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Present Tense

[Quiz Lab] [Schoolnotes] [Practice] [Irregular Verbs]

1. What is the present tense in English?
It's what you use to talk about what's happening at the present time. Here are some examples:
  • I watch television every day.
  • I am watching television now.
  • I do watch television often.
2. How do you say that in French?
  • Je regarde la télévision tous les jours.
  • Je regarde la télévision maintenant.
  • Je regarde la télévision souvent.
3. You mean "I watch", "I am watching", and "I do watch" are all translated the same way?
Yes. Remember, French people don't think in English!

4. So how do you form the present tense?
A short answer is "stem and endings." But first some background. You need to know what an infinitive is. It's the verb form that you find in the dictionary. In English it's the "to" form ("to watch"). There is a very large group of verbs in French called -er verbs because their infinitive ends in -er. Here are some examples:
  • regarder = to watch, look at
  • travailler = to work
  • parler = to speak
  • rencontrer = to meet
  • oublier = to forget
5. You mentionned "stem and endings". What's that about?
In English all the verb forms are the same with the exception of the "he" form.
I watch      We watch
You (sing.) watch      You (pl.) watch
He watches      They watch
In French, though, all the forms have a separate ending, not just the "he" form. In the chart below, the blue is the stem, and the red is the ending.
je regarde      nous regardons
tu regardes      vous regardez
il regarde      ils regardent
6. So if I find an infinitive in the dictionary that ends in -er, I can form the "je" form just by combining the stem and ending?
Yes. Check out the examples below.
travailler      je travaille
oublier      j' oublie
rencontrer      je rencontre
trouver      je trouve

7. This is pretty easy. What's the catch?
Well, not all verbs end in -er in the infinitive form. There are also -re verbs and -ir verbs. But the pattern is the same, stem and endings. You still get the stem by dropping the last two letters of the infinitive, but the endings are slightly different. Here's attendre (to wait for), an example of an -re verb:
j' attends      nous attendons
tu attends      vous attendez
il attend      ils attendent

The same pattern holds true for -ir verbs. Here's finir (to finish), an example of an -ir verb:
je finis      nous finissons
tu finis      vous finissez
il finit      ils finissent

8. Okay, so I just have to memorize three sets of endings instead of one. That's not so bad.
Unfortunately, there are some verbs that don't follow this stem/endings pattern. They are called irregular verbs. Here are some of the most important irregular verbs:

avoir (to have)
      j' ai      nous avons
      tu as      vous avez
      il a      ils ont

être (to be)
      je suis      nous sommes
      tu es      vous êtes
      il est      ils sont

aller (to go)
      je vais      nous allons
      tu vas      vous allez
      il va      ils vont

faire (to make, to do)
      je fais      nous faisons
      tu fais      vous faites
      il fait      ils font

mettre (to put, to put on, wear)
      je mets      nous mettons
      tu mets      vous mettez
      il met      ils mettent

prendre (to take, to have (food))
      je prends      nous prenons
      tu prends      vous prenez
      il prend      ils prennent

pouvoir (can, to be able)
      je peux      nous pouvons
      tu peux      vous pouvez
      il peut      ils peuvent

vouloir (to want)
      je veux      nous voulons
      tu veux      vous voulez
      il veut      ils veulent

Present Tense Quiz
Take this practice quiz on the present tense. You'll need to know both regular -er verbs and some irregular verbs. Log on to Funbrain with your name and the secret word "hauppauge".