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3.2: Grammar

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    B.1 Telling time

    Quelle heure est-il ? [kɛ lœ rɛ til] What time is it?
    Il est six heures [i lɛ si zœr] It's six o'clock.
    Il est midi [i lɛ mi di] It's twelve o'clock (noon).
    Il est minuit [i lɛ mi nɥi] It's twelve o'clock (midnight).
    et quart [e kar] quarter past
    et demi(e) [e də mi] half past
    moins [mwɛ̃] less
    moins le quart [mwɛ̃ lə kar] quarter to
    du matin [dy ma tɛ̃] in the morning
    de l'après-midi [də la prɛ mi di] in the afternoon
    du soir [dy swar] in the evening
    Quelle heure est-il?


    Il est trois heures.


    Il est cinq heures dix.


    Il est six heures et demie.

    Pour réviser les chiffres, voir la section B.6 du chapitre 1, à la page 48.

    Traditionally, time up to the half-hour was given by "adding" the minutes to the hour, while time past the half hour was given by "subtracting" the minutes from the next hour.


    Il est onze heures vingt.

    It's eleven-twenty.


    Il est quatre heures et demie.

    It's four-thirty.


    Il est huit heures moins vingt.

    It's twenty to eight.

    This is still very common, but with the increasing presence of digital watches, many people only "add." You will now also hear:


    Il est dix heures quarante.


    Il est neuf heures cinquante.


    Il est une heure trente-huit.

    The "adding" and "subtracting" methods are becoming interchangeable; people should understand you if you use either one, but you'll want to learn both so that you can understand other people, too!

    • When "adding," you give the minutes directly after the hour, without the word et: dix heures dix, huit heures quinze, except for the expressions et quart and et demi(e). When "subtracting," use the word moins and the number of minutes, except for the expression moins le quart.
    • In English, you do not have to say "o'clock," but in French, you always have to say "heure(s)."
    • In English, you can say "twelve o'clock" or "noon/midnight" but in French you never say "douze heures" unless you are using military time; you have to say "midi" or "minuit."
    • To write the time down using numerals, you use "h" where you would say "heures." So English 8:00 = French 8h; English 10:23 = French 10h23.
    • French does not use the abbreviations "a.m." and "p.m." You may, but do not need to, say "du matin," "de l'après-midi," "du soir." For schedules, the twenty-four hour clock is usually used.
    • The word "heure" is a feminine noun. It can be singular or plural, and articles and adjectives agree with it: say "une heure," "deux heures," "trois heures et demie." However, the words "minuit" and "midi" are masculine nouns, so you say "midi et demi" and "minuit et demi."

    B.1.1 L’heure

    For each clock face, give the time in a complete sentence. If the time is past the half-hour, subtract minutes from the next hour (e.g., 3h40= "Il est quatre heures moins vingt."

    Quelle heure est-il?

    1. 3:20 2. 11:30 (p.m) 3. 10:55
    4. 12:00 (p.m.) 5. 8:15 6: 1:10
    7. 9:20 8. 2:45 9. 12:00 (a.m)

    For each digital clock time, give the time in a complete sentence. If the time is past the half-hour, continue to add the minutes (e.g., 3h40= "Il est trois heures quarante.")

    1:05 4:14 8:50
    6:49 3:40 5:15
    10:16 2:07 7:22
    24-hour time
    The symbol * before a phrase is used to indicate one which is grammatically incorrect or impossible in that language.

    The twenty-four hour clock, also called military time, is used very commonly for schedules in French — train schedules, TV schedules, movie times, etc. To go from 12-hour time to 24-hour time, add twelve hours to anything after noon. To go from 24-hour time to 12-hour time, subtract twelve hours from anything after noon. In 24-hour time, minutes are always added to the hour; e.g., for 8:40 p.m. (20h40), you must say "vingt heures quarante" and never "*vingt et une heures moins vingt." The day begins at midnight (0h00) and goes until 11:59 p.m. (23h59).

    B.1.2 24-hour time

    Give the 24-hour time equivalents of these afternoon and evening times. (You may write them using numerals, e.g. 20h).

    1. trois heures et quart 6. minuit moins vingt
    2. cinq heures du soir 7. une heure vingt de l'aprèsmidi
    3. minuit 8. trois heures moins le quart
    4. six heures vingt 9. cinq heures moins dix
    5. sept heures et demie 10. huit heures quinze

    Give the 12-hour time equivalents of these afternoon and evening times. (You should write these out in words).

