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French Language Learning: Conjugating -re Verbs

written by: Tommy Carlton • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/5/2012

Learning the present tense is an important part of your introduction to French. It is the tense that we use to discuss everyday occurrences, as well as the tense used to describe things and talk about general facts.

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    The Present Tense

    In English, we have three versions of present tense, depending on the circumstance -- I talk, I'm talking, and I do talk. In French, however, there is only one form equivalent to all three -- je parle. The -re verb group is no exception to this, and you will find yourself quickly able to speak French in more situations, the more verbs you learn.

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    What is an -re Verb?

    There are there different groups of regular verbs in French, -er verbs, -ir verbs, and -re verbs. We covered conjugations for -er verbs and -ir verbs already, but if you need to review, head over to those articles for a refresher. The final group, -re verbs, is also the smallest, though it still contains several commonly used verbs, such as vendre (to sell) and perdre (to lose). If you know the conjugations well for the -er and -ir verbs, you will notice that there is a pattern with -re verbs, and that the endings seem almost natural, or as if they're following a pattern.

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    Present Tense Conjugations

    As with the other two groups, the first stem is to get the stem, or the root of the verb. This is done by removing the ending, the -re. If we have vendre (to sell), we remove -re to get vend- as the stem. The second step is to add the ending, depending on the subject of the sentence. Here are the endings for the various subjects:

    Subject | Ending

    je | -s

    tu | -s

    il/elle/on | - [blank! there is nothing to add for this subject]

    nous | -ons

    vous | -ez

    ils/elles | -ent

    You will notice some similar endings, especially for the nous, vous, and ils/elles. Also, notice that there actually is no ending for the il/elle/on form! This makes that conjugation especially easy, because you just drop the -re from the infinitive, and you already have the il/elle form. Here is the verbe descendre (to come down or to lower) conjugated in the present tense:

    je descends

    tu descends

    elle descend

    nous descendons

    vous descendez

    ils descendant

    You now know the endings to all three regular verb groups for the present tense in French. With practice, you will be able to conjugate almost any verb now, and your ability to communicate naturally will quickly grow.

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    Examples of the Present Tense

    Here are a few full-sentence examples of the present tense, using standard French -re verbs:

    Je vends mon vélo. (I'm selling my bike)

    Tu perds tes clés souvent. (You lose your keys often)

    Il descend les escaliers. (He's coming down the stairs)

    Nous attendons notre amie Sylvie. (We're waiting for our friend Sylvie)

    Vous ne répondez jamais au professeur Martin. (You never answer professor Martin)

    Elles entendent la musique de leurs voisins. (They hear their neighbors' music)