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Tenses and moods in French

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In French, seven verbal moods are used: 

Tenses and moods in French

The personal moods

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The French Indicative

The indicative has eight tenses: four simple tenses and four compound tenses that conjugate with the auxiliaries avoir or être. 

Simple tensesCompound tenses
present (le présent)past completed (le passé composé)
imperfect (l'imparfait)pluperfect (le plus-que-parfait)
litterary past tense (le passé simple)past anterior (le passé antérieur)
future simple (le futur simple)future perfect (le futur antérieur)

Present tense 

You use a verb in the present tense (French: le présent) to talk about a fact or an action that takes place as we speak. But you can also use it to tell a past "as if we were there" or to express a scientific truth or a usual fact.

The endings of the present tense are : 

  • -e, -es, -e, -ons, -ez, -ent for the 1st group verbs.
  •  -is,-is, -it, -issons, -issez, -issent for 2nd group verbs

The 3rd group verbs have three different endings:

  • -s, -s, -t, -ons, -ez, -ent for all verbs in general
  • -ds, -ds, -d, -dons, -dez, -dent for infinitive verbs ending in -dre except joindre
  • -x, -x, -t, -ons, -ez, -ent for infinitive verbs like pouvoir, valoir, vouloir

Examples: 

 ExamplesTranslation
1st groupnous aimons préparer des tartes (we love to prepare pies)
2nd groupton amie grandit vite(your friend is growing fast)
3rd group

je lis ce livre de Victor Hugo

​Rafael prends le chocolat

tu vaux plus que ça 

(I am reading this Victor Hugo's Book)

(Rafael is taking chocolate)

(you worth more than this)

Imperfect 

The imperfect (French: l'imparfait) does not exist in English as it expresses a fact or an action that has already taken place at the moment we are speaking but which can still unfold. The imperfect is often used to describe a scene, a landscape.

The endings of the imperfect are :

  • -ais, -ais, -ait, -ions, -iez, aient for all group verbs

Examples: 

ImperfectTranslation
Je faisais une tarte pour ce soir(I was making a pie for tonight)
On pouvait voir le soleil se coucher(We could see the sun going down)
Tu étais timide quand tu étais enfant(You were so shy when you were a child)

Literary past tense

The literary past tense (French: le passé simple) is utilized in rather literary contexts. It's mainly expresses a completed action of the past, most often a brief action

The endings of the literary past tense are:

  • -ai, as, -a, -âmes, -âtes, -èrent for the 1st group verbs,
  • -is, -is, -it, -îmes, -îtes, -irent for the 2nd group verbs.

The 3rg group verbs have three different endings: 

  • -is, -is, -it, -îmes, -îtes, -irent for verbs like prendre
  • -us, -us, -ut, -ûmes, -ûtes, urent for verbs like devoir, croire
  • -ins, -ins, -int, -înmes, -întes, -inrent for verbs like venir

Examples: 

 ExamplesTranslation
1st groupnous passâmes pour des inconnus(we were unknow)
2nd groupils finirent leurs devoirs avant de partir(they had finished their homework before leaving)
3rd group

je vins très tôt ce jour-là

tu vis son grand-père 

nous crurent à ses paroles

(I had came very early that day)

(you had seen his grand father)

(we had believed him)

Future simple

The future simple (French: le futur simple) expresses a fact or an action that will take place later, it has not yet taken place at the moment we speak.

The endings of the future simple are:

  • -rai, -ras, -ra, -rons, -rez, -ront for all group verbs. 

Examples: 

Future simpleTranslation
Nous partirons en Espagne, la semaine prochaine(We will go to Spain, next week)

Je serai très prochainement le nouveau président

(I will soon become the new president)
Ils achèteront une nouvelle télévision(They will buy a new television)

Past completed 

The past completed (French: le passé composé) as the name suggests, is a time of the past. It therefore expresses an action or fact that has already taken place at the time we express ourselves. 