    Exemple: 17h20
                    cinq heures vingt

    1. 21h 6. 20h10
    2. 00h15 7. 19h50
    3. 15h23 8. 14h
    4. 12h45 9. 16h40
    5. 22h30 10. 23h35
    A quelle heure?

    To ask at what time something happens, we ask, "A quelle heure?" To say that something happens at a given time, we state the action and use the preposition "à" plus the time.

    A X heures
    A quelle heure prends-tu ta douche? At what time do you take a shower?
    J'ai mon cours de français à dix heures cinquante. I have my French class at 10:50.
    A six heures du soir, nous allons dîner. At six p.m., we will eat dinner.
    De X heures à Y heures

    To say that something happens from time X to time Y, we say, "de X heures à Y heures."

    J'ai mon cours de français de dix heures à midi. I have my French class from 10 to 12.
    Je regarde la télé de 20h à 22h tous les soirs. I watch TV from 8 to 10 pm every night.
    Quelle heure est-il? vs. A quelle heure . . . ?

    Notice that the sentence stating the time has the verb "être", always in the expression "Il est":

    Il est dix heures. It is ten o'clock (now).

    but that sentences telling at what time something happens use a different verb to indicate what is happening, and then add the preposition à and the time that action starts, or de time X à time Y to indicate a period of time during which that action happens:

    Le film commence à 20h30. The movie starts at 8:30 p.m.
    Je travaille dans la bilbiothèque chaque soir de 19h à 21h. I study in the library every night from 7 to 9 p.m.

    B.1.3 A quelle heure?

    Indicate at what time the following things happen. You may give one time or a range, as appropriate.

    1. Le matin, je quitte la maison ____________________.
    2. J'arrive à l'université ____________________.
    3. Mon cours de français commence ____________________.
    4. Mon cours de français finit ____________________.
    5. Je suis à l'université ____________________.
    6. Je travaille ____________________
    7. Je retourne à la maison ____________________.
    8. Je dîne ____________________.
    9. Je regarde la télé ____________________.
    10. Je fais mes devoirs ____________________.


    B.2 Regular verbs in the present tense

    You have already learned the present tense of the two most common French verbs, être and avoir. You have seen that an infinitive must always be conjugated, that is, put in the correct form to match the subject of the sentence. You will be relieved to learn that you do not need to memorize each French verb individually.

    The vast majority of verbs are regular, meaning that they follow one of three conjugation patterns. Verbs are categorized according to the ending of their infinitives. The first group ends in -er; the second group ends in -ir, and the third group ends in -re.

    All regular verbs in each of these categories follow the same pattern for conjugation — this means that every regular -er verb is conjugated in the same way as every other regular -er verb; the same is true for regular -ir and -re verbs. So instead of learning thousands of different verb conjugations, learning the three regular patterns will instantly allow you to conjugate thousands and thousands of verbs.

    To conjugate a regular verb, you remove the infinitive ending (-er, -ir, or -re) and then add the appropriate ending for the subject. When we talk about verb conjugation, we will speak of the "stem" (la racine, what is left when you remove the infinitive ending) and the "ending" (la terminaison, what you add to the stem). We are going to present all three groups here so you can see their similarities, but in this chapter you will have to memorize only the -er endings.

    Regular -er verb endings  
    je   -e nous   -ons
    tu   -es vous   -ez
    il   -e ils   -ent
    -er verbs, Example: parler: parl / er  
    je parle [ʒə parl] nous parlons [nu par lɔ̃]
    tu parles [ty parl] vous parlez [vu par le]
    il/elle parle [il parl] ils/elles parlent [il parl]


    Regular -ir verb endings  
    je   -is nous   -issons
    tu   -is vous   -issez
    il   -it ils   -issent
    -ir verbs, Example: finir: fin / ir  
    je finis [ʒə fi ni] nous finissons [nu fi ni sɔ̃]
    tu finis [ty fi ni] vous finissez [vu fi ni se]
    il/elle finit [il fi ni] ils/elles finissent [il fi nis]


    Regular -re verb endings  
    je   -s nous   -ons
    tu   -s vous   -ez
    il ils   -ent
    -re verbs, Example: répondre: répond / re  
    je réponds [ʒə re pɔ̃] nous répondons [nu re pɔ̃ dɔ̃]
    tu réponds [ty re pɔ̃] vous répondez [vu re pɔ̃ de]
    il/elle répond [il re pɔ̃] ils/elles répondent [re pɔ̃d]


    "Singular" forms are the je, tu, and il/elle forms because those are the singular subjects; "plural" forms are the nous, vous, and ils/elles forms, because those are the plural subjects. See section B.2 on page 37 if you need to review this.

