Conjugating verbs in a variety of tenses is one of the most fundamental skills for properly speaking a language. With French conjugation, we can go a long way with just knowing a few tenses, despite the fact that the language boasts sixteen (!) of them.

Fortunately, French conjugation follows some straightforward rules which apply to all of the tenses.

In this post we’ll cover all the basics of French conjugation to get you started recognizing how to conjugate verbs in French.

It’s a pretty in-depth post, broken down into a number of distinct sections. Feel free to scroll through down to the section you need, or click straight through from this outline:

What is conjugation?
Other verb forms
The infinitive
The participle
French verb tenses, explained
How to conjugate verbs in French
Conjugation tables: regular verbs
Conjugation tables: être, avoir, and aller
Conjugation: compound tenses

Now let’s dive in and learn all the basics of French verb conjugation!

What is conjugation?

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of French conjugation, let’s first take a step back so we’re clear on what we mean by conjugation in the first place. This explanation applies as much to French verbs as it does to English verbs.

You can definitely skip this section if you’re already clear on the concept of verb conjugation! We’ll be introducing several grammatical terms here which we’ll refer to throughout the rest of the post.

When we consider conjugation, we’re referring to the process of changing a verb’s form so that it corresponds with the subject and the tense. The subject is the grammatical person carrying out the verb’s action, while the tense reflects the specific time and mood intended by the speaker.

In both English and French, the subject can be one of six grammatical persons: first-, second-, and third-person, in both singular and plural. To show what we mean by these, let’s look at this conjugation table of the English verb to be, conjugated in the present tense:

grammatical person singular plural
first-person I am we are
second-person you are you are
third-person he, she, it is they are


In addition to conjugating verbs to match the grammatical person, we also conjugate them to a specific tense. A verb tense indicates when an action happens, while also placing that action within a mood. By when, tenses indicate timeframes ranging from past to present to future. By mood, tenses give the verbs’ actions different measures of certainty.

We’ll leave it at that for now as far as responding to the question of what is conjugation. We’ll go into more detail on tenses in the next section.

What French verb tenses are there?

There are 16 distinct verb tenses in French that have specific conjugations, as well as several other verb forms that aren’t technically considered conjugations.

Don’t worry! You can get by just fine using just a handful of French tenses, and in reality most French speakers only use around half of them in everyday speech. Several tenses are only really used in literature, so you’ll never even encounter them in spoken French!

This post isn’t intended as an in-depth treatise on all the verb tenses in French, so we’re not going to dive into too much detail on each one here. Nonetheless, we’ll at least provide a list of French verb tenses broken down into the four moods: indicative (stating facts), conditional (often in “if” and “would” phrases), subjunctive (theoretical), and imperative (commands). We’ll also cover the other verb forms that aren’t considered conjugations.

Note that we generally refer to the French tenses and verb forms by their French names. Even though many tenses are similar between languages, it can sometimes be misleading when we try to refer to tenses with translated terms.

Other French verb forms

Before listing the tenses, we should introduce the other verb forms, especially since a couple of these are elements of the compound conjugations in the tenses we’ll list below. These forms aren’t technically conjugations, since they don’t change with respect to a given subject.


The infinitive is the unconjugated form of a verb that you’ll find in a dictionary. The infinitive is sometimes used as-is, or else we start with the infinitive and then conjugate the verb to another tense. It’s also an integral part of an easy way to talk about the future, using aller + infinitif. Here are some examples of the infinitif form:

Infinitif, French Infinitive, English
être to be
avoir to have
aller to go
aimer to love
finir to finish
attendre to wait



The participle is an essential form of a verb that can’t stand on its own, but that’s used as an integral part of numerous compound tenses. We’ll see the participle appear in two of the three next verb forms, along with half of the sixteen conjugated tenses!

This verb form exists in both French and English. Here are the participles for the same example verbs:

Participe, French Participle, English
été been
eu had
allé gone
aimé loved
fini finished
attendu waited


Infinitif passé

The previous form we saw above is the standard infinitive, whereas in French we also acknowledge a past infinitive form that incorporates the past participle. Here are some examples of the French infinitif passé form:

Infinitif passé, French English equivalent
avoir été to have been
avoir eu to have had
être allé to have gone
avoir aimé to have loved
avoir fini to have finished
avoir attendu to have waited


Participe présent

In French, this verb form is equivalent to what in English is known as the gerund, though they’re not used in all the same ways in both languages. Check out the French participe présent forms of several common verbs here, followed by a few example sentences.

