The French verb chart

The chart is divided vertically into three parts: prefixes on the left, verb stems in the centre and endings on the right.

Le panneau de verbes français
Le panneau de verbes français

Verb stems

The verbs are organised into five horizontal sections according to their behaviour and the number of stems they have, from the most complex to the simplest. In each section, the number of stems for each verb takes into account both spelling and pronunciation.

 

At the top of the chart, the forms of the two verbs avoir and

être are not organised according to the order one expects to find in a conjugation, but are grouped more or less by tense and stem.

 

In the second section of the chart, there are other very common irregular verbs: on the left, the three verbs aller, venir and faire, presented horizontally, and on the right, the five verbs falloir, devoir, savoir, vouloir and pouvoir.

 

Stems are in bold type; forms which are complete words are in normal type.

The verbs in the next sections are presented vertically, organised by the number of stems that each verb has, from most to least. Verbs that behave in a similar way have been placed close to each other to draw attention to similarities while making it easy to note differences.

 

For example, mettre is just above battre, which makes it straightforward to compare them. Similarly, the modifications needed for verbs such as mener or jeter are easy to understand when their pronunciation is taken into account.

The verb endings

The endings are found in the boxes on the right hand side of the chart. The first box from the top contains the infinitives, which are always associated with the form of the verb at the top of each list. In the upper left of the box to the right of the infinitives, there are the forms derived from the infinitives which are used in the construction of the future and conditional tenses, taking pronunciation into account. The endings of these tenses are in the same box, the future tense at the top right of the box, the conditional across the bottom. The conditional endings are also used for the imperfect.

The next box contains all the endings for the present subjunctive. 

 

The present indicative is in the fourth box. Students soon notice that there are a limited number of these endings, and that it quickly becomes possible to guess which ones to use for each verb they encounter.

 

The lay-out in these boxes is designed to draw attention to the similarities between the imperfect and these two present tenses.

 

The box immediately below contains the ending of the present participle.

The endings of the past participles can be found in the next box down, the lower sections of which contain the feminine and plural agreements.

 

To the right, there are the past participles of five verbs: moudre, résoudre, inclure, clore and dissoudre. These verbs are usually used either in the infinitive form or as past participles, so we considered that this reduced section would be sufficient.

The final box presents the endings of the passé simple. 

The prefixes

The most common prefixes are found on the left hand side of the chart. They show students how the French language can construct derived verbs. Students thus become aware that all such verbs are conjugated exactly like the verb they are derived from.

Verbs which have been left out

Verbs like traire or piéger should be worked on using parts of the conjugations of the other verbs shown. For example, essayer can be used to show the first and second person plural forms of traire. For

piéger, préférer gives the singular forms of the present indicative, and voyager should be used to show the insertion of the letter <e> in the first person plural.

 

Some verbs like ouïr or gésir were not included in this chart because they are so rare. 

Using the charts in class

If possible, the chart should be kept visible on the wall so that students can refer to it whenever they need to.

 

Rather than teaching the conjugation of French verbs using a technical and abstract approach, we suggest that students explore the verbs as a system, in the context of the language that appears in the lesson.

 

Here are three of the ways in which this chart can be used.

Correction of a student’s spontaneous production

A student says, Chaque jour, mes collègues *écrisent le menu du restaurant.

  1. The teacher signals that there is a problem, but the students can’t find it.
  2. The teacher asks the student to point the verb on the chart.
  3. The student sees that he can point lisent but not écrisent. He also sees that he can point écrivent and this seems to him to be correct.

As the chart remains visible on the wall, the student may later see that lire and écrire have different constructions. He will also see that écrire does not have many different forms and that he can find all his forms simply from écri and écriv.

Changes in tenses and hence in verb forms

Students tell a short story in the present tense, and point to the verbs on the chart.

 

Some time later, they try to remember what happened in the story, and recount what they remember, again pointing the verbs on the chart, this time using the passé composé. It is obvious that different ‘boxes’ are used for the endings of the verbs, depending on the tenses. Students also become aware that the stems of the verbs can sometimes change, but do not always do so. Seeing the chart with all the possible conjugations reinforces the idea that there are variations, but also that they are limited in number and that for many verbs there is no need to memorise a lot of information.

Correction using the prefixes

A student says, J'ai comprendu and can’t correct his mistake.

  1. The teacher asks if he knows which verb he is using, or alternatively, what its infinitive is. She asks him to point it on the chart.
  2. If the student doesn’t find comprendre, someone—the teacher or another student—can help by pointing com in the left-hand column and asking him to continue.
  3. From comprendre, pointed thanks to the prefix com, the teacher can ask him to correct his sentence pointing the conjugated verb.
  4. If the student still can’t do it, the teacher comes back to a more basic sentence like j'ai pris une réglette bleue, that the student already knows very well and asks him to point the verb.
  5. Later, the teacher might point maintenant, je … on the word charts and ask the student to complete the sentence in some way (for example maintenant, je comprends). She might also take advantage of a moment when the students are attending to this ‘verb Lego’ and ask if anyone can point apprendre and j'ai appris on the chart.
  6. The teacher can ask which verbs can be constructed from prendre or venir, for example, in order to make the students aware of the way French uses compounds of this kind.

Students develop a deep understanding of the French conjugation system as they use this chart.