    • The "stem" (la racine) plus the "ending" (la terminaison) form the complete verb form. If we take the infinitive finir, "fin" is the stem and "ir" is the infinitive ending. In the form nous répondons, "répond" is the stem and "ons" is the ending.
    • The endings (terminaisons) for regular verbs are the same for every verb in that group. You must memorize these endings.
    • The -ent ending on the ils/elles form is silent. This is especially important for -er verbs, as it means four of the six forms (je, tu, il, and ils) are pronounced exactly the same, although they are written differently. This is why the subject noun or pronoun must be used in French; if you only said the verb form (as occurs in Spanish, for example), people would not know who you were talking about.
    • The plural forms of the -ir verbs all have -iss-, but the singular forms do not.
    • You hear the "d" sound in the plural forms of the -re verbs, but not in the singular forms.
    • For your information, about 95% of French verbs are -er verbs. All -er verbs with the exception of aller (to go) are regular, except for minor spelling-related changes that occur within the stem. The endings for all -er verbs (except aller ) are the same.
    • Since all -er verbs are regular (except for some spelling changes in the stem), this means that irregular verbs fall into the -ir and -re categories. When you want to conjugate a new -ir or -re verb, therefore, you need to nd out if it is regular or irregular.

    B.2.1 Self-Test: Regular Verb Conjugations

    Please add the ending (la terminaison) to the stem (la racine) of each verb.

      parler finir répondre
    je parl_______ fin_______ répond_______
    tu parl_______ fin_______ répond_______
    il parl_______ fin_______ répond_______
    nous parl_______ fin_______ répond_______
    vous parl_______ fin_______ répond_______
    ils parl_______ fin_______ répond_______

    Your answers should look like this:

    je parle finis réponds
    tu parles finis réponds
    il parle finit répond
    nous parlons finissons répondons
    vous parlez finissez répondez
    ils parlent finissent répondent

    B.2.2 Exercise: Self-Test: Verb Endings

    You should immediately see that there are some similarities among these verb endings. Look at them carefully and answer the questions.

    1. What letter do the je forms end in? _____or_____
    2. What letter do all the tu forms end in? _____
    3. What letter do the il/elle forms end in? _____, _____, or _____
    4. What 3 letters do all the nous forms end in? _____
    5. What 2 letters do the vous forms end in? _____
    6. What 3 letters do the ils/elles forms end in? _____

    1. e or s; 2. s; 3. e, t, or d; 4. ons; 5. ez; 6. ent

    So we can see that in many cases, the verbs have the same types of endings, that is, they end in the same letters. Although the actual terminaison may be different (e.g. -es or -s for tu forms, -ons or -issons for nous forms), if you understand the underlying patterns, you will have a far easier time remembering not only these regular patterns, but the irregular ones as well.

    Let us now expand the observations you made in the preceding exercise with additional information so that you can see general rules for the system of French verb conjugation. In the following table, on the left, you see the rules we were able to deduce from looking at these three groups of regular verbs. On the right, I have given you some information about all French verbs.

