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Choosing French Verb Tenses

Part of the French All-in-One For Dummies Cheat Sheet

To use the correct form of a French verb, you have to use the right tense. The indicative mood, which deals with objectivity — things really happening — includes many time aspects called tenses. A tense defines the time frame in which the action of the verb takes place: past, present, or future.

The following French verb tenses chart explains when to use each tense. It shows how compound tenses build off simpler ones and conjugates two example verbs for each tense: chanter (to sing) and se laver (to wash oneself).

Time Frame French Tense How to Build from Other Tenses Examples
What happens, is happening, or does happen Present indicative/présent de l’indicatif je chante
je me lave
What just happened Near past/passé récent
Present venir + de + infinitive je viens de chanter
je viens de me laver
What is going to happen Near future/futur proche Present aller + infinitive je vais chanter
je vais me laver
What [has] happened precisely and completely Passé composé Present avoir/être + past participle j’ai chanté
je me suis lavé(e)
What was happening or used to happen or just was a certain way Imperfect/Imparfait je chantais
je me lavais
What had happened Pluperfect/plus-que-parfait
Imparfait avoir/être + past participle j’avais chanté
je m’étais lavé(e)
What will happen Simple future/futur simple je chanterai
je me laverai
What will have happened Future perfect/futur antérieur Simple future avoir/être + past participle j’aurai chanté
je me serai lavé(e)
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