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Get ready for beginners’ French
Get ready for beginners’ French

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5 Verbs in French: introducing conjugation

You may remember that a verb is a ‘doing’ word. In other words, verbs denote actions.

Here are some English verbs, and their French equivalents.

Described image
Figure 5 Some common verbs

When used in sentences, verbs are preceded by ‘subjects’ which refer to the person or thing doing the action described by the verb. Subjects can be nouns, like ‘Simon’, ‘Debbie’ or ‘the cat’, or pronouns, like ‘I’, ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘you’.

In many languages, verb forms can change depending on the subject used with the verb.

Activity 4 Verb endings

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Look at the following verb endings in English. What do you notice? Make a quick note.

  • eat:
  • I eat
  • you eat
  • he/she eats
  • we eat
  • you eat
  • they eat
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Discussion

This example shows us that the verb form for ‘eat’ used with ‘he’ or ‘she’ changes to ‘eats’.

Now, you will compare ‘eat’ to its French equivalent. See how the French verb ‘manger’ changes depending on the subject. Pay close attention to the spelling – what’s different?

  • manger:
  • je mange
  • tu manges
  • il/elle mange
  • nous mangeons
  • vous mangez
  • ils/elles mangent
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Discussion

There’s more variation in the verb endings in French than in English.

The variation of verb forms is called ‘conjugation’. In the activity just now, you saw that verb forms can vary depending on the subject used with the verb. It can also vary depending on the tense used, i.e. whether you are using a verb form to refer to the present (je mange = I eat), to the past (je mangeais = I used to eat) or to the future (je mangerai = I will eat).

Learning verb conjugations can seem quite daunting at first, but when you start learning French, you will study these step by step, so you will have plenty of time to memorise them gradually. Your tutor and/or learning materials will also help you to identify patterns which will make your learning a lot easier. For example, all the verb endings for the subject tu always end in -s, and all of those for the subject vous end in -z.

Another pattern is that most of the verbs that end with -er (manger, aimer, marcher, etc.) follow exactly the same conjugation forms, so once you have learned those for one -er verb, you can work out how to conjugate almost all of the other -er verbs. Try the next activity to practise this.

Activity 5 -er verb endings

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Manger and marcher are both regular -er verbs, so their conjugation patterns use the same verb endings. Look at the example below, and then write the appropriate ending to get the correct form for the next three instances of marcher, mirroring the pattern of manger.

je mange

tu manges

vous mangez

ils mangent

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As you keep learning, you’ll become very familiar with these verb forms and find them much easier to recall.