It is a compound time and is formed with the auxiliary être or avoir conjugated in the present tense + the past participle. 

Examples: 

Past completedTranslations
Nous sommes allés chez ta grand-mère(We went to your grand-mother's)
Tu as fait une grande découverte au travail(You discovered something big at work)
Ils ont mangé une paella lors de le voyage en Espagne.(They ate a paella during their trip in Spain)

Pluperfect 

The pluperfect (French: le plus-que-parfait) allows to express the anteriority of an action compared to a past action. It can be used with another time of the past either the completed past or literary past tense.

It is also a compound time and is formed with the auxiliary être or avoir conjugated in the imperfect tense + the past participle. 

Examples: 

PluperfectTranslations
J'étais allée voir si ma mère étais là (I had went to see if my mother was here)
Ils m'avaient raconté leur voyage à Bali(they had told me their trip in Bali)
Ce jour-là, nous étions tellement fatigués(that day, we were so tired)

Past anterior

The past anterior (French: le passé antérieur) expresses the anteriority of an action and is used most often with the literary past tense

It is a compound time and is formed with the auxiliary avoir or être conjugated in the literary past tense + the past participle. 

Examples: 

Past anteriorTranslations
Tu eus fait une belle tarte lorsqu'ils arrivèrent(you had done a good pie when they has arrived)
Nous fûmes été récompensés pour ce projet lors de la soirée(we had been awarded for this project at the award show)
Nous eûmes parlé du réchauffement quand ils vinrent(we had talked about the global warming when they has arrived)

​Future perfect

The future perfect (French: le futur antérieur) is a time of the future. iI can be used all alone in a sentence or with the future simple

When used alone, it expresses a fact or an action that will be completed at that moment

Examples: 

Future + complementTranslations
Dans deux ans, nous serons partis en France.(in two years, we will have left for France)
Nous aurons vécu en Italie(we will have lived in Italy)
Ils seront déjà allés voir la nouvelle maison(they will have already went to see the new house) 

When used with the future simple, it expresses an action that will take place before a second action.

Examples: 

Future + future simpleTranslations
Quand tu finiras, j'aurais déja préparé le repas(when you will finish, I will have already prepared lunch) 
Tu fermeras la porte, quand tes parents seront partis(you will close the door when your parents will have left)

Je serai fan de lui, quand il aura fait de bonnes chansons

 (I will become an amateur when he will have done good music)

The conditional 

The conditional (French: le conditionnel) is a mood that is used to express a wish, hypothesis or a fact or an action subject to a condition. In the French grammar, you must know that you will find it more and more identified as a tense of the indicative.

It is considered that the conditional has also a time value with two tenses: the present conditional and the past conditional. 

Examples: 

ConditionalTranslations
Tu aimerais aller voir ta grand-mère(you would like to go see your grand-mother)
Nous ferions faire cette barrière pour le chien.(We would make someone make the fence for the dog)
Nous voudrions parler au directeur(we would like to talk to the CEO)

Present conditional 

The present conditional (French: le conditionnel présent) is a tense of a future in the past. You can use it to mitigate a request. 

It is formed with the verb conjugated in the future tense that we complete with the endings of the imperfect:

  • -rais, -rais, -rait, -rions, -riez, -raient. 

Examples: 

Present conditionalTranslations
je préférerais une glace à la vanille(I would prefer a vanilla ice cream)
nous voudrions un dessert à la fraise.(we would like a strawberry dessert)
ils parleraient de politique(they would talk about politics)

Past conditional 

The past conditional (French: le conditionnel passé) can be used to express a regret or a reproach.

It is a compound and is formed with the auxiliary avoir or être conjugated in the conditional present + the past participle

Examples:  

Past conditionalTranslations
Tu aurais pu nous dire que tu ne viendras pas(you could have told us that you won't come)
Il aurait aimé devenir pilote d'avion(you would have liked to become an airplane pilot)
Nous aurions voulu faire une surprise a Léa (we would have wanted to make a surprise for Lea)

​The subjunctive 

The subjunctive is a mood used to express a doubt, a desired fact, an uncertain action that has not been realized at the moment we express ourselves with verbs expressing envy, desire, emotion, obligation, doubt or uncertainty. 

