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What is the Present Tense?
The present tense in French is used for many different things, most of which are also found in English. The two most common uses of it are describing something that is happening right now, such as "I'm reading an article about French" and for general statements, such as "French is one of the Romance languages." In English, we have several different tenses that are all in the present, but luckily for you, French only has one. The English tenses seen in "I speak," "I am speaking," and "I do speak" are all translated into the French present tense.
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What is an -er verb?
There are three types of regular verbs in French. Verbs are typically listed in their most basic form, called the infinitive, which is not in any particular tense or person, and can be transformed into any other form needed. An -er verb, then, is one whose infinitive ends in the letters "er" and that follows regular conjugation patterns in the present tense. Some examples include parler (to speak), chanter (to sing), and donner (to give). The -er set of verbs is the largest set of verbs in the French language, so it is very important to learn well.
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How to Conjugate in the Present Tense
To take an -er verb into the present tense, the first thing you do is remove the -er from the end, leaving what is called the root or the stem of the verb. At this point, you add one of the following endings to the verb, depending on the subject of the sentence.
je | -e
tu | -es
il/elle/on | -e
nous | -ons
vous | -ez
ils/elles | -ent
This is just like English, where we say "I speak" but "she speaks"; the endings are different depending on the subject. Here is the verb "parler" conjugated in the present tense.
je parle (I speak)
tu parles (you speak)
il/elle/on parle (he/she/one speaks)
nous parlons (we speak)
vous parlez (you speak)
ils/elles (they speak)
Notice that while I translated "je parle" as "I speak," this is not the only possibility. Just as we discussed earlier, the French present tense covers many English tenses, so "je parle" could be translated as "I speak," "I am speaking," or "I do speak" depending on the English context.
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Examples and Exercises
Here are a few examples of full sentences using the French present tense with an -er verb, along with their translations:
Je chante bien. (I sing well.)
Tu parles français. (You speak French.)
Elle aime les pommes. (She likes apples.)
Nous dansons ensemble. (We're dancing together.)
Vous mangez une pizza. (You guys are eating a pizza.)
Ils pensent à leurs vacances. (They're thinking about their vacation.)
Now you can try it. Conjugate the verb in parenthesis for each sentence, according to the subject:
Je _______ allemand. (parler)
Tu _______ les livres. (aimer)
Il ________ avec sa copine. (danser)
Nous ___________ la télé. (regarder)
Vous __________ une chanson de Frank Sinatra. (chanter)
Elles ___________ au foot. (jouer)
Check your sentences against the conjugations in the section above this to see if you did them correctly.