The Ten Most Important French Verbs

Here are the ten most important French verbs. You need to know them all. Click on the verb links to see its full conjugations, and a cartoon memory trigger, a way of helping you remember the verb. But before you read on, grab your instantly downloadable FREE report on the TOP TEN FRENCH VERBS.

  1. être - to be This is one of the most important verbs in French. It is also used to form compound tenses that go with reflexive verbs, and many common verbs of motion. For example 'I have gone' can be formed 'je suis allé'... (literally 'I am gone').

  2. avoir - to have Avoir is also used for
    • many common idiomatic expressions
    • forming past tenses (compound tenses like 'I have eaten, we had spoken, she has danced ...). For this reason the earlier you learn the conjugations of avoir the quicker you will master the compound past tenses.
    • to say how old someone is: e.g. 'j'ai trente ans' which literally means 'I have thirty years', which would be 'I am thirty years old' in English.
    • French speakers 'have cold' or have heat' rather than are cold/hot/ hungry etc.
    • Likewise a French person would not say, "I am hungry", but would say, "I have hunger," which is j'ai faim.

  3. aller - to go an especially important verb because it is also very commonly used for phrases like 'going to' as in 'he is going to jump,' 'you are going to read'. This is like a form of future tense, and is easier to form than the future tense, because after the word going you can plug in ANY infinitive verb. This is easier than learning all the endings of the future tenses for all verbs, so when you are starting out this is a powerful tool, that is extremely common in French - just as it is in English.

  4. tenir - to hold Many other verbs are derived from tenir and conjugated in the same way ... like soutenir (to support).

  5. venir - to come Besides being used to describe the verb 'to come', venir is also used to make expressions like 'I have just arrived', which is 'je viens d'arriver'. Literally it translates as I come to arrive, meaning I have just arrived. So any time you 'have just' done something you can use venir de.

  6. faire - to make or to do Dozens and dozens of idiomatic expressions are formed with faire.

  7. vouloir - to want This is one of the modal verbs, and a most useful verb to conquer and know because you can plug any other infinitive of any verb after it, allowing you to make lots of phrases. Every new infinitive verb you learn can be plugged on to the end of any conjugation of vouloir, making it an extremely powerful verb. Other modal verbs like this are - devoir and pouvoir.

  8. devoir - to have to. This is also a useful and versatile modal verb, and you can plug any infinitive on to it, making it easy to use.

  9. pouvoir - to be able to. Like the fellow modal verbs devoir and vouloir it is easy to use because you can string any infinitive on to the end and have yourself a useful phrase...

  10. dire - to say

Of course one could get into argument about which verbs are more important, and many could suggest that other important verbs could or should have been included. We chose these as the ten most important French verbs based on a combination of word frequency lists and a bit of our own judgement.

Any French learner has no choice but to know these important verbs, and the one hundred other most important verbs! You can see their full conjugation tables by clicking the links on the verb itself and a new window will open allowing you to read and recite their verb tables.

So Many of Important French Verbs are Irregular. Why?

All these ten most important French verbs are irregular. Why? Well it is because directly as a of their 'commonness' and high frequency of use. Any verb that is common gets used a great deal, and therefore becomes subject to twisting, contortion, slanging and bending. The more it is used, the more it is changed and the more likely one of its forms or conjugations gets morphed into something else.

So these common verbs just have to be learned. Go through our verb tables daily, until you master them, going along the rows, and vertically down the columns.

Top 10 French Verbs

6 Important Things to Know about Learning the Ten Most Common French Verbs

  1. French Verbs are a little more difficult than English verbs for the English speaker who is learning French. There are 10 major tenses in French. There are several ways to speed up your verb learning, and make that learning a more efficient process. Below are some suggestions.

  2. Learn the verb patterns: There are 3 main types of verbs in French. Each is grouped by its ending.
    • ER verbs: The biggest group of verbs in French are those words ending in ER. About 85% of French verbs end in ER, and most of these follow the standard ER pattern.
    • IR verbs: About 7% of French verbs end in IR, and ...
    • RE verbs: 7% end in RE
    Most of the verbs in each group follow similar patterns. So each one that you learn then reinforces the learning of the next verb. As the patterns recur, you will start to recognise them, and become familiar with them. So once you have learnt these ten most important French verbs, and their conjugations you will find that the speediest way to improve is by concentrating on reciting verbs from the same groups.

    Our daily French verb tables cover different groups each month. Learning a bunch of similarly conjugated verbs over two to four weeks will really consolidate your verb learning.

  3. Learn the endings: Part of learning the verb patterns described above is learning the verb endings. French verbs all have unique endings for each pronoun (I, you, he, she, we, they etc).

  4. For example: Take the verb parler which means 'to speak'. It ends with the letters ER, so it is an ER verb. I in French is je, you is tu.
    • I speak: je parle
    • you speak: tu parles
    • he speaks: il parle
    • we speak: nous parlons
    • you (plural or formal) speak: vous parlez
    • they speak: je parlent
    Notice that the endings are different.
    • ER verbs for I (je) end in e.
    • ER verbs for you (tu) end in es.
    • ER verbs for he (il) end in e.
    • ER verbs for we (nous) end in ons.
    • ER verbs for you (formal or plural) (vous) end in ez.
    • ER verbs for they (ils) end in ent.

    • These same endings are identical for any other REGULAR ER verbs. By learning the endings for the verb parler you can use the same endings on about 5,000 other regular ER verbs.
    • Do a verb table a day. Do one of our verb tables in full every day. It takes about three minutes to do each one in full, by row (tense), and by column (pronoun). These ten most important French verbs take longer than the regulars, because they ave their unique quirks and twists. But once you have done them you will speed up by learning the various verb groups.

    • Use 'em or lose 'em: The more you practise the better you will get. If you don't have a teacher, or native speaker friend, you can always take telephone lessons. These allow you to concentrate on your speaking and listening. There are lots of French teachers that advertise on the internet who will teach French over the telephone. This is a very effective way to practice.

Check here for more on learning and REMEMBERING the ten most important French verbs.

Ten Most Important Verbs in French

Related Topics and Links

French Bescherelle
A vital tool for the French learner, the Bescherelle
is a book that lists all the different French verb patterns (not just the ten most important French verbs).

French Verbs List
Lots of colour-coded verb tables of French verbs.

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Learning the Ten Most Important French Verbs

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