How to get around -er verbs in French

How to get around -er verbs in French

by Anne-Lise Vassoille

Updated May 17, 2022

Let’s start with a small word of warning: Compared to English, it is generally harder to get your head around conjugating verbs in French, as it includes more verb types, forms and exceptions. Yet, alongside some essential grammar rules, this is also one of the first things you will need to study when you begin learning the language. Thankfully, there is some good news along the way, starting with the so-called -er verbs in French: The first verb group, which owes its name to the fact that it only includes verbs ending in -er in their infinitive form, contains nearly 90% of all verbs in French. It is also the simplest and the most regular group of verbs. In other words, they are the perfect introduction to French conjugation:

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How to conjugate regular -er verbs in the present tense?

In French as in English, the form of a verb may change according to the person who committed the action (the subject of the verb) and to the time when the action took place (the tense of the verb). Think of the various forms of the verb “to be” in English:

Person (singular)Present tensePast tense
First personI amI was
Second personYou areYou were

The same applies to French -er verbs, but following different patterns. In the present tense, the rules to follow are as easy as 1, 2, 3. In fact, it is exactly the number of steps you need to take to correctly conjugate them:

  1. Take the verb in the infinitive
  2. Remove the final -er (which gives you the stem or root of the verb)
  3. Add the ending according to the subject or person, as listed below
Subject pronounsEndingFrench Pronunciation
Je
Tu
Il/elle/on
NousVous
Ils/elles
-e
-es
-e

-ons
-ez
ent



nasal
oeh

Let’s see this in action with the verb “parler” (“to speak”):

EnglishFrenchFrench Pronunciation
I speak
You speak
He/she/one speaks
We spea
kYou speak
They speak
Je parle
Tu parles
Il/elle/on parle
Nous parlons
Vous parlez
Ils/elles parlent



nasal o
ay

As you may have guessed, the color system serves to represent the differences in pronunciation. In the infinitive form, the final “er” sounds like the accented vowel “é”, which is akin to the sound “ay”. For example, “parler” is pronounced “parl-ay”. When you remove the final “er”, you also remove the sound “ay”. In other words, in “je parle”, “parle” is pronounced “parl”. The pronunciation is the same for “tu parles”, “il/elle/on parle” and “ils/elles parlent”. In “nous parlons”, “on” is one of the four nasal sounds that are unique in French. You may already know it from common, easy words like “bonjour” (“hello”) or “garçon” (“boy”). Finally, the ending “ez” in “vous parlez” is pronounced in exactly the same way as the infinitive form “parler”.

Irregular -er verbs in French

So far, so good… But of course, there would be no fun if you didn’t get some irregular verbs here and there to spice things up. Let’s check them out.

Aller, one of the most common and irregular verbs in French

As is often the case with very common verbs, “aller” (“to go”) is one of the most irregular verbs in French, in particular (but not only!) in the present tense:

EnglishFrenchFrench Pronunciation
I go
You go
He/she/one goes
We go
You go
They go
Je vais 
Tu vas
Il/elle/on va 
Nous allons
Vous allez 
Ils/elles vont 
vay
va
va
al+nasal o
alay
v+nasal o

There is no two ways about it: You will need to learn the forms of “aller” in the present tense through repetition. Thankfully, the verb is so common you will get many opportunities to practise it. 

“Aller” is also a unique case among -er verbs. All the other irregular -er verbs follow the same general patterns we described before: you still need to remove the final -er of the infinitive and add the same endings depending on the subject. But these verbs also have a few specifics of their own. Let’s break them down.

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Get the right accent with verbs ending in -e_er and -é_er

These verbs are regrouped according to their ending, in -e_er and -é_er, with the underscore standing for a consonant. The form and pronunciation of these verbs is fully regular with the “nous” and “vous” subjects. However, for the other subjects, “je”, “tu”, “il/elle/on” and “ils/elles”, you will need an extra step in the standard process:

  1. Take the verb in the infinitive
  2. Remove the final -er (which gives you the stem or root of the verb)
  3. Replace the final “e” or “é” of the verb stem with “è”
  4. Add the usual ending according to the subject or person

In terms of pronunciation, if “é” sounds like “ay”, the “è” sound is closer to “bed”, “get” and “fresh”.

Let’s take the examples of “acheter” (“to buy”) and “préférer” (“to prefer”): 

“Acheter” (“buy”)Pronunciation“Préférer” (“prefer”)Pronunciation
J’achète
Tu achètes
Il/elle/on achète
Nous achetons
Vous achetez
Ils/elles achètent
ash-eh-t
ash-eh-t
ash-eh-t

asht+nasal o
ashtay
ash-eh-t
Je préfère
Tu préfères
Il/elle/on préfère
Nous préférons
Vous préférez
Ils/elles préfèrent
prayf-eh-r
prayf-eh-r
prayf-eh-r

prayfayr+nasal o
prayfayray
prayf-eh-r

Double Trouble with verbs ending in -eler and -eter

The principle is fairly similar to the previous case. Once again, these verbs remain regular with the “nous” and “vous” subjects. However, the final l or t is doubled with the other subjects, as you can see in the two examples below from “appeler” (“call”) and “jeter” (“throw”). The double consonant alters the pronunciation in exactly the same way as “è”.

