French tenses you need to know

Once you start feeling confident with the present tense in French, you may want to explore other options. But if we have over 20 different French tenses, don ‘t freak out ! Only a few are used regularly.  There is no point learning the Passé Simple or Imparfait du Subjonctif. Today we’re going to focus on the tenses you need to know for your daily conversation in French. You will also get a few tips to help you progress with your French conjugation.

french tenses you need to know

Table of content

  1. French tenses used in daily conversation
  2. Useful verb constructions to know
  3. Tenses in French you don’t need to master
  4. Tips to improve your conjugation

French tenses used in daily conversation

The French present tense

If your goal is to achieve a certain level of fluency in French, learning the present tense should be your first step. It talks about facts, current situations and repeated actions in the present, as well as scheduled future actions.

Two French futur tenses

You need to use the futur proche or the futur simple when you want to talk about the future. However, they both have nuances. The futur proche is more certain than the futur simple. For in-depth differences, feel free to read our article about the futur tenses in French. 

Talking in French about the past

The most commonly used tenses for describing events in the past are Imparfait and Passé Composé. They are particularly used in conversational or oral French.

Knowing other modes in French

With the indicative, learning gradually other modes (at the present form) will help you having more engaging interactions with locals  :

  • Conditional present (conditionnel présent)
  • Gerund present (gérondif présent)
  • Imperative present (impératif présent)
  • Subjonctive present (subjonctif présent)
useful french tenses

Useful verb constructions you need to know

The Recent Past

The recent past (le passé récent) is very easy to use :

  • to express an immediate past, extremely recent

ex : Paul est arrivé ? Oui il vient d’arriver  (He just arrived)

  • with a personal pronoun

ex : Est-ce que tu as vu le dernier film de Spielberg ? Oui, je viens de le voir (I just saw it)

We form the Recent Past with : VENIR de + Infinitif

The Present Continuous

The present continuous (le présent continu) expresses a present action that continues to take place at the moment of speaking. This structure is quite insistent.

ex : Je suis en train de déjeuner (I’m having lunch right now – I’m in the middle of my lunch)

The Continued Present is with : ETRE EN TRAIN de + Infinitif

verb constructions to remember

Tenses in French you don't need to master

The following tenses are used often in written texts, sometimes in speech:

  • Conditionnel passé
  • Futur antérieur
  • Passé antérieur
  • Plus-que-parfait

And these French tenses are no longer in use :

  • Passé antérieur
  • Passé simple
  • Plus-que-parfait du subjonctif
  • Subjonctif imparfait
  • Subjonctif passé
french verb tenses

Tips to improve your conjugation

Be aware of the tenses you need

It’s important to study each tense one by one depending on your needs. If you like to visit Paris and/or France, you may want to focus on the present and the conditional. However, if you are in France more permanently, you will need to use a bigger range of tenses, such as futur and past tenses.

Start with the basics

We encourage you to start with the basics, and slowly build your way up. The first tenses most French language learners start with is the present tense. First, learning a French tense means knowing when to use it. Then, you will also need to understand how to conjugate a verb tense. Finally, memorising irregular verb conjugations is a must.

Once you can make your own sentences using the present tense, you will move forward to a next one. Don’t try to learn 3 or 4 tenses at the same time. Of course, many French learners can agree that tenses are a headache to study.

Speak French a lot and practice

A bit like numbers, you need to regularly repeat the different verbs. Make a point of speaking a bit of French everyday. To challenge your brain, you could :

  • write them several times with the relevant subject pronouns. Then, try in a different order ;
  • say them out loud ;
  • use podcasts and listen to them during a quiet time ;
  • do various exercises and take notes of your mistakes ;
  • watch French movies and read books ;
  • get a Bescherelle book, your best friend for conjugation.

All of these tips should help you to get accustomed to the nuances of the language.

tips French conjugation

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. While solo practise is important for language learning, a great tutor is a vital key to help you. You will better understand the ups and downs of the French language thanks to an excellent native-speaking tutor.

To learn more about my tailored French courses, drop me a quick enquiry via my contact page.

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