The subjunctive has 4 tenses: the subjunctive present and past and the subjunctive imperfect and pluperfect which are not used orally. 

In order to conjugate the verbs in the subjunctive, you use que (qu') before the verb. 

Present subjunctive 

The present subjunctive (French: le subjonctif présent) expresses an uncertain action, not realized at the moment of speaking

The endings of the present subjunctive are:

  • -e, -es, -e, -ions, -iez, -ient for the 1st group verbs and 3rd group verbs.
  • -isse, -isses, isse, -issions, -issiez, -issent for the 2nd group verbs.

Examples: 

Present subjunctiveTranslations
Je veux qu'il essaie ce nouveau dispositif.(you need to try this new device)
J'aimerais qu'il aille faire sa carte d'identité.(I would like him to go do his ID card)
Il est possible qu'il finisse à 14h(he may finish at 2pm)

Past subjunctive 

The past subjunctive (French: le subjonctif passé) expresses an uncertain action, supposedly realized at the moment when we express ourselves.

It is a compound and is formed with the auxiliary avoir or être conjuguated in the present subjunctive + the past participle

Examples: 

Past subjunctiveTranslations
Je pense qu'il ait été courageux.(I think that he was courageous)
Nous ne croyons pas qu'ils soient partis à la plage sans nous(we don't think that they went to the beach without us)
C'est important de voir que tu aies fait ce projet(It is important that you made this project)

Imperfect subjunctive

The imperfect subjunctive (French: le subjoncif imparfait) is especially used in literature. It is a simple tense that expresses an uncertain action, not realized at the moment when the speaker spoke.

It has its own endings:

  • -asse, -asses, -ât, -assions, -assiez, - assent for 1st group verbs
  • -isse, -isses, -ît, -issions, -issiez, -issent for 2nd group verbs and some 3rd group verbs
  • -usse, -usses, -ût ,-ussions, -ussiez, ussent for some 3rd group verbs

Examples

 ExamplesTranslation
1st group verbil fallait que nous aimassions ce nouveau chat(we had to love this new cat)
2nd group verbil était important que vous choisissiez cette matière(you had to choose this subject)
3rd group verb

je voyais qu'ils prissent le jus de mangue

nous croyons qu'elle couût toute la journée

(I saw that they took the mango juice)

(we believed that she ran all day long)

Pluperfect subjunctive

The pluperfect subjunctive (French: le subjonctif plus-que-parfait) is used in literature. It expresses an uncertain action, supposedly realized at the moment when the speaker spoke.

It is a compound and is formed with the auxiliary avoir or être conjugated in the imperfect subjunctive + the past participle. 

Examples: 

Pluperfect subjunctiveTranslations
Je croyais que nous eussions vu cette lumière au loin(I thought that we saw this light from far)
Vous ne pensiez pas qu'il fût venu à votre barbecue(you didn't think that he came to your barbecue)
Tu imaginais que nous fussions partis en Australie(you imagined that we went to Australia)

The imperative

The imperative is a mood used to express an order, an advice, a prayer or a recommendation to be realized in the near or distant future.

The imperative is conjuguated in only 3 persons: 2nd singular pronoun, 1st and 2nd plural pronouns.

It has 2 tenses: the present imperative and the past imperative. 

Present imperative

The present imperative (French: l'impératif présent) is used to state an order or prohibition

Its conjugation is very close to conjugated forms of the present tense but there is no "s" at the end of 2nd singular pronoun for the 1st group verbs.

Examples: 

Present imperativeTranslations
Mange ta glace !(eat your ice cream !)
Préparez cette table !(prepare this table !)
Faisons une surprise à maman !(let's make a surprise for mom !)

