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French verbs and how to use them
|Page Index||The nature of French verbs||Types of verb|
|Tenses and moods||Active and passive|
conjugated tenses. In English, most verbal forms involve using at least two words (such as am eating, was going, have been broken, would go); in French, a large number of the most common verbal forms use just a single word, though some, like English, use two, or even three words. Examples:
Regular and irregular French verbsFrench verbs are generally classified either as regular verbs, or as irregular verbs. There are three main categories of French regular verbs,
- regular verbs with an infinitive ending in -er, such as manger,
- regular verbs with an infinitive in -ir, such as finir,
- regular verbs with an infinitive in -re, such as vendre.
Transitive or intransitive?As in other languages, French verbs can either be transitive or intransitive. Certain verbs in French can be either transitive or intransitive, according to the context in which they are used. Transitive verbs require an object (or complément d'objet direct - C.O.D. in French), and can be used in the passive voice as well as the active. Intransitive verbs do not take an object, and do not have passive forms. (See below: voices)
Verbs can be conjugated in the indicative and subjunctive moods
The simple tenses - which are all in the active voice - are as follows. Sample verb, manger in the third person singular (for full tense conjugations, refer to pages for the tenses in question).
|Présent||Il mange||il mange|
|Prétérit||Il mangea||il mangeat|
Other tenses - the compound tenses - are formed with the help of auxiliaries. For most verbs the auxiliary is avoir, for a dozen or so verbs it is être.
|Passé composé||Il a mangé||il ait mangé|
(il eut mangé)
|il eût mangé|
|Passé conditionnel||Il aurait mangé||-|
Most tenses of transitive verbs exist also in the passive voice (see below).
For more details, see...
- The present tense in French.
- The future tense in French.
- past tenses in French.
- The subjunctive in French
Aspect in French verbs.In English, aspect is expressed almost exclusively through the use of auxiliaries: compare I eat potatoes and I am eating potatoes, or I drove the car and I was driving the car.
In French the present tense does not have any particular aspect. Je mange can mean either I eat or I am eating. In the past, the imperfect tense has a progressive aspect, so Je mangeais means I was eating while J'ai mangé and je mangeai both mean I ate - or I have eaten (confusing!).
More on this on the past tenses page.
Modal formsOther verb forms are formed using what in English we consider to be modal verbs: the French equivalents to English modal verbs are pouvoir and devoir. See modal verbs in French.
Active forms have been dealt with above.
The passive tenses are formed with the help of the auxiliary être, followed by the past participle of the verb. This is the procedure for forming the passive of both simple tenses and compound tenses.
Passive forms of active simple tenses
|Présent||Il est mangé||il soit mangé|
|Futur||II sera mangé||-|
|Prétérit||Il fut mangé||il fût mangé|
|Imparfait||il était mangé||-|
|Conditionnel||il serait mangé||-|
Passive forms of active compound tenses
|Passé composé||Il a été mangé||il ait été mangé|
|Passé antérieur||II avait été mangé||il eût été mangé|
|Passé conditionnel||Il aurait été mangé||.|
|Imparfait||il était mangé||.|
|Conditionnel||il serait mangé||.|
Essential French words and phrases for travellers 25 essential words and 25 vital phrases