French conjugation rules: the big picture

Strategy to learn French conjugation rules

French conjugation rules are complex but the more you stress about it, the less proficient and fluent you become. Then it’s a vicious circle fueling your insecurity in French. I believe with a methodic and stress-free approach, you can finally get a good understanding of the foundations of French conjugations.

Read til the end and dowload my visual guides about the past tenses (relationship between imparfait/passé composé/plus-que-parfait), the conditional and the subjunctive.

Frenh conjugation rules mind map

Finally, add a lot of focused practice (listening and speaking) and you’ll start to have an instinctive feel for what sounds right.

Let’s see focus on the steps it takes to become fluent with the conjugations.

How to chunk down the French conjugation rules

Here are 4 things to keep in mind

  • Know the endings of each tense, especially how they sound (there are patterns)
  • Learn the most common irregular verbs
  • Get a lot of practice with “real life conversations” simulations in a safe environment (with a coach, a tutor, a language exchange partner)
  • You don’t need to reach perfection before moving to the next tense but you need to understand the main rules

French conjugation rules can feel overwhelming at first so it’s important to chunk it down, take it step by step and make sure you get the basics right. You’ll keep improving over time as you move on in your learning process. If you get stuck trying to reach perfection in one area, your fluency won’t progress.

Here’s a logical order for most learners

The order may vary slightly depending on what you need the language for, you mother tongue and what you’ve already studied.

  • Présent de l’indicatif
  • Imparfait
  • Passé composé *
  • Futur proche
  • Conditionnel (level 1 et 2: 4 main uses)
  • Futur simple
  • Subjonctif (introduction to 4 main uses)
  • Impératif
  • Plus-que-parfait
  • Conditionnel (level 3 et 4)
  • Subjonctif (getting into the habit of using it in daily life)
  • Futur antérieur
  • Advanced subjonctif
  • Passé simple (used almost exclusively in litterature)

* When we tell a story in the past, we combine imparfait and passé composé all the time so it’s important to learn them almost side by side and to understand the relationship between them from the start. I put imparfait first because passé composé is made of 2 elements which adds a layer of complexity.

Why it’s important to study the French conjugation rules

… but don’t get stuck doing just that

Have you heard of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon (the recency illusion)? Once you’re aware of something, you start seeing it everywhere. It often happens when you’re shopping for a new car. You’re interested in a model and all of a sudden it seems like everyone on the streets has this same model. Well, the cars didn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere, they were there before, you were just not noticing them! 

the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon

So, if you’re aware of the subjunctive, you’ll start noticing it in conversations, the sound of it will become familiar and then you can try your hand at using it. You may get it wrong at first but that’s how you learn. Practice in a safe environment (with your tutor or coach): you get it wrong, you get corrected, you try again and again until it finally becomes natural.

As you do that, you’re not just building language skills, you’re building confidence and fluency.

French conjugation rules: my visual guides

I’ve created visual guides about the past tenses (relationship between imparfait/passé composé/plus-que-parfait), the conditional and the subjunctive and a summary about the present tense.

In the guide to review the present tense, I summarize the different families of verbs (and why they don’t match the 3 groups you’ve learned about) and the different types of radicals. There’s also a list of some of the most common verbs followed by the preposition “à” or “de”.
If you already subscribed to my newsletter, you already have access to it in the members folder.

YouTube videos and mind maps

A lot of French learners stress and struggle with conditionnal and subjunctive so I’ve created some videos and mind maps to give you the big picture and some tips. I hope these will spark some “ah ha” moments. At the end of each video there are some prompts for creative writing.  

French conjugation is complex. I truly believe that a lot of exposure combined with knowing the mechanics of the conjugation is the key to actually using them right.

Indeed, if you listen a lot but don’t know what’s behind it, you may be able to understand what you hear but you’ll have difficulties using the verbs yourself.

If all you do is grammar drills, you equally may not be able to use it in context in a real conversation.  

Your neuronal connections get stronger as you use them. It’s called neuroplasticity so let’s get these neurones on fire and create French connections!

You want to understand French conjugations on a deeper level?
You’re tired of mixing up the tenses?

About Cathy

Cathy Intro is a certified Neurolanguage® coach helping aspiring French speakers improve their language skills to live their life and socialize in French with confidence. She has a strong focus on active listening, cultural awareness and self-understanding. She believes clear grammar foundations are key to reaching fluency in French but that it shouldn't be taught with a linear textbook-approach method. Her role as a coach is to empower the learner, ignite curiosity and provide support to reach the objectives with no waste of time and efforts, in a positive and fun environment.

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