Past imperative 

The past imperative (French: l'impératif passé) is not really used but it allows to express the anteriority of an ordered action compared to an action which is not yet realized

It is a compound time and is formed with the auxiliary avoir or être conjugated in the present imperative + the past participle.

Examples: 

Past imperativeTranslations
Ayez fait vos devoirs avant mon retour !(do your homework before I return !)
Soyons partis à la plage avant ce soir !(let's be gone before tonight !)
Sois venu me voir avant que je ferme !(be here before I close !)

​The impersonal moods

The infinitive

The infinitive (French: l'infinitif) is the form of the verbs that has no mark of person, number, or tense. You recognize the infinitive at its endings:

  • -er
  • -ir
  • -oir
  • -re

The participle

The participle (French: le participe) indicated how an action is performed in relation to another.

It exists in a simple form: the present participle and a compound form: the past participle

Present participle

The present participle (French: le participe présent) is used as an invariable adverb unless it is used as an adjective, then it agrees in gender and number with the subject. 

Examples:

Present participleTranslations
Ce jeune homme bienveillant.(this young benevolent man)
Elle allait à l'école tout en chantant.(she was going to school singing)
Cette fille charmante m'a parlé de son père. 

(This lovely girl talked to me about his father)

Past participle

The past participle (French: le participe passé) is used with the auxiliary être or avoir in the conjugation of the compound times, most often to express a past action

The basic ending is the masculine singular but with the auxiliary être it can have 4 possible endings. 

endings1st group verbs2nd group verbs
masculine singular-i
masculine plural -és-is
feminine singular-ée-ie
feminine plural -ées-ies

The 3rd group verbs have three different endings for the past participle

Endings 1st2nd3rd
masculine singular-s--us
masculine plural-s-s-us
feminine singular-se-e-ute
feminine plural-ses-es-utes

Examples:

  • J'ai pris un médicament à base de menthe. (I took a mint-based medication)
  • Nous avons nettoyé la voiture de papa. (we cleaned dad's car)
  • Ils sont partis à Londres pour les vacances. (they went to London for the holidays)

The gerund

The gerund (French: le gérondif) is used as an adverb and has 2 tenses: the present and past gerund. 

Present gerund

The present gerund (French: le gérondif présent) is invariable. It indicates a simultaneity between two actions whose subject are the same. 

It is often introduced by the preposition "en". 

Examples: 

Present gerundTranslations
Tu parles en t'énervant.(you speak while getting angry)
Tes parents se disputent en mangeant(your parents are fighting while eating)
Nous marchons en parlant.

(we are walking while talking)

Past gerund

The past gerund (French: le gérondif passé) expresses anteriority. It is a compound time, therefore you use the present participle of the auxiliaries être or avoir + the past participle. 

Examples: 

Past gerundTranslations
Étant arrivés, nous avons préparé le repas avant qu'ils ne viennent(by being here, we prepared the lunch before they arrive)
Ayant vendu notre voiture, nous ne pourrons pas venir.(by selling our car, we cannot come)
Ayant fait une belle tarte, je crois que tu vas aimer(by making a good pie, i think you are going to like it)

enlightenedClick in the following to learn the conjugation of the auxiliaries avoir and être. 

  

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Next lessons

1 Indicative in French Get an overview of the indicative mood in French and learn the topic online
2 Subjunctive in French (le Subjonctif) Get an overview of the subjunctive in French and study the topic online
3 Conditional in French (le conditionnel) Get an overview of the conditional tense in French and study the topic online
4 Imperative in French The formation, use, examples of imperative mood in French with free grammar and exercises.
5 Infinitive in French Get an overview about the infinitive in French and study the topic online.
6 Gerund in French Formation , use , examples of gerund in French with free exercises.
7 Present participle in French Formation, use and examples of the present participle in French with free exercises.
8 Past participle in French Formation , use , examples of the past participle in French with free exercises.