How to use efficiently the present tense

Make sure you sound confident in French from the beginning

First of all, the present tense is used in most daily conversations in French. It also serves as a basis for other tenses such as l’Imparfait. Therefore, it’s important you feel confident when using the present.

Good news : there is just one present tense in French ! On the contrary, the English has two different forms, the present simple and the present progressive. The present progressive (présent progressif) is just translated as “être en train de” in French.

Today, we’ll help you use efficiently the present tense in French so that you can quickly boost your learning.

present tense in french

Table of Contents

  • When do we use the present tense ?
  • What are the verbs of the first group at the present tense?
  • Forming the present tense for verbs of the 2nd group
  • The irregular verbs of the 3rd group
  • 5 steps to help you build confidence with the present tense

When do we use the present tense ?

We use the present to talk about :

  • A description or situation in the present

ex : je m’appelle Benjamin. Je suis anglais = My name is Benjamin. I’m English.

  • Regular, habitual and repeated facts or actions

ex : Je travaille avec mon mari (tous les jours) = I work with my husband

  • Actions that are currently happening now

ex : Je travaille sur un projet important (en ce moment, maintenant) = I’m working on an important project

  • Scheduled actions in the near future

ex : Mardi prochain, il a une réunion importante après son cours de français = Next Tuesday, he has an important meeting after his French class

present tense in French

What are the verbs of the first group at the present tense?

As an introduction, the 2 French language auxiliaries (AVOIR =to have et ETRE = to be) are separate and do not belong to any of the 3 groups.

AVOIR = J’ai / Tu as / Il-Elle-On a / Nous avons / Vous avez / Ils-Elles ont
ETRE = Je suis / Tu es / Il-Elle-On est / Nous sommes / Vous êtes / Ils-Elles sont

Remember : The verbs are grouped by their ending.

1 – Regular Verbs for the 1st Group – Present Tense

The 1st group has all the verbs ending with –ER apart from Aller. Aller is a verb of the 3rd group and irregular. There are more than 6000 verbs in this group !

  • CHANTER = to sing
  • PARLER = to speak
  • AIMER = to like / to love
  • S’HABILLER = to get dressed / to wear
3 groups of verbs in French present

Remark : it is the most regular of all the groups because the radical doesn’t undergo any change during conjugation.

PARLERAIMER

S’HABILLER

Je / J’

parleaimem’habille

Tu

parlesaimes

t’habilles

Il/Elle/On

parleaime

s’habille

Nous

parlonsaimons

nous habillons

Vous

parlezaimez

vous habillez

Ils/Ellesaimentparlent

s’habillent

2 – French Present – Irregular Verbs for the 1st Group

The first group is the easiest one to conjugate. However, bear in mind there are just a few exceptions to the rules.

  • French Verbs with -CER

You need to add a cedilla (ç) to the -c of the first person plural

AVANCER = to move forward
COMMENCER = to begin

ex : J’avance / Tu avances / Il-Elle-On avance /Nous avançons / Vous avancez / Ils-Elles avancent

  • Verbs with -GER

Here, we add an -e of the first person plural.

MANGER = to eat
VOYAGER = to travel

ex : Je mange / Tu manges / Il-Elle-On mange /Nous mangeons / Vous mangez / Ils-Elles mangent

  • Verbs with -YER

The -y will change before the mute -i. The verbs with -AYER also have 2 forms.

PAYER = to pay

ex1 : Je paye/ Tu payes / Il-Elle-On paye /Nous payons / Vous payez / Ils-Elles payent
ex2 : Je paie / Tu paies / Il-Elle-On paie / Nous payons / Vous payez / Ils-Elles paient

  • Verbs with -ELER/ETER

They take two -l ou two -t before a mute -e.

APPELER = to call

ex : J’appelle / Tu appelles / Il-Elle-On appelle /Nous appelons / Vous appelez / Ils-Elles appellent

Forming the present tense for verbs of the 2nd group

Then, the 2nd group has all the verbs ending with -issons at the “nous” form.

  • ACCOMPLIR > nous accomplissons = we accomplish
  • CHOISIR > nous choisissons  = we choose
  • FINIR > nous finissons = we finish
  • REAGIR > nous réagissons = we react

Verbs end with : -is, -is, -it, -issons, -issez, -issent

Did you know that this group  contains about 300 verbs ?