    Our observations about these verbs Rules about form in all French verbs
    je forms:
    -er verbs end in -e, other verbs end in -s
    This is true for almost all verbs. The only exceptions in the present tense are j'ai and je peux (I can)/ je veux (I want). Apart from these, the ending for je forms will always be -e or -s.
    tu forms:
    -er verbs end in -es, other verbs end in-s
    This is true for all verbs. The only exceptions are tu peux and tu veux. Apart from these, the ending for tu forms will always be -s.
    il/elle forms:
    -er verbs end in -e, regular -ir verbs end in -it, -re verbs end in nothing.
    This is a little harder to remember than the others, but really there are two main rules; for il forms, -er verbs end in -e, and other verbs almost always end with -d or -t. This is because -re verbs are almost always -dre verbs, so when you take o the -re and add nothing, the last letter of the stem is a -d. There are a few common exceptions to this -e or -d/t rule, including il a, which you already know, and il va (he goes).
    nous forms:
    all verbs end in -ons; regular -ir verbs end in -issons.
    Nous forms are the easiest of all verbs. There is only one verb in the entire language where the nous form does not end in -ons; that's nous sommes, which you already know. Also, the stem of the nous form tends to look like the infinitive, for reasons we will discuss later, so it is usually very easy to guess correctly the nous form of any verb even if the verb is irregular.
    vous forms:
    all verbs end in -ez; regular -ir verbs end in -issez.
    Next to nous forms, vous forms are the second most-regular forms in the language. Like the nous form, the stem of the vous form almost always looks like the infinitive. There are only 3 that do not end in -ez: vous êtes, vous faites (you do), and vous dites (you say).
    ils/elles forms:
    all verbs end in -ent; regular -ir verbs end in -issent.
    The ils forms of almost all verbs end in -ent; the only exceptions are some extremely common verbs that end in -ont instead of -ent, including ils sont, ils ont, ils font (they do), ils vont (they go).

    We generally refer to this tense as the "present," but its full name is the "present indicative." The present tense in French corresponds to three different forms in English: the simple present, the emphatic present, and the present progressive. In other words, je mange means "I eat," "I do eat," and "I am eating." Students sometimes get confused when trying to translate the English in their heads into French, and will try to combine two verbs (être and manger) to come up with the French for "I am eating." However, that would make no sense in French — you just say je mange. Similarly, we have already seen that in English, "do" is used as a question marker; to ask "Do you speak French," we just ask a question in French using the present tense of parler, plus either est-ce que or inversion, as described in chapter 1: Est-ce que vous parlez français? or Parlez-vous français? It is important to remember that French is not a weird form of English — the two languages do not correspond word-for-word and you need to try as hard as you can to incorporate French speech patterns from the beginning of your study, and not just concentrate on learning specific words.

    Don't worry! You do not need to memorize all this information now. However, seeing it as you begin your study of French verbs is useful for many students. If you can absorb the basic idea that all tu forms end in -s, for example, and that il forms never do, that will save you from many mistakes!

    In this chapter you will be asked only to memorize the conjugation for -er verbs. The -er group is by far the most common, comprising almost 95% of French verbs. Before we move on, let's practice this -er conjugation a few times. The other regular groups (-ir and -re) will be reviewed in subsequent chapters, and you do not need to practice or learn them now.

    B.2.3 Regular -er Verbs

    Practicing conjugation

    An excellent way to practice verb endings on your own is simply to choose a regular verb and write it out several times as you do in this exercise. You can always check your answers at an online conjugater such as

    Flashcards for vocabulary and verb forms are also very helpful for many people, but looking at material is never as effective a study method as producing it yourself, so use flashcards to supplement your written practice, not replace it. You might try color-coding the endings on your flashcards if you are more visually oriented.

    There are many web sites where you can practice verbs online, for example the excellent U Texas Austin site,, and apps available for smart phones. Try out various options to see what best suits your learning style.

    (to work)

    je __________________
    tu __________________
    il/elle __________________
    nous __________________
    vous __________________
    ils/elles __________________

    (to give)

    je __________________
    tu __________________
    il/elle __________________
    nous __________________
    vous __________________
    ils/elles __________________

    (to study)

    je __________________
    tu __________________
    il/elle __________________
    nous __________________
    vous __________________
    ils/elles __________________

    (to practice)

    je __________________
    tu __________________
    il/elle __________________
    nous __________________
    vous __________________
    ils/elles __________________

    B.2.4 La classe de français

    As previously stated, in this chapter, we will be concentrating on -er verbs. This exercise contains only -er verbs in addition to être and avoir, which you have already learned. Please complete the following conversation by conjugating the verbs in parentheses.

    Note: The subject of the verb in the first sentence is les devoirs.

    —Madame, comment (être) ______________________les devoirs dans ce cours?

    —Au début, les devoirs (consister) ______________________en beaucoup de répétitions. Pour apprendre le vocabulaire, vous (utiliser) ______________________les mots dans des contextes appropriés. Pour la grammaire, vous (copier) ______________________les conjugaisons.

    —Est-ce qu'il (être) ______________________difficile d'avoir une bonne note?

