Did you know that in French, there are 17 different tenses, but out of these 17 tenses, only 8 are commonly used by native French speakers?
You don’t need to know all the tenses and all the conjugations in French by heart. You should focus on the essential French tenses and conjugations to make yourself understood.
Today, I will help you:
- master the main tenses in French, those that are necessary,
- know the important French conjugations
- make yourself understood by the French even if you make conjugation mistakes
All tenses in French:
As I told you, there are 17 tenses in French:
Le présent de l’indicatif: which indicates a current action or general truth. Ex: Je parle, tu parles, il parle...
L’imparfait: which indicates a habitual action or past description. Ex: Je parlais, tu parlais...
Le futur simple: which indicates a future action. Ex: Je parlerai, tu parleras...
Le passé simple: Indicates a completed past action (literary). Ex: Je parlai, tu parlas...
Le conditionnel présent: Indicates a hypothesis or politeness. Ex: Je parlerais, tu parlerais...
Le subjonctif présent: Indicates a wish, emotion, uncertainty. Ex: Que je parle, que tu parles...
Le subjonctif imparfait: Indicates a wish or hypothesis (literary). Ex: Que je parlasse, que tu parlasses...
L’impératif présent: Indicates an order or advice. Ex: Speak!
Le passé composé: Refers to a specific or significant past action. Ex: I spoke, you spoke...
Le plus-que-parfait: Refers to an action that took place before another past action. Ex: I had spoken, you had spoken...
Le futur antérieur: Refers to a future action that will have been completed before another. Ex: I will have spoken, you will have spoken...
Le passé antérieur: Refers to a past action that took place before another (literary). Ex: I had spoken, you had spoken...
Le conditionnel passé (1re forme): Refers to a hypothetical past action. Ex: I would have spoken, you would have spoken...
Le conditionnel passé (2e forme): Refers to a hypothetical past action (more literary). Ex: I would have spoken, you would have spoken...
Le subjonctif passé: Refers to an uncertain action that has been completed. Ex: That I spoke, that you spoke...
Le subjonctif plus-que-parfait: Refers to an uncertain action that took place before another. Ex: That I had spoken, that you had spoken...
Le futur proche: Refers to an action that will happen very soon. Ex: I am going to speak, you are going to speak, he is going to speak...
But, as I told you, you should focus on mastering 8 out of these 17 tenses, here are the tenses in French most used by native French speakers:
- Le présent de l'indicatif
- Le passé composé
- L’imparfait de l'indicatif
- Le futur simple
- Le futur proche
- Le conditionnel présent
- Le subjonctif présent
How to master French conjugation?
SPOILER: French conjugation is very difficult. There are many different conjugations, which sometimes resemble each other and there are many exceptions. It's very hard to master French conjugation perfectly.
I won't leave you hanging, I'll share with you my method to succeed in mastering French conjugation.
Firstly, I'm not necessarily in favor of rote learning of French conjugation. It's tedious and not very practical.
To master French conjugation, one needs to listen, understand, reproduce, and practice.
For instance, in my program la Frenchothèque whose aim is to provide a total immersion in the French language for a complete mastery of grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, all guided by a certified teacher, I offer a strategic method to master the main French tenses.
And I will exclusively reveal this method to you!
- The first step is to discover: You explore an authentic French document: video, article, radio show excerpt, report, etc. And within this authentic document, the French tense of interest will be used.
- The second step is to understand: Through targeted questions, you will move from a broad to a detailed understanding of the authentic document in question. You'll grasp the context of the document, as well as the usage of the particular French tense.
- The third step is to deepen: Inductively determine the grammar rule. Instead of memorizing a structure by heart, which you might forget after a few days, you will retain the logic behind this grammatical rule.
- The fourth step is to assimilate: Gradually assimilate at your own pace and with guided help the new elements you've just discovered. Through simple exercises, you begin to gain confidence and experiment with your new knowledge.
- The fifth step is to practice: Through targeted conversation questions, you will have to reuse the grammatical point seen through personal examples. By using the French tense in your real, everyday life, you will memorize and master it.
- The sixth step is to reapply: Once you are more comfortable with this French tense, you are ready to use them in context. You will reuse what you learned during the lesson in a practical way that mirrors a real-life situation. You record yourself speaking in French using the requested French tense; it's an oral expression that will be corrected by me. I will give you personalized feedback to guide you on what needs improvement and confirm that you master this French tense.
This method is very effective because it allows you to understand the logic of using a French tense, to have enough theory to know how to use this French tense yourself. Moreover, practicing this tense in a concrete context helps you better assimilate it.
And getting feedback from a native and certified teacher on your French is a HUGE plus for mastering tenses and conjugations in French.
French Conjugation Tip
In addition to all this, I'm going to give you an important tip to help you be understood by native French speakers, even if you haven't fully mastered French conjugation.
For a French person to understand you, they need the context and form of what you're saying. For example, if you want to recount what you did yesterday in French, you'll need the imparfait and passé composé. And even if you don't master these two tenses, you can still make yourself understood using time markers.
A time marker is a small word in French that helps place an action in time, like:
- last week
- 10 years ago
- next weekend
- in 5 minutes
For example, just by saying: “Yesterday, I eat at the restaurant” a French person will understand you.
Okay, there's a grammatical mistake in French, but you've made yourself understood. We understand what you mean, and that's already great!
We know from “yesterday” when it happened, that you're talking about a past event. Thanks to the verb “eat”, we know the action. So, any French person will understand what you want to say even if the conjugation here is not mastered.
There's a saying I really like: “Mieux vaut fait que parfait” = “Better done than perfect”.
It's better to take action rather than not taking it or waiting too long for perfection. Perfection is often an unrealistic goal and incompatible with language learning.
Do, act, speak, even if it's not perfect.