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French Verb Conjugation

An advanced look at conjugating French verbs

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Conjugation refers to the five possible inflections of a verb: Person, Number, Mood, Tense, and Voice. Once you've made a choice from each of these five, you have a conjugation or inflection. For example:

Verb - parler
Person - first person
Number - singular
Mood - indicative
Tense - present
Voice - active
= je parle

Verb - aller
Person - third person
Number - plural
Mood - subjunctive
Tense - present
Voice - active
= qu'ils aillent

When conjugating a French verb, the first things to figure out are the tense and mood, which work hand-in-hand. All moods have at least two tenses (present and past) out of the possible 8 (only the indicative has all 8). The verb timeline lists moods horizontally and tenses vertically.

The indicative is the most common mood and is normally not stated. When you talk about the passé composé, the imperfect, or the present tense, for example, you mean "of the indicative mood." It's only with other moods like subjunctive and conditional that the mood is stated explicitly.

All moods have a present tense, which is again not made explicit except in the indicative and participle (parentheses indicate what normally goes unsaid):

  • present (indicative)
  • (present) conditional
  • (present) subjunctive
  • (present) imperative
  • (present) infinitive
  • present participle
So for example, the imperfect (indicative) and the imperfect subjunctive are two different moods of the same tense. On the other hand, the (present) conditional and the past conditional are two different tenses of the same mood.

The verb timeline can help you understand this, because it lines up moods and tenses so that you can see how they all fit together. X axis + Y axis = verb form and basis of individual conjugations.

Voilà - now that you understand the basics of French verb conjugation, study the lessons on individual tenses and moods (linked from the verb timeline) to learn more, or visit my French grammar glossary.

For some subjects, it's a little trickier to figure out the appropriate verb conjugation: learn more.
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