The present tense… you will never learn something more useful than this in French. Indeed, it’s by far the most commonly used tense because it’s used to talk about what’s happening in the present!

If you’re planning a short trip in France, it’s definitely the first thing you must learn. Only after mastering it, and if you have bigger ambitions, you can start studying the passé composé or the imperfect tenses as well.

The purpose of this article is to present everything you need to know about the French present tense and to help you understand how to quickly master it.

 

The conjugation in the present tense

As you may already know, in French there are 3 different groups of verbs which are recognizable by the ending of their infinitive form.

If you don’t know what an infinitive is, it’s when the verb is not yet conjugated: in English, you say “to eat ; to dance ; to cry…”, but in French, we just have different endings.

  • The verbs of the 1st group are the verbs ending in “-er”: chanter, to sing ; manger, to eat
  • The verbs of the 2nd group are the verbs ending in “-ir”: finir, to finish ; choisir, to choose

These two groups of verbs are considered regular verbs because their conjugation always follow the same pattern. Hence, they are the easiest.

  • The verbs of the 3rd group are mostly irregular. They don’t have a specified ending in their infinitive form and they usually have their own conjugation. However, you can still find some common patterns among them for their conjugation.

Verbs of the 1st group (in “-er”)

Here are the endings of the verbs in “-er”:

e ; –es ; –e ; –ons ; –ez ; –ent

To conjugate verbs in “-er”,

  • first, you need to drop the “er” to get the stem/radical form.
  • then, you have to add the corresponding ending to the stem.

For example, let’s take my favorite verb: Chanter, to sing. When you drop the “er”, you have the stem “chant”. Then you just have to add the endings of the present tense.

Je chante, I sing / I am singing

Tu chantes, You sing / You are singing

Il/Elle chante, He/She sings / He/She is singing

Nous chantons, We sing / We are singing

Vous chantez, You sing / You are singing

Ils/Elles chantent, They sing / They are singing

 

You might think it’s annoying to know all these endings, but when you speak, the first three and the last one are pronounced exactly the same (Je chante, Tu chantes, Il chante, Ils chantent). Super easy, right?

Note: The verbs of the 1st group ending in “-cer and –ger”, despite a regular conjugation, have a graphical modification with 1st person plural “Nous, we”:

Verbs in –cer take a “ ç ” before the letters “ a ” and “ o ” to keep the sound [ss].

Example: Commencer, to start, begin

Je commence, I sing / I am singing

Tu commences, You sing / You are singing

Il/Elle commence, He/She sings / He/She is singing

Nous commençons, We sing / We are singing

Vous commencez, You sing / You are singing

Ils/Elles commencent, They sing / They are singing

 

Verbs in –ger take an “ e ” before the letters “ a ” and “ o ” to keep the sound [ӡ].

Example: Manger, to eat

Je mange, I sing / I am singing

Tu manges, You sing / You are singing

Il/Elle mange, He/She sings / He/She is singing

Nous mangeons, We sing / We are singing

Vous mangez, You sing / You are singing

Ils/Elles mangent, They sing / They are singing

 

Verbs of the 2nd group (in “-ir”)

Here are the endings of the verbs in “-ir”:

is ; –is ; –it ; –issons ; –issez ; –issent

Since they are also regular, it works just like the verbs of the 1st group,

  • first, you need to drop the “ir” to get the stem/radical form.
  • then, you have to add the corresponding ending to the stem.

For example, let’s take the verb finir, to finish. Take out the “ir” and you have the stem “fin

Je finis, I finish / I am finishing

Tu finis, You finish / You are finishing

Il/Elle finit, He/She finishes / He/She is finishing

Nous finissons, We finish / We are finishing

Vous finissez, You finish / You are finishing

Ils/Elles finissent, They finish / They are finishing

 

Note: Be careful because there are a few verbs ending in “-ir” which are not 2nd group verbs but irregular verbs (3rd group verbs) and can thus have completely different conjugations.

