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The Basics of Composing French Sentences

After you know the parts of speech in French, you can put them together to compose a sentence. The following information explains how to start with a verb and then add embellishment.

Compose French sentences around a conjugated verb

To function properly in a sentence, a verb needs to be conjugated, which means:

  • Matching the subject in person (first, second, or third) and number (plural or singular)

  • Expressing when the action takes place through the use of a tense (now, in the past, in the future, and so on)

To do either one of those two operations, you need to know the pattern of conjugation for your verb. It is usually made up of a stem and an ending. Here’s an example: To get the present tense pattern of a regular verb with an -er infinitive, drop the -er and replace it with the following endings that correspond to the subjects:

  • For je, add -e to the stem.

  • For tu, add -es to the stem.

  • For il/elle/on, add -e to the stem.

  • For nous, add -ons to the stem.

  • For vous, add -ez to the stem.

  • For ils/elles, add -ent to the stem.

Here they are for the verb danser (to dance).

je danse nous dansons
tu danses vous dansez
il/elle/on danse ils/elles dansent

All regular -er verbs follow this pattern for the present tense, so if you memorize it, you’ve mastered about 80 percent of French present tense conjugation, because -er verbs count for over 80 percent of French verbs. For regular -ir and -re verbs, the endings to use for the present tense are different but their stem is formed the same way, by dropping the infinitive endings -ir and -re.

Other tenses, like the present perfect, the imperfect, and the future, use different stems and endings but also follow conjugation patterns.

Add details to flesh out your French sentences

You can develop your sentences by adding as much information as you want. Saying les enfants chantent (the kids sing) is a good start on conveying information, but it’s lacking in detail, don’t you think? What are they singing? Where? And when exactly do they sing?

  • To say what they sing, use a direct object like une chanson de Noël (a Christmas carol) and place it after the verb, like this: Les enfants chantent une chanson de Noël. (The kids sing a Christmas carol.)

  • To say where they sing, use a prepositional phrase like à l’école (at school), or an adverb like ici (here): Les enfants chantent une chanson de Noël à l’école. (The kids sing a Christmas carol at school.)

  • To say when they sing, use a prepositional phrase like après le goûter (after the afternoon snack), or an adverb like maintenant (now), like this: Les enfants chantent une chanson de Noël à l’école, après le goûter. (The kids sing a Christmas carol at school after the afternoon snack.)

You can also beef up the nouns with adjectives, but make sure they match the nouns they describe in gender and number. For example: Les petits enfants chantent une jolie chanson de Noël à l’école, après le bon goûter. (The little kids sing a pretty Christmas carol at school after the good afternoon snack.)

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