How to Master the French Present Tense Once and for All

The French present tense is the only tense you truly need to know to get by on a trip to France.

You can use it to talk about the present of course but the French sometimes use it to talk about future events as well.

And while it has the reputation of being illogical and hard to master, nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, you can master the present tense conjugation of most French verbs in a matter of weeks if you focus on learning the most common conjugation patterns first.

After reading this article, you’ll know exactly when to use the French present tense and how to quickly master it (oh and the free bonus at the end will help you make sure it doesn’t take forever).

When should you use the French present tense?

The French present tense is used much more often than its English counterpart. For example, you would use it to talk about:

  • What’s happening and how you’re feeling
  • Habits and facts
  • What’s going to happen soon

To talk about what you’re doing and how you’re feeling

You can use the French present tense to talk about what’s happening as you’re speaking.

For example, you would use it to say you’re eating a jambon beurre (ham butter) sandwich or to describe anything happening as you speak.

This makes it the equivalent of the English present tense as well as of the present progressive (be + ing form).

Qu’est-ce que tu fais ? Je mange

What are you doing? I’m eating/ I eat

To talk about habits and facts

Naturally, you can also use the French present tense to talk about habits, facts, and universal truths. Just like in English.

Quel genre de musique est-ce que tu aimes ?

J’aime beaucoup la musique classique

What kind of music do you like?

I really like classical music

To talk about what’s about to happen

If you know an event is going to happen in a few hours, days or more rarely weeks, you can use the French present tense to talk about it.

In this case, you usually add words such as “demain” (tomorrow), “lundi” (Monday) or “la semaine prochaine” (next week).

Je retourne à Londres demain

I’m going back to London tomorrow

Let me let you in on a little secret now!

As a beginner, you can also use the French present tense to talk about events that are far in the future as long as you use a phrase such as “l’année prochaine” (next year) to add context.

While this isn’t grammatically correct, people won’t have any problem understanding you and this is an easy way to talk about the future if you don’t know how to conjugate the French future tense yet.

How to conjugate the French present tense?

Conjugating verbs in the French present tense is simply a matter of using the right ending.

Before you start learning the endings of French verbs, you need to know that there are two kinds of French verbs.

  • regular verbs
  • irregular verbs.

Regular verbs

Regular verbs follow a pattern you can quickly learn.

Once you know the endings of the three different kinds of regular verbs, you can easily conjugate the large majority of French verbs which is why learning these regular patterns should be your number one priority.

French regular verbs come in three flavors:

  • Verbs ending in ER
  • Verbs ending in IR
  • Verbs ending in RE

Now let’s see what patterns these verbs follow!

Regular verbs ending in ER

It’s estimated that 90% of French verbs end in ER.

If you know how to conjugate ER verbs, you will be able to conjugate most French verbs in the present tense.

Pretty awesome, right?

Note: one rebellious ER verb decided to be irregular: aller (to go).

This is a common French verb, so you have to learn to conjugate it separately. I apologize on behalf of the French population.

Pronoun

Ending

Example

Jeemange
Tuesmanges
Il/elle/onemange
Nousonsmangeons
Vousezmangez
Ils/ellesentmangent

This may look like a lot of endings for just one tense but these forms are all pronounced the same way (except for “mangez” and “mangeons” so you only have three pronunciations to remember.

Je mange un gâteau

I’m eating a cake

Tu manges un gâteau

You (singular) are eating a cake

Il/elle/on mange un gâteau

He/she is eating a cake

Nous mangeons un gâteau

We are eating a cake

Vous mangez un gâteau

You (plural or polite form) are eating a cake

Ils/elles mangent un gâteau

They’re eating a cake

Regular verbs ending in IR

IR verbs are estimated to represent 5% of French verbs.

These are the patterns that regular IR verbs follow, but there are also some irregular IR verbs like “venir” (to come).