Participe présent, French Gerund, English
étant being
ayant having
allant going
aimant loving
finissant finishing
attendant waiting
  • Étant en retard, nous avons décidé de prendre un taxi. – Being late, we decided to take a taxi.
  • Ayant quatre jeunes enfants, elle n’est jamais seule. – Having four young children, she’s never alone.
  • Aimant son chein, elle lui a acheté plusiers cadeaux de noel. – Loving her puppy, she bought him several Christmas gifts.

Participe passé

The participe passé is a compound verb form with two parts. It’s composed of the participe présent of either avoir or être that we saw above, followed by the participle of the verb in question that we saw just after the infinitive form above.

Participe passé, French English equivalent
ayant été having been
ayant eu having had
étant allé having gone
ayant aimé having loved
ayant fini having finished
ayant attendu having waited

All the French verb tenses

Now that we’ve seen the individual verb forms that French verbs can take, and before we get into the basics of conjugation, let’s just see a list of the French verb tenses. We’ll break these down by mood, and then explain which tenses within each mood are used in everyday French.


The indicative mood is used to talk about facts. The indicative is the most common mood used in spoken French and English.

These first four indicative tenses are by far the most common tenses in the French language. The first is the present tense, the next two are past tenses, while the fourth is a future tense. The passé composé is a compound tense built on the participle, while the other three each have unique conjugations:

  • Présent
  • Imparfait
  • Passé composé
  • Futur simple

These next two indicative tenses are sometimes used by native French speakers, but they’re less common. They’re both compound conjugations built on the participle:

  • Plus-que-parfait
  • Futur antérieur

The last two indicative tenses are really only used in literature. You’re only likely to hear them spoken during religious services or theatrical performances. The passé simple has its unique conjugations, while the passé antérieur is built on the participle:

  • Passé simple
  • Passé antérieur


The conditional mood is used to talk about potential possibilities. It’s also used to add a level of politeness. French conditional conjugations translated into English often contain the words could or would.

There are two French conditional tenses, one for the present and one for the past. Both are fairly common in spoken French. The present conditional tense has its own conjugations, while past conditional tense is built on the participle:

  • Présent conditionnel
  • Passé conditionnel


The subjunctive mood is used to evoke uncertainty. The subjunctive is actually very common in French, often being triggered by phrases like il faut que that are always followed by subjunctive conjugations.

The French present subjunctive tense is used all the time, and has its own conjugations. The past subjunctive is less common, but still used sometimes by native speakers. It’s built on the participle:

  • Présent subjonctif
  • Passé subjunctif

The other two subjunctive tenses are really relics of historic literature. You’re unlikely to ever hear either of them:

  • Imparfait subjonctif
  • Plus-que-parfait subjonctif


The final mood is the imperative, which is used to give commands. Imperative conjugations only exist for the singular and plural forms of you in French, as well as for the first-person plural (which you would translate into English with “let’s go” or “let’s finish”).

The only imperative tense that’s really used in French is the present, which has its own conjugations. Nonetheless, an imperative past tense exists on full French conjugation tables.

  • Présent impératif
  • Passé impératif

How to conjugate verbs in French

Whew, that was a lot of introduction to reach this point where we finally talk about French conjugation!

Now that we’ve seen all the different French verb tenses, as well as the other forms that French verbs can take outside of strict conjugations, we’re ready to really dissect the basics of how to conjugate verbs in French.

French conjugation is actually fairly straightforward for most verbs, since it really just comes down to identifying the verb stem and adding the right endings. Things get a bit more complicated when we deal with irregular verbs because of some stem changes, but overall, all the tenses are fairly consistent with their respective endings.

In short, for the tenses with unique conjugations, we can sum this up with two simple rules:

1. Start with the verb stem

2. Add the endings

What do we mean by stems and endings? Let’s take a look at each of these two aspects of French verb conjugation in turn.

