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