singing, we get:
    je + chant- + -e --> "je chante".
the boys are talking
  1. the boys, les garçons, is plural; in other words, it takes the ils/elles form;
  2. (to) talk is parler;
  3. we remove -er from parler, leaving parl-;
  4. we choose the ending that goes with ils/elles, which is -ent (see the table);
  5. we put parl- and -ent together;
  6. for the boys are talking, we get:
    les garçons + parl- + -ent --> "les garçons parlent".

Practice the present tense

If you think you've got the information above, then click here to practise forming the present tense.

Another way of looking at things...

It's usual to "visualise" and remember these verb forms in table form, as above. Another way of looking at things is in terms of a number of 'rules':

  • The tu form of any verb, in any tense, always ends in -s;
  • The nous form of any verb, in any tense1, always ends in -ons;
  • The vous form of any verb, in any tense1, always ends in -ez;
  • The ils/elles form of any verb, in any tense, always ends in -nt;

So another way of summing up the contents of the above table is:

The je and il forms have -er replaced with -e. The other forms follow on from this, applying the 'normal' endings that apply to any tense.

Spoken form of the present tense

The written forms above actually make things look more complicated than they really are. When written down, there are five different forms of the present tense. But the forms ending in -e, -es and -ent all sound the same, and to all intents and purposes aren't pronounced2. The endings -ons and -ez are pronounced, but nous is not used much in everyday speech, being largely replaced by on. So the situation as far as the spoken language is concerned looks much simpler:

  • All of the singular forms, and the 'they' form, sound like the infinitive minus the last syllable (-er).
  • There is one other spoken form in current use, the vous form, which sounds the same as the infinitive.

For most tenses and for most verbs (regular or irregular), it is common for all the singular forms (je, tu and il/elle forms) to sound the same.

-er verbs with spelling complications

On the next page, we consider some -er verbs that have minor spelling (and occasionally pronunciation) complications.


Notes:
1. Excluding the past historic which in any case is no longer part of the "natural" language.
2. They basically constitute a so-called 'mute e', which means that they sometimes affect the rhythm of a sentence and can be pronounced in certain circumstances such as for emphasis or in song or poetry.

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