Note that these rules only apply to the simple tenses that have their own unique conjugations. For compound tenses, we start with one of the simple tenses and just add the participle. In other words, there are really just eight different sets of unique conjugations.

French conjugation: Get the stem

As the basis for all the simple conjugations in French, we start with the verb stem. For regular verbs, we get the stem by simply chopping off the last two letters of the infinitive. It’s that simple!

Even for most irregular verbs this formula for getting the stem is pretty similar, though some have different stems that just need to be learned.

Note that we didn’t include the verb stem as one of the other verb forms outlined above since it never exists independently of the verb endings. We’ll demonstrate this with the regular verbs from our previous examples:

French infinitive Verb stem
aimer aim-
finir fin-
attendre attend-

French conjugation: Add the endings

With regular verbs, all we need to do to conjugate our verbs is to add the right endings to the stem!

Each of the eight simple tenses has a specific set of endings for the six grammatical persons, so we just apply the ending depending on the subject. The exact endings differ a bit for the three main families of regular verbs, but they’re still pretty recognizable for each of the different tenses.

Let’s see this in action for in the simple present indicative tense for the three groups of regular verbs: -er, -ir, and -re verbs. Note that although some of the endings are indeed different between the three groups, they still generally resemble each other across the tense.

Présent indicatif conjugation table

subject -er verbs: aimer -ir verbs: finir -re verbs: attendre
stem aim- fin- attend-
je -e: aime -is: finis -s: attends
tu -es: aimes -is: finis -s: attends
il, elle, on -e: aime -it: finit : attend
nous -ons: aimons -issons: finissons -ons: attendons
vous -ez: aimez -issez: finissez -ez: attendez
ils, elles -ent: aiment -issent: finissent -ent: attendent

Regular French verb conjugation: Simple tenses

You’re now familiar with the fundamental rule for French verb conjugations: identify the stem from the infinitive, and add the endings corresponding to the subjet and verb tense. With the three groups of regular French verbs, this formula is the same for all eight of the simple tenses.

We already saw the present indicative tense conjugations in the last section. In this section we’ll provide similar conjugation tables for the other seven simple tenses.

Imparfait indicatif conjugation table

subject -er verbs: aimer -ir verbs: finir -re verbs: attendre
stem aim- fin- attend-
je -ais: aimais -issais: finissais -ais: attendais
tu -ais: aimais -issais: finissais -ais: attendais
il, elle, on -ait: aimait -issait: finissait -ait: attendait
nous -ions: aimions -issions: finissions -ions: attendions
vous -iez: aimiez -issiez: finissiez -iez: attendiez
ils, elles -aient: aimaient -issaient: finissaient -aient: attendaient

Along with the passé composé, the imparfait tense is one of the two French past tenses used on a regular basis in everyday speech. The endings are all consistent between the three regular verb groups, with just the usual -iss- in the middle of the -ir verb conjugations.

Passé simple conjugation table

subject -er verbs: aimer -ir verbs: finir -re verbs: attendre
stem aim- fin- attend-
je -ai: aimai -is: finis -is: attendis
tu -as: aimas -is: finis -is: attendis
il, elle, on -a: aima -it: finit -it: attendit
nous -âmes: aimâmes -îmes: finîmes -îmes: attendîmes
vous -âtes: aimêtes -îtes: finîtes -îtes: attendîtes
ils, elles -èrent: aimèrent -irent: finirent -irent: attendirent

The passé simple isn’t really used in spoken French, though it remains common in literature.

Futur simple conjugation table

subject -er verbs: aimer -ir verbs: finir -re verbs: attendre
stem aim- fin- attend-
je -erai: aimerai -irai: finirai -rai: attendrai
tu -eras: aimeras -iras: finiras -ras: attendras
il, elle, on -era: aimera -ira: finira -ra: attendra
nous -erons: aimerons -irons: finirons -rons: attendrons
vous -erez: aimerez -irez: finirez -rez: attendrez
ils, elles -eront: aimeront -iront: finiront -ront: attendront

We’ve continued to show the same stems for the futur simple that we established for all three of our regular verb groups. For this tense, however, it’s common to consider the infinitive to be the stem for -er and -ir verbs, while for -re verbs the stem is obtained by just dropping the -e. This approach doesn’t change the conjugations we’ve presented there, it just makes for shorter endings to memorize!

