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How to Learn French Verb Tenses

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Past, present, and future – these are the three words everyone thinks of when you mention “tenses.”

In actual fact, French has over 20 verb tenses! But don’t worry, French speakers do experience time the same way you do. There’s simply more to a verb tense than time.

Mastering French verb tenses is the key to making your speech sound natural. Once you learn the rules behind the tenses, they’ll become second nature.

In this brief article, we’ll explain how French verb tenses work, and how you can master them. Let’s get started!

How French Verb Tenses Work

Technically speaking, the tense of a verb should only refer to the time of its action: past, present, or future. But most often, “verb tense” as an expression refers to the time of the action as well as the mood of the verb.

When these two factors are combined, you end up with the many “tenses” mentioned at the outset. Let’s learn the steps to find the right verb tense in French!

Temporality + Mood

Temporality refers to the time of the verb’s action (what the term “tense” strictly means). As with English, you have three states to choose from: past, present, and future. They refer to before, during, and after the speaker’s time.

Look at these examples expressing the 3 states:

Tu as marché dans le parc. (past tense)

You walked in the park. (past tense)

 

Tu marches dans le parc. (present tense)

You’re walking in the park. (present tense)

 

Tu marcheras dans le parc. (future tense)

You’ll walk in the park. (future tense)

But finding which temporality you need is only the first step. Indeed, look at the following examples:

Tu marches dans le parc.

You’re walking in the park.

 

Marche dans le parc.

Walk in the park.

Here, they both express the present, yet they’re conjugated differently: “marches” and “marche”. This is because the verb tense also takes into account the mood of the verb, which refers to the general intent of the speaker. In a nutshell:

  • Indicative mood: facts, statements
  • Imperative mood: advice, commands
  • Conditional mood: wishes, hypotheses
  • Subjunctive mood: uncertainty, speculation

In the above examples, the first verb is conjugated in the present of the indicative mood, whereas the second one is in the present of the imperative mood.

Therefore, by figuring out the temporality and the mood of the verb, you can find the verb tense and its conjugation rules.

Note that tenses in the indicative mood are by far the ones you use the most to communicate, and therefore the first ones you will learn, but eventually, mastering every French verb tense (i.e. tense+mood) will help you nuance your speech considerably.

The following sections present a complete list of all existing French verb tenses, divided under their respective moods:

Verb Tenses in the Indicative Mood

The indicative mood is the most common mood for verbs. It’s how we state facts. Here are the verb tenses of the indicative mood:

Verb Tenses in the Imperative Mood

Imperative mood verb tenses give instructions, advice and commands. Here are the verb tenses of the imperative mood:

Verb Tenses in the Conditional Mood

The conditional mood is primarily used to talk about hypothetical situations, politeness in requests, and to describe events that are likely but not certain. Here are the verb tenses of the conditional mood:

Verb Tenses in the Subjunctive Mood

The subjunctive mood can be the hardest for English speakers to wrap their heads around. It usually expresses actions we’re uncertain about, that we doubt the reality or realisation of. Here are the verb tenses of the subjunctive mood:

French Verb Tense Exercises

Time to practise your French verb tenses! Dive into our Verb Tense Exercises and challenge your French verb skills with these exercises curated by our expert French teachers:

A1 Level exercises

A2 Level exercises

B1 Level exercises

B2 Level exercises

Don't forget to explore our comprehensive library of exercises, sorted by level, to find the perfect practice for your level.

How to Make French Verb Tenses Stick

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