French

An ultimate guide to conjugating –er verbs in French

All verbs in French end in -er, -re, or -ir. Each of these verb categories has its own set of rules that govern how they change to express different levels of critical information about the situation. The category of verbs ending in -er is the largest in French, accounting for roughly 90% or 1,000 individual verbs. So, if you are a French language learner, knowing –er verbs in French is a must.

Because the endings for -er verbs in French are so simple and clear, they serve as an excellent introduction to the concept of conjugation. Furthermore, as new verbs are adopted from English, they take the -er ending, so this group of verbs is rapidly expanding.

Fortunately, the conjugations of -er verbs are mostly regular (rather than irregular), so the rules for conjugating them to fit the situation will apply to the majority of verbs you will come across.

The form of a verb changes to indicate who committed the action (person) and when it occurred (tense). In French, there is an additional person category (vous), which corresponds to addressing “you all / you guys” in English.

Though native speakers may not notice, English verbs change depending on who performs the action and when it occurs. In English, most verbs only change in the third person singular (see below), but all verbs change to indicate when something happens.

Person (Singular)Present tensePast tense
First-personI walkI walked
Second personYou walkYou walked
Third personHe/ She walksHe/ She walked

With the exception of irregular verbs, the English past tense is formed by adding -ed to the word. Although both English and French have a large number of irregular verbs that must be memorized, learning the rule for regular verbs makes conjugation much easier.

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 The infinitive form of the verb

A verb’s infinitive form is its most basic form. They are easily identified in French because they retain their original endings of -er, -ir, or -re. In English, the equivalent meaning is “to [verb],” so aimer translates to “to like.”

Except when combining two verbs (“She [likes] [to run]”/ “Elle [aime] [courir]”), the infinitive form must be altered to express who and when. Conjugation comes into play here.

The infinitive lends its stem to its conjugated forms in a predictable way for regular verbs. The stem, or radical (from the French word for “root,” racine), is the part that comes before the -er, -ir, or -re.

Simply drop the -er and add the appropriate ending depending on the person and tense to conjugate a -er verb. In the present tense, for example, after removing -er, you add -e, -es, -e, -ons, -ez, or -ent to the remaining stem.

Conjugating regular -er verbs in the present tense

Because English frequently uses the present continuous rather than the present indicative, you will find yourself using the present indicative far more frequently in French than in English.

The present in English frequently has an implied regularity or habitual connotation. The French indicative can be used to talk about habitual actions, but it can also be used to describe something that is happening now or will happen soon.

I am arriving [pres. cont.] / I arrive (…at 10:00 every morning) [present indicative] = J’arrive [present indicative].

You may have also noticed that when the first letter of the next word is a vowel, the personal pronoun je (“I”) is combined with the word to form j’arrive.

If you have already started learning French, you’ve probably noticed that French words are almost never phonetic, which means that the pronunciation rules differ from the written form. The table below shows how the different endings sound.

PersonPresent EndingPronunciation
je-e
tu-es
il/elle/on-e
nous-onsnasal “o”
vous-ez“ay”
ils/elles-ent

Now that we know how to conjugate –er verbs in French, let’s look at some common French verbs. Here are the 20 most common -er verbs.

FrenchEnglish
donnerto give, to produce
allerto go
demanderto ask, to request
trouverto find, to discover
passerto pass, to go past
resterto stay, to remain
porterto carry, to wear
parlerto speak, to talk
montrerto show, to display
continuerto continue
penserto think
commencerto begin, to start, to commence
compterto count
appelerto call, to contact
occuperto occupy, to take up (space/time)
déciderto decide, to persuade
arriverto arrive, to happen
semblerto seem
laisserto leave, to allow, to let
rappelerto call back, to remind

Common irregular -er verbs

Although most -er verbs are regular, some common -er verbs are irregular. Some of these verbs have stem changes and minor spelling changes but retain their traditional endings. The verb aller is also grammatically incorrect.

Because the verb aller (to go) is used just as frequently in French as it is in English, conjugation is critical to remember. Except for the forms nous and vous, it is irregular. It is also used in conjunction with another verb (as in English) to form the futur proche (“close” future) tense.

Je vais manger un croissant. (I am going to eat a croissant.)

Ex.: aller (to go)

je vaisnous allons
tu vasvous allez
il/elle/on vails/elles vont

Verbs that switch their accent aigu (é) for an accent grave (è): The é in verbs that end in -é_er changes to an è in the stem-changed conjugations (all except nous and vous in present tense).

Ex.: inquiéter –> inquié/inquièt -er (to worry)

j’inquiètenous inquiétons
tu inquiètesvous inquiétez
il/elle/on inquièteils/elles inquiètent

Verbs in this category:

altérer (to alter) céder (to give up, dispose of) célébrer (to celebrate) compléter (to complete) considérer (to consider) différer (to differ) espérer (to hope) exagérer (to exaggerate) gérer (to manage) inquiéter (to worry) modérer (to moderate) pénétrer (to enter) posséder (to possess) préférer (to prefer) protéger (to protect) refléter (to reflect) répéter (to repeat) révéler (to reveal) suggérer (to suggest)

The e in most verbs that end in -e_er changes to an è in the stem-changed conjugations (all except nous and vous in present tense).

j’achètenous achetons
tu achètesvous achetez
il/elle/on achèteils/elles achètent

Some French verbs that end in -eler and -eter double the l or t in the stem-changed conjugations (all except nous and vous in the present).

Ex.: appeler –> appel/appell -er (to call)

j’appellenous appelons
tu appellesvous appelez
il/elle/on appelleils/elles appellent

Verbs that end in -eler or -eter and follow this rule:

appeler (to call) chanceler (to totter, wobble) épeler (to spell) rappeler (to call back, recall) renouveler (to renew) ruisseler (to flow, stream) feuilleter (to leaf through) jeter (to throw) projeter (to project) rejeter (to reject)

Verbs that end in -ayer, -oyer, or -uyer undergo a stem change from y to an i (all except nous and vous in the present).

Ex.: envoyer –> envoy/envoi -er (to send)

j’envoienous envoyons
tu envoiesvous envoyez
il/elle/on envoieils/elles envoient

For verbs that end in -oyer and -uyer, the stem change is not optional.

broyer (to grind) employer (to employ) envoyer (to send) nettoyer (to clean) se noyer (to drown) renvoyer (to fire) tutoyer (to use tu (rather than the formal vous)) vouvoyer (to use vous (rather than the informal tu)) appuyer (to lean, press) ennuyer (to bore) essuyer (to wipe)

Conclusion

You may find all these rules quite confusing at first, but you need to understand them in order to get French verbs properly. There are several books to learn French that you can consult. These books will help you with vocabulary building, Grammar, and French pronunciation.

You may find difficulties in learning French at first. But, you need to be consistent in your learning approach.  Allocate some time for learning French on daily basis and you will notice a great development in your knowledge base within a few days.

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