Les verbes: Types of verbs in French grammar
What is a verb?
Les verbes (verbs) are doing words: they express an action performed by the subject of the sentence (a noun or a pronoun). In addition to physical actions, verbs can also describe processes, concepts, states and thoughts. Some typical French action verbs include courirto run, danserto dance, sauterto jump, chanterto sing, écrireto write, lireto read, etc. Some typical stative verbs in French are êtreto be, devenirto become, paraîtreto appear, resterto stay etc.
- Nous mangeons tous les soirs à 20h heures pile.We eat at 8 o’clock on the dot every night. (action)
- Le chien a sauté par-dessus la haie.The dog jumped over the hedge. (action)
- Cette maison est vraiment très belle.This house is really very beautiful. (state)
In French, we can categorise verbs according to their grammatical function in a sentence or according to the mood and tense in which they are used. Below you can find explanations of all the grammatical terms related to verbs in French grammar.
Action verbs and stative verbs in French
We can categorise French verbs into two main categories: action verbs (les verbes d’action) and stative verbs (les verbes d’état).
Les verbes d’action (action verbs) are used to talk about an act or an activity performed by the subject of the sentence. These verbs can express an ongoing action or a one-time event. They can be followed by direct or indirect objects. As there are so many action verbs in the French language, it is impossible to present a complete list. The best way to learn the French action verbs is to learn them by theme.
Some of the most common action verbs in French include: faireto do, bougerto move, marcherto walk, jardinerto garden, nagerto swim, mangerto eat, écouterto listen, regarderto watch, apprendreto learn, discuterto discuss, donnerto give, partagerto share, acheterto buy, chercherto look for, trouverto find etc.
- Cyril court plus vite que Thierry.Cyril runs faster than Thierry.
- Pauline fait la sieste dans le jardin.Pauline is taking a nap in the garden.
- The verb faire is accompanied by the direct object la sieste.
- Le professeur donne un conseil à l’élève.The teacher gives some advice to the student.
- The verb donner is accompanied by a direct object (un conseil) and an indirect object (à l’élève).
Les verbes d’état (stative verbs) show that the subject has a particular characteristic; they express a state or manner of being, a change of state or the transformation of one thing or person into something else. They do not express actions nor do they give information about duration. They do not take direct or indirect objects, but are often accompanied by attributes (extra information such as nouns or adjectives). The stative verbs in French are: êtreto be, paraîtreto appear, semblerto seem, devenirto become, demeurerto reside, resterto stay, avoir l’airto seem, passer pourto pretend.
- Ces touristes semblent perdus.Those tourists seem lost.
- Je suis mécanicien.I’m a mechanic.
- Nous sommes restés à la maison toute la journée.We stayed at home all day.
L’infinitif (the infinitive) is the basic form of the verb. Like the participles, it is a non-conjugated form of the verb, which means that it does not express a tense, person or number. French infinitives have four possible endings: -er (parlerto speak), -ir (finirto finish), -re (prendreto take) or -oir (voirto see). In French there are numerous verbs and phrases that are always followed by the infinitive. For a complete overview of phrases that take the infinitive in French, as well as a more detailed explanation of this non-conjugated verb form, go to our section on l’infinitif.
- Mon chat aime sauter sur les armoires.My cat loves jumping on the wardrobes.
- Nous révisons tous les jours pour réussir l’examen.We revise every day to pass the exam.
- J’ai du mal à le croire.I don’t believe it.
The three verb groups in French
We can classify French verbs by their endings to make it easier to learn their conjugations.
- Group 1 verbs end in -er. The majority of these verbs have a regular conjugation, with the notable exception of allerto go.
- mangerto eat, aimerto like, commencerto start, créerto create, penserto think, oublierto forget
- Group 2 verbs end in -ir and their present participle is formed with -issant.
- finir (finissant)to finish, réussir (réussissant)to succeed, choisir (choisissant)to choose
- Group 3 verbs are irregular verbs that don’t belong to group 1 or 2. These verbs can also be categorised by their endings. Some end in -oir, others in -re, while some end in -ir and form their present participle with the ending -ant instead of -issant.
- pouvoirto be able to, savoirto know, voirto see, vouloirto want
- prendreto take, croireto believe, mettreto put, attendreto wait
- découvrir (découvrant)to discover, courir (courant)to run, offrir (offrant)to offer
To check the conjugation of any French verb, just go to our verb conjugator.
Verb Conjugation in French
Le radical is the stem or the root of the verb; it is the base form with no ending attached. To conjugate verbs, we add different endings to the stem to create conjugated forms as well as the impersonal forms such as the infinitive or the participles.
verb stem + ending = conjugated form
To find the stem of a verb, we simply take off the ending from the infinitive (-er, -ir, -re, -oir).
Some verbs change their stems in their conjugated forms. To find the stem of these verbs in different tenses, we use the 1st person plural form. For example, the 1st person plural of the verb aller in the futur simple is nous irons, which means that the stem is ir-.
