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How to Conjugate a Few Moody French Regular -er Verbs

With so many French verbs being -er verbs, you can imagine that they don’t all follow the pattern with the same level of obedience. The good news is that they all mostly follow the conjugation pattern of a regular -er verb: They drop the -er of the infinitive to get the stem, and they have the same present tense endings.

That’s why these moody verbs are still considered regular. They only misbehave within the stem, before the ending.

French verbs that end in –cer

In French, c has two sounds: one is soft, as in the English word soft, and the other is hard, as in the English word cod. The French c follows these pronunciation rules:

  • c is soft when it precedes -e or –i.

  • c is hard when it precedes -a, -o, or -u.

Verbs that end in -cer have the soft sound in the infinitive and want to maintain it throughout their present tense conjugation. As long as the ending begins with -e or -i, everything’s good, because most endings in the present are c + e, a soft sound.

For example, some present tense forms for the verb prononcer (to pronounce) are je prononce, tu pronounces, il/elle/on prononce, vous prononcez, and ils/elles prononcent.

The problem arises when the -ons ending of the nous form is added after the stem, because c + o produces a hard sound. To return to the soft sound of the infinitive, you have to modify the c itself by putting a cedilla on it, like this: ç. You wind up with nous prononçons.

Other verbs that follow this pattern include commencer (to begin), annoncer (to announce), and remplacer (to replace).

French verbs that end in –ger

In French, the letter g can have two sounds: a soft j or zh sound, as in the English word leisure, and a hard sound, as in the English word guitar. The French g follows these pronunciation rules:

  • g is soft when it precedes -e or –i.

  • g is hard when it precedes -a, -o, or –u.

Verbs that end in -ger have a soft sound in the infinitive and want to maintain it throughout their conjugation. As long as the ending begins with -e or -i, you’re good because most endings in the present are g + e, a soft sound.

For example, some present tense forms for the verb manger (to eat) are je mange, tu manges, il/elle/on mange, vouz mangez, and ils/elles mangent.

The problem arises when the -ons ending of the nous form is added after the stem, because g + o produces a hard sound! To return to the soft sound, you add an -e before the -ons, because the soft sound is so happy with the -e endings. The tweaked form is nous mangeons. Note: the added -e is not pronounced.

Other verbs that follow this pattern include changer (to change), voyager (to travel), nager (to swim), and ranger (to tidy up).

French verbs that end in –yer

Verbs that end in -yer — like payer (to pay) — alternate between -y + ending and -i + ending. These verbs

  • Maintain the -y of the infinitive in front of the nous and vous endings: for example, nous payons (we pay) and vous payez (you pay).

  • Replace the -y of the infinitive with -i in front of all the other endings: for example, je paie (I pay), tu paies (you [singular] pay), il/elle/on paie (he/she/one pays), and ils/elles paient (they pay).

Other verbs that follow this pattern include s’ennuyer (to be bored), envoyer (to send), and nettoyer (to clean).

French verbs that double their final consonant

Very few verbs follow the appeler (to call) and jeter (to throw away) pattern of conjugation. On both of them, the last consonant, the -l and the -t, respectively, get doubled for all forms of the conjugation, except for the vous and nous forms.

j’appelle nous appelons
tu appelles vous appelez
il/elle/on appelle ils/elles appellent
je jette nous jetons
tu jettes vous jetez
il/elle/on jette ils/elles jettent

Other verbs that follow this pattern include épeler (to spell out), étinceler (to sparkle), renouveler (to renew), and feuilleter (to leaf through a book).

Here are some examples.

Il feuillette toujours un livre avant de l’acheter. (He always leafs through a book before buying it.)
Épelez votre nom, s’il vous plait. (Spell out your name, please.)

French verbs that end in e/é + consonant + –er

Verbs that end in e/é + consonant + -er have stems that alternate between e/é and è. These verbs

  • Maintain the e/é before the nous and vous endings: for example, nous achetons (we buy).

  • Substitute the e/é for an è before all other endings: for example, ils achètent (they buy).

The following table gives you the complete conjugation of acheter (to buy).

j’achète nous achetons
tu achètes vous achetez
il/elle achète ils/elles achètent

Other verbs in this category include amener (to bring), enlever (to take off), geler (to freeze), se lever (to get up), se promener (to take a stroll), espérer (to hope), posséder (to own), préférer (to prefer), répéter (to repeat), and suggérer (to suggest).

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