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MILESTONE 3

You have now covered most of the French tenses. It is normally an area that is perceived as difficult for readers of French since the different forms of a verb in different tenses can look very similar to each other, therefore causing some confusion.

Here are a few important generalities regarding French verbs that you might have noted while working through the different tenses:

  • It is important to be able to spot the verb in a sentence, but most importantly, to identify the tense it is in;
  • You should try to identify the stem and the ending of the verb since both elements can help you recognise the tense;
  • Verb endings can be quite misleading, but they can also help you to better understand a sentence (by identifying the subject);
  • When it comes to endings, be aware of similarities between the imperfect and the conditional, as well as the past historic and the future, and pay extra attention so as not to mix the two (in both cases, you need to find the stem and see whether it corresponds to the infinitive or one of the exceptions listed under the future and conditional sections);
  • Be also aware of the fact that even though some endings like -ons, -ez or -ent clearly indicate that the subject is respectively 1st, 2nd or 3rd person plural, they are not enough to identify the tense the verb is in, since nearly all tenses share these endings. You will need to look at the stem verycarefully;
  • Similarly, a verb ending with an '-s' is likely to have tu as its subject, but not always (it could be je);
  • When it comes to compound tenses, remember that it is the auxiliary (être or avoir) that will help you identify the subject. It is therefore essential that you know the conjugation of these two verbs by heart;
  • Depending on the type of sources you would like to read, you will soon realise that you probably only need to focus on certain forms of the verbs. For most texts, only the 3rd person singular and plural are used (obviously in the case of diaries, correspondence or interview transcripts, the 1st and 2nd persons singular and/or plural will be required);
  • Finally, when translating tenses, remember that each French tense does not necessarily have a corresponding English form that fits all situations (look at the imperfect for a good illustration of this point). Note also that the 'historic present' (i.e. the present tense used to refer to a past event) is much more widely used in French than it is in English. You will therefore need to use your common sense to choose what translation in English sounds most natural and appropriate to a given situation.