Présent conditionnel conjugation table

subject -er verbs: aimer -ir verbs: finir -re verbs: attendre
stem aim- fin- attend-
je -erais: aimerais -irais: finirais -rais: attendrais
tu -erais: aimerais -irais: finirais -rais: attendrais
il, elle, on -erait: aimerait -irait: finirait -rait: attendrait
nous -erions: aimerions -irions: finirions -rions: attendrions
vous -eriez: aimeriez -iriez: finiriez -riez: attendriez
ils, elles -eraient: aimeraient -iraient: finiraient -raient: attendraient

The first- and third-person singular conjugations of the présent conditionnel tense sound the identical to their counterparts in the futur simple, so even native speakers often get these two tenses confused. Like the futur simple, the stem can also essentially be considered to be the infinitive. The defining feature across nearly all of these conjugations is the -i- immediately after the infinitive stem.

Présent subjonctif conjugation table

subject -er verbs: aimer -ir verbs: finir -re verbs: attendre
stem aim- fin- attend-
je -e: aime -isse: finisse -e: attende
tu -es: aimes -isses: finisses -es: attendes
il, elle, on -e: aime -isse: finisse -e: attende
nous -ions: aimions -issions: finissions -ions: attendions
vous -iez: aimiez -issiez: finissiez -iez: attendiez
ils, elles -ent: aiment -issent: finissent -ent: attendent

The présent subjonctif tense is very common in spoken and written French. Many of these conjugations sound identical to their counterparts in the présent indicatif or the imparfait, so it takes some practice to know that the subjonctif is indeed being invoked in many spoken contexts.

Imparfait subjonctif conjugation table

subject -er verbs: aimer -ir verbs: finir -re verbs: attendre
stem aim- fin- attend-
je -asse: aimasse -isse: finisse -isse: attendisse
tu -asses: aimasses -isses: finisses -isses: attendisses
il, elle, on -ât: aimât -ît: finît -ît: attendît
nous -assions: aimassions -issions: finissions -issions: attendissions
vous -assiez: aimassiez -issiez: finissiez -issiez: attendissiez
ils, elles -assent: aimassent -issent: finissent -issent: attendissent

The imparfait subjonctif is essentially only seen in historic texts. Many native speakers have only a vague grasp of this tense. We only include it here for completeness.

Présent impératif conjugation table

subject -er verbs: aimer -ir verbs: finir -re verbs: attendre
stem aim- fin- attend-
tu -e: aime -is: finis -s: attends
nous -ons: aimons -issons: finissons -ons: attendons
vous -ez: aimez -issez: finissez -ez: attendez

The présent impératif tense is the standard French command form, so there are no conjugations for the third-person nor for the first-person singular. The regular verb conjugations all sound identical to the present indicatif, and only the tu conjugation of the -er verbs has a small spelling difference since it drops the -s.

Irregular verb conjugations: Simple tenses

So far, this post on French verb conjugation has focused primarily on regular verbs. The building blocks of conjugation we’ve covered so far nonetheless still generally apply to irregular verbs! Most of the tenses and their conjugations should still be recognizable with most irregular verbs, since most only take minor changes to the regular rules we’ve seen.

We’re not going to go into further detail on irregular French verb conjugation in this post. That said, we’ll still include the simple conjugation tables for what are arguably the three most important verbs in the French language: être, avoir, and aller.

Être, Avoir, and Aller conjugations: Simple tenses

Knowing how to conjugate être, avoir, and aller is fundamental in learning French, so we find it pertinent to include these three verbs in our post on conjugation. While these three are among the most-irregular French verbs in many tenses, their conjugations should still demonstrate that the regular endings we saw above are still similar a lot of the time.

Être, meaning to be in French, is often the first verb French learners learn. Être is the auxiliary verb used in compound tenses of reflexive verbs, as well as of verbs of movement. For more in-depth explanations, please refer to our dedicated post on être conjugation.

Avoir, meaning to have in French, forms the basis for many idiomatic phrases. Avoir is the auxiliary verb used in compound tenses for most French verbs, just like to have in English.

