Let’s do something… Hour 3 of Alpha Teach Yourself French in 24 Hours (ATYF) is all about verbs, and specifically their forms in the present tense.
Before beginning the verbal barrage, ATYF addresses subject pronouns. A couple things stand out that have either not yet been covered by Essential French (EF) or ATYF, or were given much greater clarity. For starters, it’s worthwhile to look at who one might use the tu forms with. ATYF says that it would be used of close friends, family members and pets, but then becomes a little more specific stating that adults would only refer to children under the age of 21 by tu.
Vous would be used in all other cases, and failing to use it (using tu instead) might be considered quite insulting. Then again, If one would normally be addressed as tu, and is instead referred to with vous, this could show displeasure. Two verbs are pointed out that are closely related to this cultural and linguistic phenomenon, tutoyer and vouvoyer, “to use the tu form [with]” and “to use the vous form [with]”. These were the brief examples provided by the book:
Je tutoie mà mère. “I use tu with my mother.”
Je vouvoie le professeur de français. “I use the vous form with the French teacher.”
Another important point that has not yet received any attention is a general pronoun that is used frequently in French conversation, on. It is used in general statements, and often when referring to groups. It always takes a third person singular verb. It could be translated as “one”, “we”, or “they”, depending on context. EF mentioned it when it first showed the subject pronouns, but then did not provide any supporting information to describe it, so I chose to leave it out when I reviewed the chapter. But based on the description by ATYF, I think it is something to get out there on your radar.
French verbs have tense, mood and voice. Tense comes from the Latin for “time”, and represents time information presented by the verbal form in the endings employed. Mood refers to the nature of the verbal expression, and can be either indicative (the mood of factual statements), subjunctive (the mood of hypothetical statements) or imperative (the mood of commands). Finally, voice is either passive or active, which should be familiar to English speakers. The book refers to aspect as being “synonymous” with tense, which made me gasp.
There are three major families of verbs, named for their infinitive endings, -er, -ir and -re. The first is by far the majority of French verbs, though we have already seen examples of all these verbs through the exercises and dialogues in EF. Verbs are conjugated based on person and number, so each tense would have 6 different forms – each varying by ending and subject pronoun that could be used.
Below are the regular present tense endings for each of these families. The present tense does more than the English present. It is used of progressive action, as in “I am doing…”. It is used of regular action, “I do…”. It is also used similar to the English emphatic present, “I do do…”
In all this, it is important to remember that the endings -s, -t and -ent are silent.A quirk of the French language is that a e (silent) + consonant + e (silent) is not allowed, which means that with -er verbs, there are some changes from e to è or doubling of a consonant to keep this from situation from occurring. The only way to know whether an affected verb will accent or double the consonant is through checking a dictionary. Also, when the root ends in g, the first person plural form has an added e before the suffix, allowing the consonant to keep its sound. Similarly, when the root ends in c, the c becomes ç in the first person plural. Aller happens to be the only irregular verb, barring these sound changes, in the -er family.
Some important “irregulars” that are mentioned in this chapter are avoir “to have”, être “to be” and prendre “to take”, which have already been covered in this series of posts. One other from this chapter that has not already been addressed is mettre “to put, place”, with forms mets, mets, met, mettons, mettez and mettent.
But both avoir and être deserve further mention. Both are used along with other verbs to form the future and past tenses. As well, each is used in some idiomatic French expressions that are very useful.
- Avoir is used in expressions related to age. Where English says I am a certain age, French says I have a certain age or number of years. The word (plural) for “years” is ans. If asking age, one might say, Quel âge avez-vous?
- Être is used in expressions of time, as in, “It’s 3 o’clock.” We have already noted the forms in a previous post, and I don’t feel it necessary to share the forms again. There are some additional expressions that ATYF shares in coordination with these, however:
- Noon is midi
- Midnight is minuit
- du matin is “in the morning”
- de l’après-midi is “in the afternoon”
- du soir is “in the evening”
It is also worth noting that French makes use of military time more frequently than English does.
I could continue by listing reams and reams of verbs, even charting them. But frankly, I’m tired. Most verbs in French are regular, and so using the rules above you can work out the forms. Writing usually helps me remember better. So as a verb was mentioned, I worked out each of the forms of the present on paper. And so I suggest the same for you if you are so inclined. You can find a good dictionary, which will list verbs by their infinitive. Then force yourself to work through on paper what the different forms will be. If a form is irregular, the dictionary will likely say so. Some verbs to start with are parler “to speak”, donner “to give”, manger “to eat”, choisir “to choose”, and vendre “to sell”.
In any case, I’m ready for head to meet pillow. À bientôt.