French Language Blog

Let’s Talk About Present Tense Verbs Posted by on Oct 10, 2008 in Grammar

Je travaille.

In French, this short sentence has several translations in English and we would need more context to decide exactly what is meant.  It could be translated as “I work” or “I’m working” and if we add more to the sentence without changing the verb structure in any way, it could take on even more meanings.  For example, Je travaille depuis plusieurs mois.  This same verb structure is now being used as an English present perfect verb, thus the translation is “I’ve worked for several months”.  With this in mind, let’s talk about le présent français.

There are different verb endings depending on the verb group.

Verbs in the First Group (the -ER verbs):

Stem + -e, -es, -e, -ons, -ez, -ent

These verbs are regular as far as their conjugation, but some of them have spelling and phonetic changes.  Almost 90% of all French verbs fall under this category.

For example, TRAVAILLER

Je travaille Nous travaillons
Tu travailles Vous travaillez
Il / Elle / On travaille Ils / Elles travaillent

Verbs in the Second Group (the -IR verbs):

Stem + -s, -s, -t, -ons, -ez, -ent

These verbs are regular as far as their conjugation and you have to double the final -s before vowels for nous, vous, ils, elles.  There are only about 300 of these verbs in the French language.

For example, FINIR

Je finis Nous finissons
Tu finis Vous finissez
Il / Elle / On finit Ils / Elles finissent

Verbs in the Third Group (the -RE, -OIR and some -IR verbs):
(often variable for same verb)      + -s, -s, -t / d, -ons, -ez, -ent
                                                      + -e, -es, -e, -ons, -ez, -ent
                                                      + -x, -x, -t, -ons, -ez, -ent

This is the ‘all other verbs’ category.  These verbs are irregular as they can have many different stems as well as different endings.  However, you must learn (hence, memorize) them as they are often used in the French language and there are about 370 of them.

For example, FAIRE

Je fais Nous faisons
Tu fais Vous faites
Il / Elle / On fait Ils / Elles font

For example, BOIRE

Je bois Nous buvons
Tu bois Vous buvez
Il / Elle / On boit Ils / Elles boivent

For example, COMPRENDRE

Je comprends Nous comprenons
Tu comprends Vous comprenez
Il / Elle / On comprend Ils / Elles comprennent

For example, POUVOIR

Je peux / puis Nous pouvons
Tu peux Vous pouvez
Il / Elle / On peut Ils / Elles peuvent

For example, COUVRIR

Je couvre Nous couvrons
Tu couvres Vous couvrez
Il / Elle / On couvre Ils / Elles couvrent


Now that we’ve got the form down pat (right???), what about meaning?

Well, you can use the present simple to talk about an action that is in progress at the time of speaking (much like present progressive in English).  For example,

Mes enfants dorment (en ce moment).  This means that ‘my children are sleeping’ and I can add the ‘right now’ part or another time expression to better specify the context so as not to give the impression they sleep all the time, but it is not necessary.

The present simple can be used to talk about an event that began in the past (much like our present perfect).  For example,

J’habite à Paris depuis deux ans.  (I’ve lived in Paris for two years.)

Or you can use the present simple to talk about an event that will begin in the very, very near future much like we use the present progressive/continuous in English.  For example,

Cet été, nous allons aux États-Unis.  (This summer, we’re going to the United States.)

Just as in English, you can use the present simple to express repetitive actions.  For example,

Vous prenez le métro tous les jours.  (You take the metro every day.)

You also find the simple present used in factual texts to talk about the past in order to make events livelier (narrating present) or simply to state facts that continue to be true.  For example,

En 1928,  Fleming découvre le premier antibiotique.  (Fleming discovered the first antibiotic in 1928.)

The present simple is also used in French to express a general truth or a proverb.  For example,

L’eau bouille à 100º C.  (Water boils at 100º C.)
Au besoin on connaît l’ami. (A friend in need is a friend indeed.)

Finally, you can use the present simple when making a hypothesis or a conditional statement.  For example,

Si tu vas en France, tu apprendras sûrement le français. (If you go to France, you will surely learn French.)

If you want to make any of these present tense sentences negative, just place ne before the verb and pas after it.  Questions basically follow the same structure as the affirmative; you just add a question mark at the end and change your intonation.  For example,

Tu comprends l’espagnol?  Non, je ne comprends pas l’espagnol. (Do you understand Spanish?  No, I don’t understand Spanish.)

Since French verbs can be quite complicated with their different endings and groups and spelling and other irregularities, I recommend getting your hands on a copy of a good verb reference book listing all the verbs and their group numbers as well as other verb-significant grammatical information.

Bon week-end!

Tags: ,
Keep learning French with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

About the Author: Transparent Language

Transparent Language is a leading provider of best-practice language learning software for consumers, government agencies, educational institutions, and businesses. We want everyone to love learning language as much as we do, so we provide a large offering of free resources and social media communities to help you do just that!


  1. Jess:

    This article is simply amazing..!!
    Thanks again… 🙂

  2. Chanda:

    I’m glad you found it useful Jess. Please let me know if there is any particular grammar point you would like me to discuss in a future article. À plus!

  3. Alan Smith:

    It would be nice to understand the lyrics to French songs! For example, in the film “Das Boat” they continually played a French record that sounded like– j’attendre, toujour elanuis etc etc. Being able to sing the words would be great. YoungAl

  4. LaDawn Lawrence:

    I have just started going to this blog and I am really impressed. I have so many books and CD’s to learn French but learn more when I come on and read through verbs, nouns and so on. I am very basic in my knowledge so if anyone out there has some simple first phrases I should know please let me know. Thank you all again for all the help

  5. Chanda:

    Hi LaDawn, I’m glad you find the blog useful. I will write an article on simple first phrases very soon for you!