Aller, meaning to go in French, is the auxiliary verb used to create an easy future tense, le futur proche. Following the formula aller + infinitif, the equivalent in English is will + infinitive.

Since être and avoir are the auxiliary verbs for the compound tenses, we’ll indicate which compound tense is built using their conjugations in each of the simple tenses we list here.

Now let’s see the eight simple tense conjugations for être, avoir, and aller! Note that, since they’re quite irregular and therefore not transferrable to other verbs, we’re not providing the stem and endings as we did in the regular verb conjugation tables above.

Présent indicatif conjugations: être, avoir, and aller

subject être avoir aller
je suis ai vais
tu es as vas
il, elle, on est a va
nous sommes avons allons
vous êtes avez allez
ils, elles sont ont vont

The passé composé tense is constructed using these présent indicatif conjugations of être and avoir, followed by the participe.

Imparfait indicatif conjugations: être, avoir, and aller

subject être avoir aller
je étais avais allais
tu étais avais allais
il, elle, on était avait allait
nous étions avions allions
vous étiez aviez alliez
ils, elles étaient avaient allaient

The plus-que-parfait tense is constructed using these imparfait indicatif conjugations of être and avoir, followed by the participe.

Passé simple conjugations: être, avoir, and aller

subject être avoir aller
je fus eus allai
tu fus eus allas
il, elle, on fut eut alla
nous fûmes eûmes allâmes
vous fûtes eûtes allâtes
ils, elles furent eurent allèrent

The passé antérieur tense is constructed using these passé simple conjugations of être and avoir, followed by the participe.

Futur simple conjugations: être, avoir, and aller

subject être avoir aller
je serai aurai irai
tu seras auras iras
il, elle, on sera aura ira
nous serons aurons irons
vous serez aurez irez
ils, elles seront auront iront

The futur antérieur tense is constructed using these futur simple conjugations of être and avoir, followed by the participe.

Présent conditionnel conjugations: être, avoir, and aller

subject être avoir aller
je serais aurais irais
tu serais aurais irais
il, elle, on serions aurait irait
nous seriez aurions irions
vous seriez auriez iriez
ils, elles seraient auraient iraient

The passé conditionnel tense is constructed using these présent conditionnel conjugations of être and avoir, followed by the participe.

Présent subjonctif conjugations: être, avoir, and aller

subject être avoir aller
je sois aie aille
tu sois aies ailles
il, elle, on soit ait aille
nous soyons ayons allions
vous soyez ayez alliez
ils, elles soient aient aillent

The passé subjonctif tense is constructed using these présent subjonctif conjugations of être and avoir, followed by the participe.

Imparfait subjonctif conjugations: être, avoir, and aller

subject être avoir aller
je fusse eusse allasse
tu fusses eusses allasses
il, elle, on fût eût allât
nous fussions eussions allassions
vous fussiez eussiez allassiez
ils, elles fussent eussent allassent

The plus-que-parfait subjonctif tense is constructed using these imparfait subjonctif conjugations of être and avoir, followed by the participe.

Impératif conjugations: être, avoir, and aller

subject être avoir aller
tu sois aie va*
nous soyons ayons allons
vous soyez ayez allez

*Note that, to ease the pronunciation, this imperatif tu form changes spelling to vas when it’s used in the common expression vas-y, meaning go ahead. Check out our dedicated post for a full explanation of allons-y and other ways to say “let’s go” in French.

The passé impératif tense is constructed using these présent impératif conjugations of être and avoir, followed by the participe.

French verb conjugation: Compound tenses

We’re almost done with this detailed introduction to French conjugation! Conjugating the compound tenses is actually very straightforward since they’re all just combinations of what we’ve already seen.

Every single compound tense has two parts: a conjugated auxiliary verb (either être or avoir), followed by the participle of the verb we’re conjugating. You have this same construction in English compound tenses, with examples like “he has been,” “I had been,” or “you would have been.” “Been” is the participle here, while “to have” is the auxiliary verb.

Whereas to have is the only auxiliary verb in English compound tenses, avoir is one of two auxiliary verbs in French, albeit the most common. Être is the French auxiliary verb used with reflexive verbs, and with most verbs of motion.