“Appeler” (“call”)Pronunciation“Jeter” (“throw”)Pronunciation
J’appelle
Tu appelles
Il/elle/on appelle
Nous appelons
Vous appelez
Ils/elles appellent
ap-eh-l
ap-eh-l
ap-eh-l

ap-uh-l+nasal o
ap-uh-lay
ap-eh-l
Je jette
Tu jettes
Il/elle/on jette
Nous jetons
Vous jetez
Ils/elles jettent
j-eh-t
j-eh-t
j-eh-t

j-uh-t+nasal o
j-uh-tay
j-eh-t

From y to i in verbs ending in -yer 

By now, you may have gotten the drill: the forms with “nous” and “vous” are regular when they are not with “je”, “tu”, “il/elle/on” and “ils/elles”: For those subjects, the “y” is replaced by “i”. This exception in spelling doesn’t really affect pronunciation. It is also worth noting this change is optional for verbs ending in -ayer, but obligatory for verbs ending in -oyer and -uyer. 

Here are a few examples:

“Payer” (“pay”) Pronunciation
Je paie/je paye
Tu paies/tu payes
Il/elle/on paie /il/elle/on paye
Nous payons
Vous payez
Ils/elles paient /ils/elles payent
peh
peh
peh

peh-y+nasal o
pehyay
peh
“Nettoyer” (“clean”)Pronunciation
Je nettoie
Tu nettoies
Il/elle/on nettoie
Nous nettoyons
Vous nettoyez
Ils/elles nettoient
neh-twooah
neh-twooah
neh-twooah

neh-twooah-y+nasal o
neh-twooah-yay
neh-twooah
“Appuyer” (“Push”)Pronunciation
J’appuie
Tu appuies
Il/elle/on appuie
Nous appuyons
Vous appuyez
Ils/elles appuient
app-we
app-we
app-we

app-we-y+nasal o
app-we-yay
app-we

The consonant factor in verbs ending in -cer and -ger

This time around, it is the form for “nous” that is a little different. This is due to the pronunciation rules in French with the consonants C and G, depending on the vowel that follows them:

CG
After A/O/UC is pronounced a hard K (as in “koala”)G is pronounced a hard G (as in “glory”)
After E/IC is pronounced S (as in “salt”)G is pronounced J (as in “justice”)

For the infinitive and all the subject pronouns but “nous”, the verbal endings start with an e, which means the consonants “c” and “g” would respectively be pronounced s and j. However, as the ending with “nous” is “ons”, the consonants “c” and “g” would be pronounced k and g. So an adaptation is made to avoid the discrepancy in pronunciation compared to the other subject pronouns.

For verbs ending in -cer, the letter c is replaced by the special French character ç in order to recreate the s sound.

“Placer” (“placer”)Pronunciation
Je place
Tu places
Il/elle/on place
Nous plaçons
Vous placez
Ils/elles placent
plass
plass
plass

plass+nasal o
plassay
plass

For verbs ending in -ger, an extra “e” is added in front of the “o” so the letter “g” may be pronounced j.

“Partager” (“Share”)Pronunciation
Je partage
Tu partages
Il/elle/on partage
Nous partageons
Vous partagez
Ils/elles partagent
partaj
partaj
partaj

partaj+nasal o
partaj-yay
partaj

40 of the most common French -er verbs

It’s all very good to know how to conjugate -er verbs in the present but you won’t get very far if you don’t actually know any to start with. Considering their number, it impossible to list them all here, so we narrowed them down to 40 common French -er verbs in the chart below. 

EnglishFrench
Acheter
Aider
Aimer
Appeler
Arriver
Changer
Chanter
Chercher
Commencer
Compter
Continuer
Corriger
Danser
Décider
Demander
Détester
Donner
Écouter
Étudier
Gagner
Habiter
Jouer
Laisser
Manger
Marcher
Montrer
Parler
Partager
Passer
Payer
Penser
Porter
Regarder
Rester
Téléphoner
Terminer
Travailler
Trouver
Visiter
Voyager
Buy
Help
Like/love
Call
Arrive
Change
Sing
Search
Start
Count
Continue
Correct
Dance
Decide
Ask
Hate
Give
Listen
Study
Win/earn
Live (in a place)
Play
Leave
Eat
Walk
Show
Speak
Share
Pass by/through
Pay
Think
Carry/Wear
Watch
Stay
Phone
Finish
Work
Find
Visit
Travel

For more, don’t forget you have many resources and tools to help you learn vocabulary, from savvy apps on your mobile to the more traditional notebook at home.

The ultimate cheat sheet for -er verbs in French

This may seem a lot to chew at first. However, this article sums up everything you need to know to conjugate -er French verbs correctly in the present tense. Bookmark it, check it now and again, and practice regularly, and the French -er verbs will soon have no secret for you.

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Anne-Lise is a translator and copywriter working for various industries, such as hospitality and travel, as well as health and well-being. Settled down in London since the end of her university years, she cannot get enough of the exceptional cultural life in the English capital city, starting with theater, be it to see a new West End show or to roll up her sleeves with her amateur drama group. She is also interested in photography, as her Instagram profile shows. She indulges her passion for languages in a translation blog she writes with other linguist friends. Go to her Linkedin page to know more about her background and her professional experience.

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