Pronoun

Ending

Example

Jeisfinis
Tuisfinis
Il/elle/onitfinit
Nousissonsfinissons
Vousissezfinissez
Ils/ellesissentfinissent

Je finis à 20 heures

I finish (work) at 8PM

Tu finis à 20 heures

You (singular) finish at 8PM

Il/elle/on finit à 20 heures

He/she finishes at 8PM

Nous finissons à 20 heures

We finish at 8PM

Vous finissez à 20 heures

You (plural or polite form) finish at 8PM

Ils/elles finissent à 20 heures

They finish at 8PM

Regular verbs ending in RE

Regular RE verbs follow the following pattern:

Pronoun

Ending

Example

Jesvends
Tusvends
Il/elle/onvend
Nousonsvendons
Vousezvendez
Ils/ellesentvendent

Je vends des fleurs

I sell flowers

Tu vends du chocolat

You sell chocolate

Il/elle/on vend des voitures

He sells cars

Nous vendons des vêtements

We sell clothes

Vous vendez des bougies ?

Do you sell candles?

Ils/elles vendent de tout

They sell a little bit of everything

The dreaded irregular verbs

Unlike regular verbs, irregular French verbs don’t follow the patterns mentioned above, so you have to learn the conjugation of each irregular verb individually.

However, you don’t have to learn how to conjugate every irregular verb there is. Learning the most common ones is largely enough when you begin learning French.

Like the 100 most common French words, these are verbs you will find in most conversations.

For example, “avoir” (to have) and “être” (to be) are said to be found in more than 20% of French sentences.

The following irregular verbs are the most common irregular French verbs and the irregular verbs I recommend you learn first.

Avoir

Conjugation
 
Translation
J’ai I have
Tu as You have
Il/elle/on a He/she has
Nous avons We have
Vous avez You have
Ils/elles ont They have

Être

Conjugation
 
Translation
Je suis I am
Tu es You are
Il/elle/on est He/she is
Nous sommes We are
Vous êtes You are
Ils/elles sont They are

Aller

Conjugation
 
Translation
Je vais I go
Tu vas You go
Il/elle/on va He/she goes
Nous allons We go
Vous allez You go
Ils/elles vont They go

Faire

Conjugation
 
Translation
Je fais I do
Tu fais You do
Il/elle/on fait He/she does
Nous faisons We do
Vous faites You do
Ils/elles font They do

Vouloir

Conjugation
 
Translation
Je veux I want
Tu veux You want
Il/elle/on veut He/she wants
Nous voulons We want
Vous voulez You want
Ils/elles veulent They want

Pouvoir

Conjugation
 
Translation
Je peux I can
Tu peux You can
Il/elle/on peut He/she can
Nous pouvons We can
Vous pouvez You can
Ils/elles peuvent They can

How to memorize all these crazy conjugations?

Learning the French present tense is essential. But you don’t need to spend hours reciting conjugations tables to master it.

Here is what I recommend you do instead:

  • Learn the regular patterns of ER, IR and RE verbs
  • Learn the common irregular verbs listed on this page
  • Regularly get exposure to the French language and you’ll naturally learn to conjugate the remaining verbs

Practice the present tense in the comment section below

Now that you know the theory, it’s time to practice.

Choose a verb and create a sentence with it in the comment section below this article!

Benjamin Houy

Benjamin Houy is a native French speaker and tea drinker with a BA degree in Applied Foreign Languages and a passion for languages. After teaching French and English in South Korea for 7 months as part of a French government program, he created French Together™ to help English speakers learn the 20% of French that truly matters. You will also find him giving blogging advice on Grow With Less.

21 thoughts on “How to Master the French Present Tense Once and for All”

  1. This is really well set out but I would be wary of using manger as a regular ER verb in the present tense. In the nous form, it is irregular. With regular er verbs you usually remove the “er” and add “ons”. This not the case for manger – mangeons.

    Reply
    • the ‘e’ in mangeons is added so that the ‘g’ would keep its soft quality. Sometimes, an ‘e’ is also added to prevent ‘c’-s from being pronounced ‘k’-s.

      Reply

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