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Present tense

Indicative — formation

There are three basic conjugations in the present tense, one for verbs whose infinitives end in -er (e.g., regarder, travailler), one for those ending in -re (e.g., répondre, entendre), and one for those ending in -ir (e.g., finir, choisir). In each case the stem is formed by dropping off the infinitive ending. The present tense endings for the three conjugations are similar, but their differences are worth noting.

1. verbs like aimer (stem = aim-)

tu aimes
il aime
nous aimons
vous aimez
elles aiment

2. verbs like entendre (stem = entend-)

tu entends
il entend
nous entendons
vous entendez
elles entendent

3. verbs like choisir (stem = chois-)

je choisis
tu choisis
il choisit
nous choisissons
vous choisissez
elles choisissent

4. verbs like mentir (stem = men-)

je mens
tu mens
il ment
nous mentons
vous mentez
elles mentent

A great many verbs — especially common verbs, like avoir, être, aller, vouloir, pouvoir, and faire are irregular in the present tense.

Irregular Verbs

Certain irregularities follow set patterns:

1. In verbs ending with “–cer” or “–ger“, the ending will change to “–çons” and “–geons” in the “nous” form: nous commençons, nous mangeons.

2. In verbs ending with “e + consonant + er“, the “e” will become “è” in the first and third persons, and in the second person singular: lever –> je lève; mener –> je mène.

3. In verbs ending with “–eler” and “–eter“, the “l” or “t” will be doubled before a silent ending: appeler –> j’appelle, jeter –> ils jettent.

4. In verbs ending with é + consonant + er, the acute accent will become grave (è) before a silent ending: répéter –> elle répète, préférer –> je préfère.

5. In verbs ending with “–yer“, the “y” will change to “i” before a silent ending: payer –> je paie, essuyer –> ils essuient.

6. Other common irregular verbs, whose forms need to be memorized, include the following (listed with stems for “je” and “vous“):

boire (je bois, vous buvez), courir (je cours, vous courez), dire (je dis, vous dites, nous disons), falloir (il faut), lire (je lis, vous lisez), mourir (je meurs, vous mourez), plaire (je plais, vous plaisez), prendre (je prends, vous prenez), recevoir (je reçois, vous recevez), rire (je ris, vous riez), savoir (je sais, vous savez).

Present reflexive

Many verbs may be conjugated with reflexive or reciprocal pronouns. In this case, the pronoun (me, te, se, nous, or vous) changes to reflect the subject of the verb (see also Reflexive pronouns, Imperative reflexives, Passive voice).

Je me demande. (I ask myself, I wonder.)
Tu te dis (You tell yourself…)
Il se regarde dans la glace. (He looks at himself in the mirror.)
Nous nous parlons. (We are speaking to one another.)
Vous vous ennuyez. (You are bored.)
Elles se taisent.(They are quiet.)

Present tense indicative — use

As its name indicates, the present tense is used to describe actions taking place in the present. French has only one present tense, while English can express present actions four different ways. Compare:

I work
I am working
I do work
I have been working

In French these are all expressed by: je travaille.

Three special structures can be used to emphasize or skew the time frame of the present:

1. To emphasize the present and to express being “in the midst” of an activity, use the expression, “être en train de+ infinitive”:

Je suis en train de travailler. (I am in the middle of working.)

2. To use the present tense to indicate the recent past, use “venir de + infinitive”:

Nous venons de finir notre déjeuner. (We just finished our lunch.)
Elle vient d’arriver. (She just arrived.)

The recent past construction may also be used in the imperfect to express a pluperfect meaning.

3. To use the present tense to refer to the near future (futur proche), use “aller LINK + infinitive”:

Elle va repartir demain matin (She is going to leave again tomorrow morning.)
Ce matin, nous allons faire le ménage. (This morning we are going to clean up the house.)

In addition, French uses the present tense in certain phrases to express actions which began in the past but which are ongoing. These expressions include “depuis“, “il y a… que“, “voici… que“, “voilà… que“, “ça fait… que“, and the interrogatives, “depuis quand…” and “depuis combien de temps…“:

Je suis à Paris depuis trois semaines. (I have been in Paris for three weeks.)
Ça fait des années qu’il raconte cette histoire! (He has been telling that story for years!)
Depuis quand êtes-vous au Québec? (How long have you been in Quebec?)

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