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Your Guide to the Essential French Irregular Verbs

You probably already know about regular verbs and their tidy, pattern-following conjugations when it comes to learning French. However, there are also a large number of French irregular verbs you’ll come across too – that is, verbs that do not follow a regular pattern of conjugation which are  important to know how to use in speaking and writing. While it can be frustrating to have to memorize so many individual verbs, irregular verbs are some of the most high-frequency words that you’ll encounter in French.

Your Guide to the Essential French Irregular Verbs

Here are some of the most common irregular verbs in French, and how to use them in a sentence. And never fear – even though these verbs are irregular, there is still some predictability in their conjugations. Most importantly, these verbs will help you take your French to the top.

Your Guide to the Essential French Irregular Verbs

The Most Frequent Irregular Verbs: Être, avoir, faire, aller

That’s right – être, avoir, faire and aller are the four most common irregular verbs in French. In fact, they’re some of the most common words in the entire French language! If there are any irregular verbs that are absolutely need-to-know, it’s these four.

être – to be

Je suis – I am

Tu es – You are

Il/Elle est – He/she is

Nous sommes – We are

Vous êtes  – You are (formal, plural)

Ils/Elles sont  – They are

Je suis tellement fatiguée aujourd’hui. – I am so tired today.

Thomas? Non, il n’est pas là. – Thomas? No, he’s not here.

Les filles de Maurice sont si mignonnes! – Maurice’s daughters are so cute!

avoir – to have

J’ai – I have

Tu as – You have

Il/Elle a – He/she has

Nous avons – We have

Vous avez – You have (formal, plural)

Ils/Elles ont – They have

Tu as un crayon? – Do you have a pencil?

Ça a l’air amusant, mais nous – That seems fun, but we

n’avons pas de temps ce week-end. – don’t have any time this weekend.

Il a une grande maison à la Côte d’Azur. – He has a huge house on the Cote d’Azur.

Remember that avoir is also used when talking about a person’s age, or in expressions where we would normally say to be in English, like avoir faim (to be hungry), avoir peur (to be scared), and avoir besoin de (to need).

faire – to do/to make

Je fais – I do/make

Tu fais – You do/make

Il/Elle fait – He/she does/makes

Nous faisons – We do/make

Vous faites – You do/make (formal, plural)

Ils/Elles font – They do/make

Elle fait un gâteau pour l’anniversaire – She’s making a cake for her boyfriend’s birthday.

de son petit-ami.

Qu’est-ce que vous faites ce soir? – What are you doing this evening?

aller – to go

Je vais – I go

Tu vas – You go

Il/Elle va – He/she goes

Nous allons – We go

Vous allez – You go (formal, plural)

Ils/Elles vont – They go

D’habitude nous allons à la plage en août. – Normally we go to the beach in August.

Ils vont sortir vendredi soir. – They’re going to go out on Friday night.

Remember that aller can also be used to talk about future events when it directly precedes an infinitive (a non-conjugated verb).

Your Guide to the Essential French Irregular Verbs

The Modal Verbs vouloir, pouvoir, devoir

After the four verbs above, modal verbs are probably the next most important and frequently used group of irregular verbs in French. They are most often used in conjunction with another verb, as they modify the mood of the unconjugated verb.

Vouloir – to want

Je veux – I want

Tu veux – You want

Il/Elle veut – He/she wants

Nous voulons – We want

Vous voulez – You want (formal, plural)

Ils/Elles veulent – They want

Pouvoir – to be able

Je peux – I can

Tu peux – You can

Il/Elle peut – He/she can

Nous pouvons – We can

Vous pouvez – You can (formal, plural)

Ils/Elles peuvent – They can

Je veux voir un film demain, – I want to see a movie tomorrow, can you

peux-tu m’accompagner? – come with me?

Il veut manger une pizza, mais. – He wants to eat a pizza, but he can’t

il ne peut pas à cause de son régime. – because of his diet.

Devoir – to have to

Je dois – I have to

Tu dois – You have to

Il/Elle doit – He/She has to

Nous devons – We have to

Vous devez – You have to (formal, plural)

Ils/Elles doivent – They have to

Nous ne pouvons pas sortir, nous – We can’t go out, we have to do

devons faire les devoirs. – have to do homework.

Your Guide to the Essential French Irregular Verbs

Irregular -RE Verbs

Yes, that’s right – even though we normally think of -RE verbs as regular, there are actually many more -RE verbs that are irregular. Let’s start with two of the most frequent irregular -RE verbs, prendre and apprendre. They’re nearly regular, but for a slight stem change in the plural conjugations.

Prendre – to take

Je prends – I take

Tu prends – You take

Il/Elle prend – He/she takes

Nous prenons – We take

Vous prenez – You take (formal, plural)

Ils/Elles prennent – They take

Prendre can also mean to take in, as in food or drink. You’ll often hear it in restaurant or café settings, or at the market.

Je prends un kilo de pommes, s’il vous plaît. – I’ll take a kilo of apples, please.

Nous prenons la voiture pour partir – We’re taking the car to Germany.

Apprendre – to learn

J’apprends – I learn

Tu apprends – You learn

Il/Elle apprend – He/she learns

Nous apprenons – We learn

Vous apprenez – You learn (formal, plural)

Ils/Elles apprennent – They learn

Ils apprennent trois langues à l’école. – They’re learning three languages at school.

There are also other irregular -RE verbs that do not follow the pattern of prendre/apprendre, and have their own original conjugations instead, like dire, lire, écrire and rire. Because we’re focusing here on high-frequency irregular verbs, we can save these for another day – but you should be aware that they exist!

Irregular -IR verbs

Of course, if there are irregular -RE verbs, that must mean there are irregular -IR verbs – and it’s true! The verbs tenir and venir are irregular, but similar – in other words, if you know one, you know the other. The derivatives of tenir and venir, like retenir, souvenir, revenir and devenir, will also be conjugated the same way. Easy!

tenir – to keep, to hold

Je tiens – I keep

Tu tiens – You keep

Il/Elle tient – He/she keeps

Nous tenons – We keep

Vous tenez – You keep (formal, plural)

Ils/Elles tiennent – They keep

Elle tient son petit chaton très cher. – She holds her little kitten very near and dear.

venir – to come

Je viens – I come

Tu viens – You come

Il/Elle vient – He/she comes

Nous venons – We come

Vous venez – You come (formal, plural)

Ils/Elles viennent – They come

Est-ce que tous nos cousins viennen pour Noël? – Are all the cousins coming for Christmas?

Once you know the basics of French, irregular verbs shouldn’t be too surprising. While it may seem overwhelming to remember all of these irregular conjugations on top of the ones you’e already learned, the old adage is true: practice makes perfect. Speaking of practice, if you’re not on LingQ yet, make sure to check it out! There is a ton of French content which you can practice day in and day out, including verb-related material. New content is added daily. Happy LingQing!

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Megan is currently teaching English in Lyon, France and working on her graduate degree in French and Francophone Studies.


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