The participle, or participe in French, is always the same regardless of the rest of the conjugation, as we saw early in the post when we introduced the other verb forms. However, when the compound conjugation uses être as the auxiliary verb, the participle’s ending is modified to match the gender and number of the subject (by adding -e, -s, and -es for feminine, plural, and feminine plural). We’ll see this in the passé composé conjugation table below.

Compound tense conjugations

Rather than repeat the same format we used with the simple tenses, we can distill the compound tenses down to their component parts: the tense of the auxiliary verb + the participle.

To conjugate verbs in each compound tense, we just need to use the conjugations of the auxiliary verb in the corresponding tense, and then add the participle. Follow this chart to build conjugations for each tense. We provide a sample in the next section with the passé composé.

compound tense auxiliary verb’s tense
passé composé présent indicatif
plus-que-parfait indicatif imparfait indicatif
passé antérieur passé simple
futur antérieur futur simple
conditionnel passé conditionnel présent
subjonctif passé subjonctif présent
plus-que-parfait subjonctif imparfait subjonctif
impératif passé impératif présent

Passé composé conjugation

To demonstrate the formula for compound conjugations we laid out above, we’ll show the passé composé conjugations for two of the verbs we’ve already seen: finir and aller. Finir takes avoir as an auxiliary verb, while since aller is a verb of motion its auxiliary verb is être. For reference, we also include their participles at the top of the table.

To form the passé composé conjugations, we use the présent indicatif conjugations of the auxiliary verb and then add the participle:

infinitif finir aller
participe fini allé
je ai fini suis allé(e)
tu as fini es allé(e)
il, elle a fini est allé(e)
nous avons fini sommes allé(e)s
vous avez fini êtes allé(e)s
ils, elles ont fini sont allé(e)s

Note that when using être as an auxiliary verb, the participle always ends with -s in the plural conjugations. When the subject is feminine, the participle ends in -e, or -es for the plural subjects.

Conjugations for the other seven compound tenses follow the same construction that we’ve just shown here with the passé composé.

Conclusion: French verb conjugation

This has been a pretty in-depth introduction to the fundamental methods of verb conjugation in French. We’ve taken quite a trip through all the relevant aspects of verbs and their tenses, hopefully providing you with a solid foundation for applying these French conjugation rules as you progress in the language.

We started off with a basic explanation of conjugation itself, referencing its nuances in both English and French. We also noted that we usually refer to French verb tenses by their French names in order to keep them disctinct from their counterparts in other languages. With these framework details out of the way, we dove straight into the different French verb forms!

Before getting into strict conjugations by verb tense, we introduced the various verb forms that don’t change between subjects or tenses. The two verb forms of particular relevance to the rest of the lesson are the infinitive, from which we draw our stems, and the participle, which appears in the eight French compound tenses.

Then came the main body of our post on French conjugation, which started with an overview of the sixteen French verb tenses. We saw that half of these are simple tenses with distinct conjugations, while the other half are compound tenses whose construction is based on the simple tenses with the participle. We also learned that several tenses are rarely even used in spoken French, with a couple even relegated to historic literature.

With the list of French tenses out of the way, we finally got into our lesson on how to go about conjugating French verbs for each tense. We showed that it all comes down to obtaining the stem, and adding the right endings. We then provided conjugation tables for all eight simple tenses, demonstrating the regularity of these rules with all three groups of regular French verbs.

While we didn’t go deep into all the nuances of irregular verb conjugations, we saw that they generally follow the same rules as the regular verbs we’d just seen. We chose the three most-important French verbs as our irregular verb examples, providing full conjugation tables in the eight simple tenses for être, avoir, and aller.

Our final section was on compound tense conjugations. We saw that these are built entirely on material we’d seen earlier, namely the simple tense conjugations of the auxiliary verbs être and avoir, along with the participle we saw early on. We demonstrated this construction with a full conjugation table in the passé composé, while providing a clear formula for building each of the other compound tenses.

Overall, this post went pretty in-depth into all the rules for conjugating verbs in French. We organized it so that you can scroll quickly to the specific information you’re looking for, so it can continue to serve as a reliable reference as you improve your French language skills. We recommend bookmarking this post to come back to it in the future, and sharing it with other French learners who might appreciate it.

Thanks for learning the fundamentals of French verb conjugation with us!

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