- mang-er → stem: mang | ending: er, conjugated forms: je mange, tu mangeais, nous mangerons
- réfléch-ir → stem: réflech | ending: ir, conjugated forms: il réfléchit, vous réfléchissiez, elles réfléchiront
- di-re → stem: di | ending: re, conjugated forms: nous disons, je dirai, elle disait
To learn more about conjugating verbs, go to our verb conjugator or check out our pages dedicated to the different French verb tenses. Remember to test your knowledge in the free exercises!
Moods in French grammar
Grammatical moods (les modes) are separate to tenses. Moods indicate the tone of the sentence and make the speaker’s intention clear. They show whether the sentence is a request, a wish, a hypothesis, a doubt, a command etc. For each mood there are several tenses. French has four different grammatical moods:
- The indicative (l’indicatif) is the standard mood in French grammar. It expresses an action, event or state that occurs in reality. There are eight indicative tenses: le présent, l’imparfait, le passé composé, le plus-que-parfait, le passé simple, le passé antérieur, le futur simple and le futur antérieur.
- Catherine et François ont réservé une table au restaurant.Catherine and François reserved a table at the restaurant. (passé composé)
- The subjunctive mood (le subjonctif) is slightly more unusual. We mostly use it in subordinate clauses that start with que to express a possibility, a hypothesis, a feeling, a thought, a wish, a doubt, uncertainty or advice. It is a mood that emphasises the subjectivity of a sentence and introduces an element of uncertainty or un-reality. Learn more about this tricky mood on our page dedicated to the subjunctive — remember to practise in the free exercises.
- Je doute que nous retrouvions notre chemin facilement.I doubt that we’ll find our way again easily. (key verb: douter que)
- We use the conditional (le conditionnel) to talk about possible outcomes in relation to a condition. This mood talks about acts, actions or states that can only occur once a certain condition has been fulfilled. It is also used to express possibility, and can be used as a tense as well as a mood. Find out more about the conditional in French grammar and test your knowledge in the free exercises.
- Pierre se lèverait plus tôt s’il ne se couchait pas aussi tard.Pierre would get up earlier if he didn’t go to bed so late.
- The imperative mood (l’impératif) gives orders and advice to one or more people. To learn more about the imperative mood, go to our page on the imperative in French grammar.
- Respirez calmement et détendez-vous.Breathe deeply and relax. (advice)
In addition to these four moods, French also has three impersonal moods (les modes impersonnels): l’infinitif, le gérondif and le participe. These three verb forms do not provide information about when the action takes place or who performs it because they are not conjugated in any tense.
- J’ai besoin d’aide pour résoudre cette équation.I need help solving this equation. (infinitive)
- Caroline est partie en courant.Caroline ran away. (present participle)
- Épuisés par une longue journée de marche, nous nous sommes endormis juste après dîner.Exhausted after a long day of hiking, we went to bed straight after dinner. (past participle)
Main verbs and auxiliary verbs in French
French has simple tenses and compound tenses. Compound tenses (like the passé composé or the plus-que-parfait), contain two verbs: a help verb, (also known as an auxiliary), and a main verb.
The French auxiliaries (les auxiliaires) are avoir and être. When forming the compound tenses, these verbs are the ones that are conjugated according to the tense and subject. The auxiliary verbs are also negated when forming negative sentences. In a sentence, the auxiliary verb comes first, followed by the past participle of the main verb. Learn how to use these auxiliary verbs correctly on our page dedicated to avoir and être.
- Les invités sont arrivés en avance.The guests arrived early.
- Est-ce que tu as bien dormi cette nuit?Did you sleep well last night?
The main verb (le verbe principal) is the one that carries meaning in the sentence. This is in contrast to the auxiliary, which only conveys grammatical information such as tense and person. The main verb can express a state, action, change, event etc. It appears alone when conjugated in the simple tenses (présent, l’imparfait, passé simple, futur simple, conditionnel présent and subjonctif présent).
- Je lis un livre passionnant.I’m reading an exciting book.
- main verb lire conjugated in the present tense
In the compound tenses, the main verb takes the form of the past participle and follows the auxiliary verb. In the passé récent and the futur proche, the main verb takes the form of the infinitive and follows the conjugated forms of the verbs venir and aller.
- J’ai lu un livre passionnant la semaine dernière.I read an exciting book last week.
- auxiliary avoir followed by the past participle of the main verb lire
- Je viens de terminer un livre passionnant.I’ve just finished an exciting book.
- infinitive of the main verb terminer after venir de
It can happen that the main verb and the auxiliary are the same (avoir or être).
- Simon a eu une bonne note.
- avoir as an auxiliary (a) followed by avoir as a main verb in the past participle (eu)
Learn more about moods and verbs in French grammar
Click on the different topics below to learn more about moods and verbs in French grammar. Read the detailed explanations and clear examples then test yourself in the free exercises.