All French verbs end in either -ir, -re, or -er. Each of these verb categories has specific rules governing how they change to express layers of crucial information about the situation. The category of verbs that ends in -ir is the second largest category of verbs in French, with around 300 verbs. Luckily, the conjugations for -ir verbs are mostly regular (versus irregular), meaning that the rules for conjugating them to fit the situation will apply to most verbs you encounter!
How Verbs Change
The form of a verb changes to show who performed the action (the “person”) and when it occurred (the “tense”). French uses one extra person category (vous) that corresponds to addressing “you all / you guys” in English. .
Though native speakers may not notice it, English verbs also change depending on who and when the action occurs. Most verbs only change in the third person singular (see below) in English, but all verbs change to distinguish when something occurs.
|Person (Singular)||Present tense||Past tense|
|First person||I walk||I walked|
|Second person||You walk||You walked|
|Third person||He/She walks||He/She walked|
In most cases (apart from irregular verbs), the English past tense is formed by adding -ed to the word. Both English and French have a lot of irregular verbs, which simply need to be memorized, but learning the rule for regular verbs makes conjugation much easier.
Being exposed to verbs in context (rather than just in a chart) is also crucial to becoming comfortable using them – not to mention it’s more fun! Use Lingvist’s French course to see verbs in context as well as look over grammar tips to clarify concepts explicitly as needed.
To Infinitif and Beyond
The infinitive form of a verb is its most basic form. You can spot them easily in French because they retain their original ending of -ir, -er, or -re. The equivalent meaning in English is the same as “to [verb],” so venir translates to “to come.”
Except when stacking two verbs together (“She [likes] [to run]”/ “Elle [aime] [courir]”), the infinitive form needs to change to express the who and when. This is where conjugation comes in.
For regular verbs, the infinitive lends its stem to its conjugated forms in a predictable way. The stem, or radical (from “root” in French: racine), is the part that occurs before the -ir, -er, or -re.
Simply put, to conjugate an -ir verb, drop the -ir and add the appropriate ending according to the person and tense.
For example, in the present tense you add -is, -is, -it, -issons, -issez, or -issent to the remaining stem after removing -ir.
Conjugating Regular -ir Verbs in the Present Tense
To talk about something being done presently, drop the -ir and add one of these endings.
English often uses the present continuous (example below with choisir) instead of the present indicative, so you’ll end up using the present indicative a lot more often in French than you do in English. In English, the present often has an implied regularity or habitual connotation to it. The French indicative can be used to talk about habitual actions, but it has a weaker connotation than English and is mainly used to describe something happening presently or that will occur immediately.
I am choosing [pres. continuous] / I choose [present indicative] = Je choisis [present indicative]
If you’ve already begun learning French, you’ve definitely noticed that French words are rarely phonetic, meaning that the pronunciation rules diverge from the written form. In the table below, you can see what the endings sound like.
Ex.: choisir –> chois -ir (to choose)
|je choisis||nous choisissons|
|tu choisis||vous choisissez|
|il/elle/on choisit||ils/elles choisissent|
Common Irregular -ir Verbs
Even though -ir verbs are mostly regular, many of the most common -ir verbs are irregular. These approximately 50 verbs do not follow the patterns listed above, but there are a few groups of verbs that have similar patterns of irregularity.
For a list of the 20 most common -ir verbs and their conjugations, click here. Irregular verbs are highlighted in red in this list.
Irregular -ir Patterns
1. The most commonly used verb in this first group is partir (to leave). You’ll come into contact with this verb a lot, so memorizing the conjugation pattern for partir will help you remember the pattern for other verbs that are conjugated in the same way. You can remember this group of verbs as “irregulars that conjugate like partir.”
In the first two categories (je, tu), the verb drops the “t” and everything after. In the rest, the “t” remains and in the case of nous, vous, and ils/elles the ending is added.
Verbs in this category:
partir consentir départir démentir mentir pressentir repartir ressentir ressortir se repentir sentir sortir
Ex.: partir –> par/part -ir (to leave)
|je pars||nous partons|
|tu pars||vous partez|
|il/elle/on part||ils/elles partent|
Ex.: sentir –> sen/sent -ir (to feel)
|je sens||nous sentons|
|tu sens||vous sentez|
|il/elle/on sent||ils/elles sentent|
2. Verbs that end in -llir, -vrir or -frir are conjugated similarly to the regular -er endings. After removing the -ir, simply add the following endings:
Verbs that end in -vrir or -frir:
couvrir découvrir entrouvrir offrir recouvrir redécouvrir rentrouvrir rouvrir souffrir
Verbs that end in -llir:
accueillir recueillir cueillir
Ex.: ouvrir –> ouvr -ir (to open)
|tu ouvres||vous ouvrez|
|il/elle/on ouvre||ils/elles ouvrent|
Ex.: accueillir –> accueill -ir (to welcome)
|tu accueilles||vous accueillez|
|il/elle/on accueille||ils/elles accueillent|
3. Verbs that end in -enir: Tenir (to hold) and venir (to come) are common verbs in their own right, but they are also found within (at the end of) many other longer verbs. Therefore, memorizing the conjugation pattern for these two will help you with the list of 30 total irregular verbs. This pattern involves a stem change, with the ten- and ven- changing to tien- and vien- for four out of six of the person categories.
Ex.: tenir –> ten -ir (to hold)
|je tiens||nous tenons|
|tu tiens||vous tenez|
|il/elle/on tient||ils/elles tiennent|
Verbs that end in -enir:
advenir appartenir avenir bienvenir contenir convenir détenir devenir entretenir intervenir maintenir obtenir obvenir parvenir prévenir provenir redevenir retenir revenir s’abstenir se souvenir soutenir souvenir subvenir survenir venir
4. Other irregular verbs: Outside of these three categorical patterns of irregularity, there are several other very common irregular verbs which are unique. This means that you will need to simply memorize the conjugations for these verbs. Luckily, because they are so common, you will get plenty of exposure to them in your studies.
One such example is avoir (to have). This verb is used very often as an auxiliary (or “helping”) verb, generally used in one of the past tense forms, just as it is in English.
J’ai joué le jeu. (I have played the game.)
You can see that its conjugated forms hardly resemble the infinitive and don’t follow a similar pattern to any other verb.
Ex.: avoir (to have)
|tu as||vous avez|
|il/elle/on a||ils/elles ont|