Attention : Not all the verbs ending with –IR are in the 2nd group. For example, venir will become nous viendrons. Therefore, it is part of the 3rd group.

CHOISIRFINIRREAGIR

Je / J’

choisisfinisréagis

Tu

choisisfinis

réagis

Il/Elle/On

choisitfinit

réagit

Nous

choisissonsfinissons

réagissons

Vous

choisissezfinissez

réagissez

Ils/Elleschoisissentfinissent
réagissent

The irregular verbs of the 3rd group

Finally, the verbs of the 3rd group are divided into 4 sub-categories :

  • verbs ending with –IR (but not ending with –issons at the 1st person plural)
    • OFFRIR = to offer
    • OUVRIR = to open
  • verbs ending with –OIR
    • DEVOIR = must / to have to
    • POUVOIR = to be able to
    • SAVOIR = to know
    • VOULOIR = to want
  • verbs ending with –RE
    • PRENDRE = to take
    • VENDRE = to sell
    • APPRENDRE = to learn
    • ATTENDRE = to wait
ALLERDEVOIROUVRIR

Je / J’

vaisdoisouvre

Tu

vasdois

ouvres

Il/Elle/On

vadoitouvre

Nous

allonsdevons

ouvrons

Vous

allezdevezouvrez
Ils/Ellesvontdoiventouvrent
POUVOIRRECEVOIRSAVOIR

Je / J’

peuxreçoissais

Tu

peuxreçois

sais

Il/Elle/On

peutreçoitsait

Nous

pouvonsrecevons

savons

Vous

pouvezrecevezsavez
Ils/Ellespeuventreçoiventsavent
VOULOIRVOIRVENIR

Je / J’

veuxvoisviens

Tu

veuxvois

viens

Il/Elle/On

veutvoitvient

Nous

voulonsvoyons

venons

Vous

voulezvoyezvenez
Ils/Ellesveulentvoientviennent

Unfortunately, this is most difficult group as there are no general pattern. Therefore, you will have to learn those verbs one by one, either by making flashcards or repeating them out loud.

5 Steps to help you build confidence with the present tense

Remembering if a verb is a 2nd or 3rd group may feel like a tedious task in the beginning. However, it will help you a great deal moving forward.

You will feel at ease with the grammar of other French tenses.

At the Passé Composé, verbs with –ER will have the same Participe Passé ending with –é. Groups are a good way to categorize verbs in order to remember their endings more easily.

confidence with the present tense in french
1- Know your priorities and objectives

If you are at a beginner level, don’t worry about learning first the Plus-que-Parfait or the French Subjunctive. It should not be your priority.
Also, make sure you know the present indicative for every subject. Indeed, it’s the tense we use in everyday situations. That way, it will help you ask simple questions, introduce yourself and have a basic conversation with locals.

2 – Learn how to pronounce the verbs correctly

If you’d like to speak French like natives, then you could focus on the pronunciation. Feel free to get more guidance with 7 tips to improve your French pronunciation skills.

3 – Adapt the learning strategy your learning style

To make efficient progress in French, you should always repeat the verb with the corresponding pronoun.
You could either make flashcards or say it out loud, depending if you are a visual or auditory learner.

4 – Repeat by starting in random order

Furthermore, instead of repeating always starting by ‘Je, Tu Il,… ‘, don’t be afraid to start by ‘Nous’ or ‘Elles,…’. That way, your brain will remember also the plural pronouns form which sometimes can be irregulars.

5 – Don’t forget about the negative form

At last, French students usually only make exercices in the affirmative form of the present tense.
Practising with the negative is also essential. Don’t forget to have the ‘ne..pas’ at the correct place.

Overall, I hope you found this tips useful and that you’ll be able to put them into practice !

Should you wish to improve your French grammar and conjugation, you could also use aids available on TV5 Monde.

Feel free to search on French with Agnes blog for more tips and online resources to boost your confidence in French. And for tailored French classes, I’m always available via emails at bonjour@frenchwithagnes.com. I’d love to hear from you !

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