The Basics of French Verb Forms
Just like in English, the French verb provides the action in a sentence. Verbs (les verbes) are the core element of a sentence because they provide essential information. They take many different forms to do so. They indicate:
What action is being performed, through the choice of the infinitive
Who performs it, through the choice of the subject
When it is performed, through the choice of the tense
French infinitive verb forms
The infinitive is like the name of the verb. It also tells you the type of a verb: regular verbs are grouped into three types, according to the ending of their infinitive. They are:
Verbs ending in -er, like parler (to talk)
Verbs ending in -ir, like finir (to finish)
Verbs ending in -re, like vendre (to sell)
And then there are the irregular verbs, like avoir (to have), aller (to go), faire (to do, to make), and être (to be), to name only a few. These verbs follow different patterns when they’re conjugated (changed to reflect the subject and tense).
French subject-verb agreement
To start putting a verb into action (to conjugate it) you need a subject (who or what is doing the action). In French, you always say who the subject is, except in commands (English is the same way).
Each subject corresponds to a matching form of the verb. These differences in the forms happen at the end of the verb itself. For example, you say tu chantes (you [singular informal] sing) but nous chantons (we sing), changing the form of the verb on the ending, according to the subject.
French verb tenses
An action can be expressed in a variety of tenses, such as the past tense, future tense, conditional tense, and many more. Here are some examples of different tenses for parler (to speak):
Present: nous parlons (we speak/are speaking)
Imperfect: nous parlions (we used to speak)
Future: nous parlerons (we will speak)
Tenses come in two types: simple tenses and compound tenses.
A simple tense is a one-word verb form, like vous parlez (you speak).
A compound tense involves two words, like tu as parlé (you spoke).
Some tenses express a mood, like the conditional and the subjunctive. But to simplify, you can just look at those so-called moods as other tenses.