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Lesson 3 - Pronouns and Verbs

The verb groups

In English, the infinite tense is built by adding " to " in front of the verb : to say, to see, to eat, etc. In French, the infinite tense is indicated by appending -er, -ir or -re to the verb. Examples :


parler (to talk) chanter (to sing) manger (to eat) marcher (to walk) aller (to go) écouter (to listen to) laver (to wash) commencer (to begin)


finir (to end) mourir (to die) courir (to run) sentir (to feel) avoir (to have) venir (to come) savoir (to know) vouloir (to want)


sourire (to smile) vivre (to live) boire (to drink) entendre (to hear) être (to be) conduire (to drive) vendre (to sell)

The verbs ending with -er are referred to as " first group " verbs, the verbs ending with -ir compose the " second group " and the verbs with the ending -re form the " third group ". It is useful to distribute the verbs between these 3 groups because different conjugation rules apply to each group as we're going to see.

The pronouns


  1. in French, there is no neuter pronoun (" it " in English). That means that things can be either masculine or feminine as we mentioned in the previous lesson,
  2. in English, the 2nd person pronoun is " you " whether in singular or plurial. Formally, in French, if you talk to one single person, you use " tu " and if you talk to a group of people, you must use " vous ". In fact, the " tu " form (or " tutoiement " in French) is commonly used between people of same age, or same social rank. When talking to a older person or to somebody above you in rank (your boss for example), you must, most of the time, employ the " vous " form (or " vouvoiement in French). " tu " marks familiarity while " vous " marks respect.
  3. When the verb starts with a vowel, you must use j' instead of je.

Present tense

In French, there are much more verb tenses than in English. Hopefully, a large number of them are rarely, or never, used in the spoken language. The simplest verb tense is the present which is used to describe actions that occur in the present time. Conjugating verbs in the present tense is very easy in English because the verb does not change, except for the 3rd singular person where a " s " is appended. In French, the present tense conjugation is not so straight forward. The verbs termination varies according to the person and the verb group and might be altered. Let's start with the 1st group verbs :

Conjugation of the 1st group verbs

chanter (to sing)

parler (to speak, to talk)

écouter (to listen to)

You can clearly see the conjugation pattern applying to the the termination of the 1st group verbs.

You should be able to conjugate any other 1st group verb. Let's try " aller " : j'alle, tu alles, etc. Unfortunately, it's wrong ! ! " Aller " is one of the so many irregular verbs. The conjugation is rather :

Now you can figure out why people are used to saying that the French language is difficult !

Conjugation of the 2nd group verbs

finir (to finish)

venir (to come)

vouloir (to want)

Once again, the conjugation of 2nd group verbs respect some kind of termination pattern, however, less obvious than in the 1st group. Some of the 2nd group verbs conjugate like " finir " (termination pattern : -s, -s, -t, -ssons, -ssez, -ssent) and otherslike " venir " (termination pattern : -s, -s, -t, -ons, -ez, -ent). The case of " vouloir " is special for it is an irregular verb. There is no means to find out easily which pattern apply to a given 2nd group verb, excepting learning it by heart.

Conjugation of the 3rd group verbs

boire (to drink)

vendre (to sell)

vivre (to live)

The 3rd group is a real mess since most of the verbs which belong to it are irregular. Nevertheless, they respect a termination pattern (-s, -s, -t, -ons, -ez, -ent) but are altered. Once again, no general rule can be drew up. I hope you have a good memory !

" être " (to be) and " avoir " (to have)

As in many european languages, " être " (to be) and " avoir " (to have) play a special role in French. They are also referred to as auxilliaries. French language makes use of only two auxiliary verbs (être and avoir) while English has many of them (to have, will, would, shall, should, can, could, must, might, ought to, etc.). On one hand, " être " and " avoir " are strongly irregular but in the other hand, they are used very often. Consequently, their conjugation must be well known. In the present tense their conjugation are :

être (to be)

avoir (to have)

Despite the irregular behaviour of these verbs, the conjugation terminations respect, more or less, the pattern we previuosly noticed. Note that this remark is applicable to the verb " aller " as well.

For more information on verbs conjugation, consult the ARTFL project Web server. It provides a Web conjugator on-line.

Some colours

This third leson is tough but it is worth learning it because verbs are a major component in sentences. So, don't give up now!

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