Some of them are very common verbs like partir, to leave ; venir, to come ; dormir, to sleep ; courir, to run

To know if a verb belongs to the 2nd group and not to the 3rd group, you can conjugate it with the 2nd person plural “vous, you”. If the ending is “-issez”, you can be sure it belongs to the 2nd group (vous finissez)

Indeed, 3rd group verbs never have this ending: vous partez, you are leaving ; vous venez, you are coming ; vous dormez, you are sleeping ; vous courez, you are running

 

Verbs of the 3rd group (irregular)

As I said, these verbs have irregular conjugations, so I’m not gonna go through the conjugation of each one of them because that would take ages.

I’d rather suggest you to check this article about the conjugation of the most common irregular verbs in French.

But still, I thought I could show you that even among the 3rd group, there are some common patterns you can find for the conjugation.

 

  • Verbs in “-dre”. There are 2 kinds: some that keep the “d”, and others that don’t keep it.

The ones that keep the “d: verbs in “-endre ; –andre ; –ondre ; –erdre ; –ordre” (except the ones in “-prendre”)

Here are their endings:

ds ; –ds ; –d ; –dons ; –dez ; –dent

 

Example: Attendre, to wait. Take out the “dre” and you have the stem “atten

J’attends, I wait / I am waiting

Tu attends, You wait / You are waiting

Il/Elle attend, He/She waits / He/She is waiting

Nous attendons, We wait / We are waiting

Vous attendez, You wait / You are waiting

Ils/Elles attendent, They wait / They are waiting

 

The ones that don’t keep the “d: verbs in “-eindre / –aindre / –oindre

Here are their endings:

ns ; –ns ; –nt ; –gnons ; –gnez ; –gnent

 

Example: Éteindre, to switch off / to turn off. Take out the “ndre” and you have “étei

J’éteins, I switch off / I am switching off

Tu éteins, You switch off / You are switching off

Il/Elle éteint, He/She switch off / He/She is switching off

Nous éteignons, We switch off / We are switching off

Vous éteignez, You switch off / You are switching off

Ils/Elles éteignent, They switch off / They are switching off

 

  • Verbs in “-enir” (which are not part of the 2nd group)

Here are their endings:

iens ; –iens ; –ient ; –enons ; –enez ; –iennent

 

Example: Devenir, to become. Take out the “enir” and you have the stem “dev

Je deviens, I become / I am becoming

Tu deviens, You become / You are becoming

Il/Elle devient, He/She becomes / He/She is becoming

Nous devenons, We become / We are becoming

Vous devenez, You become / You are becoming

Ils/Elles deviennent, They become / They are becoming

 

  • Verbs in “-tir” (except the ones in “-êtir”)

Here are their endings:

s ; –s ; –t ; –tons ; –tez ; –tent

 

Example: Mentir, to lie. Take out the “tir” and you have the stem “men

Je mens, I lie / I am lying

Tu mens, You lie / You are lying

Il/Elle ment, He/She lies / He/She is lying

Nous mentons, We lie / We are lying

Vous mentez, You lie / You are lying

Ils/Elles mentent, They lie / They are lying

 

When do we use the present tense in French?

In fact, it’s quite similar in usage to the English present tense:

 

1)  For current actions and situations

Je mange une pomme > I am eating an apple
J’ai un livre dans mon sac > I have a book in my bag

 

2)  For habits

Je travaille du lundi au vendredi > I work from Monday to Friday
Je joue au foot tous les jours > I play football everyday

 

3)  For undeniable facts and general things

Le Soleil se lève à l’est > The Sun rises on the East
Je suis français > I am French

 

4)  For something that’s about to happen

Je reviens tout de suite > I’ll be right back
Demain, je pars aux États Unis > Tomorrow, I’m leaving for the United States

 

5)  For a condition (often with “si, if”)

Je peux dormir ici ? Si tes parents sont d’accord… > Can I sleep here? If your parents agree…
Si tu veux > If you want

 

Additional notes

You may have noticed that in French we don’t have the present progressive tense (be + -ing).

For example, “Je chante” can mean both “I sing” and “I am singing”.

However, we do have an expression to insist on the fact that the action is happening right now:

être + en train de + infinitive

So if you want to say “I am singing (right now)”, you can say: “Je suis en train de chanter

Other examples:

Il est en train de manger une pomme > He is eating an apple
Le Soleil est en train de se lever > The sun is rising
Vous êtes en train de prendre un café > You are taking a coffee