PolyTripper - French Verb Tenses
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French Verb Tenses


Describes actions that are happening now. Je mange une pomme. I am eating an apple.

Expresses actions that take place regularly, in a habitual way, even if they are not occuring in the present. Tous les dimanches il achète des fruits au supermarché. Every Sunday he buys fruit at the supermarket.

Describes events that will take place in the near future. Cet été je pars en Allemagne. I will travel to Germany this summer.

Used when asking questions, especially when requesting someone's permission or opinion. Buvez-vous du café ou du thé ? Do you drink coffee or tea?

Passé composé

The passé composé is the most used tense to describe single actions that happened in the past. Find a detailed explanation about this tense at this link.

Je suis allé à Paris l'année dernière. I went to Paris last year.

Il a reçu un nouveau vélo pour son anniversaire. He got a new bike for his birthday.

Ma soeur s'est cassé la jambe la semaine dernière. My sister broke her leg last week.

Après avoir terminé mes études, j'ai trouvé un emploi. After I had finished my studies, I got a job.


Whereas the passé composé is used to describe single actions, the imparfait describes repeated actions or habitual situations that happened in the past. In English these are the sentences where you can use used to or would.

Je promenais mon chien. I was walking my dog. / I used to walk my dog.

Chaque année, j'allais en Espagne. Each year I would go to Spain.

Au lycée, je prenais des cours de danse. In high school, I took (used to take) dance lessons.

Quand il était jeune, il aimait beaucoup le chocolat. When he was young he really liked chocolate.

It is also used to describe several actions happening at the same time. Pendant qu'elle cuisinait, il nettoyait le salon. While she was cooking, he cleaned the living room. Pendant qu'il était président, les impôts étaient beaucoup plus élevés. While he was president, taxes were a lot higher.

It is also used to describe people. Il avait les yeux marrons et était vraiment gentil. He had brown eyes and was really nice.


Describes actions that haven't happened yet, but could happen, depending on the conditions.

J'irais en France si j'avais assez d'argent. I would go to France if I had enough money.

Il danserait s'il n'était pas si timide. He would dance if he weren't so shy.

Je t'appellerais si j'avais le temps. I would call you if I had time.

It is also with the verb devoir used to tell someone that they should do or not do something. Tu devrais prendre ton petit déjeuner avant d'aller à l'école. You should eat breakfast before going to school.

It is also used with polite questions, where in English you would use could. Pourriez-vous me donner un verre d'eau s'il vous plaît. Could you please give me a glass of water.


The simple future tense is used to describe actions that have not happened yet. In English you use will in these sentences.

Demain je t'écrirai une lettre. Tomorrow I will write you a letter.

L'année prochaine, nous irons à Bruxelles. Next year we will go to Brussels.

If actions are going to happen in the very near future, it's more common to use the near future tense.

Near future tense:

Je vais promener mon chien ce soir. I'm going to walk my dog tonight.

Simple future tense:

Demain, je promènerai mon chien. Tomorrow I will walk my dog.


The subjunctive is used to express opinions, feelings, needs or give orders. There are certain French expressions that always use the subjunctive. Examples are il est important que, avoir peur que, vouloir que, être content que, être triste que. We're not going to give you the full list here, but just some examples, to give you a better feeling of when you might need to use the subjunctive.

Il est important que tu ailles à l'école. It is important that you go to school.

J'ai peur qu'ils ne viennent pas à notre mariage. I'm afraid that they aren't going to come to our wedding.

Ils veulent que nous les aidions à déménager. They want us to help them move.

Je suis content que tu aimes ma tarte. I'm glad that you like my pie.

Elle est triste que son chien soit malade. She's sad that her dog is sick.


Used to tell someone to do something. The commands can be both orders (do this!) or the expression of a wish (let's do this!). Note that in French you put an extra space in front of the exclamation point (and the question mark).

Aide-nous ! Help us!

Ne me regarde pas ! Don't look at me!

Fais tes devoirs ! Do your homework!

Allons à la plage ! Let's go to the beach!

Participe présent

The participe présent (parlant, nageant, vivant) can be translated in English with the -ing form (speaking, swimming, living). Be careful though! There are many cases where in English you can use the -ing form, but in French you can't use the participe présent. Examples: I am swimming can not be translated as je suis nageant. Instead you should use the present tense je nage. The participe présent is not a very commonly used tense, but we'll give you some examples of when it's possible to use it.

Vous ne devriez pas boire en conduisant. You shouldn't drink while driving.

Elle prenait un bain de soleil en lisant un livre. She was sunbathing while reading a book.

En soulevant beaucoup de poids, elle est devenue vraiment forte. By lifting a lot of weights, she became really strong.

Participe passé

The participe passé is used in combination with the auxiliary verbs avoir or être to form the passé composé..

Hier, j'ai mangé beaucoup de crêpes. Yesterday I ate a lot of pancakes.

Ils sont allés à la plage la semaine dernière. They went to the beach last week.

Nous avons passé un merveilleux moment ! We've had a wonderful time!

Passé simple

The passé simple is a tense that is mainly used in books, instead of the passé composé. Since it is not commonly used in spoken language, it is not really necessary to study this tense. That is why I've chosen to not include it in these verb pages. When you start reading books, you will very soon learn to recognize the passé simple and you shouldn't have any trouble understanding this tense.

Passé simple: Hier, elle rencontra Alexandre au parc. Yesterday she met Alexandre at the park.

Passé composé: Hier, elle a rencontré Alexandre au parc. Yesterday she met Alexandre at the park.