    —Je (penser) ______________________que non. Quand les étudiants (écouter) ______________________et (parler) ______________________en classe, (travailler) ______________________à la maison, et (étudier) ______________________avant les examens, ils (avoir) ______________________de bonnes notes. Est-ce que vous (avoir) ______________________le temps de faire tout cela?

    —Oui, Madame. Je (être) ______________________enthousiaste aussi; dans ma famille, nous (parler) ______________________espagnol, et je (avoir) ______________________envie de parler trois langues.

    —Alors, comme ça, vous allez bientôt apprendre à parler français!

    B.2.5 Choisir les cours

    Complete the dialogue by conjugating each verb in parentheses. Check your answers when done. These verbs are regular but from all three groups; consult the charts on page 187.


    (1) The verb comprendre is partly irregular, but the form you need here is regular.

    (2) "On" and "cela" take the "il" form.

    (3) The negative "ne pas" is given in front of the infinitive; remember that when conjugating the verb, the "ne" goes before the verb and the "pas" after it.

    Une conversation entre deux amis à l'université.

    —Salut, Julie!

    —Salut, Paul! Comment vas-tu?

    —Tres bien, merci. Et toi?

    —Bien. Dis, Paul, comment est-ce que tu (choisir) ______________________tes cours ici? C'est mon premier semestre et je (ne pas comprendre*) ______________________comment choisir.

    —Ben, moi, d'abord, je (demander) ______________________à mes amis qui sont les bons profs. Je (parler) ______________________aussi à mon conseiller académique. Il (indiquer) ______________________les cours obligatoires.

    —Est-ce qu'ici, les professeurs (donner) ______________________beaucoup de devoirs?

    —Moi, je (penser) ______________________que oui. Je (ne pas arriver*) ______________________toujours à finir mes devoirs.

    —Et si on (ne pas finir*) ______________________les devoirs, est-ce que les professeurs (être) ______________________compréhensifs?

    —Cela (dependre*) ______________________. Ce semestre, mon prof de maths (accepter) ______________________les devoirs en retard, mais mes autres professeurs non.


    B.3 Two-verb sentences

    Very often, you will need to use two verbs together. If the verbs function together and belong to the same subject, you only conjugate one of them; the second one remains in the infinitive. This is just like English.

    French English
    J'aime parler français. I like to speak French.
    Georges veut visiter le Sénégal. George wants to visit Senegal.
    Nous devons faire nos devoirs ce soir. We have to do our homework tonight.


    Two important irregular verbs to be aware of are vouloir (to want) and devoir (to have to, must). These verbs will be memorized in chapter 5; however, you can begin to recognize their forms now:

    je veux (I want), tu veux, il veut, nous voulons, vous voulez, ils veulent

    je dois (I must), tu dois, il doit, nous devons, vous devez, ils doivent

    The conditional forms je voudrais (I would like) and je devrais (I should) are also very common.

    The first verb is conjugated to match the subject (J'aime, Georges veut, Nous devons), but the second verb (parler, visiter, faire) is in the infinitive form, which you will remember ends in -er, -ir, or -re, and is the equivalent of "to X" in English.

    However, if you have two separate subjects (one for each verb), or the same subject is named or implied as doing two separate activities, you will conjugate each verb:

    French English
    Je danse et Marie chante. I dance and Marie sings.
    Le professeur parle et nous écoutons. The teacher speaks and we listen.
    J'aime l'hiver parce que je skie beaucoup. I like winter because I ski a lot.
    Mon père écoute la radio et chante. My father listens to the radio and sings.

    Grammar Note

    A conjunction is a word like and, but, or, because in English, or et, mais, ou, parce que in French. Conjunctions join two parallel grammatical structures.

    Schoolhouse Rock: Conjunction Junction


    Note that all the conjugated verbs either have a subject of their own or follow a conjunction with the same subject implied for the two actions.

    B.3.1 How many conjugated verbs?

    Indicate how many verbs are conjugated in each sentence. Write
    the conjugated verb(s).

    Exemple: Il préfère dîner au restaurant.                     1: préfère

    1. Je parle français et italien.
    2. J'aime parler français.
    3. Nous écoutons le professeur et répétons la phrase.
    4. Tu veux aller au cinéma?
    5. Georges n'aime pas faire des promenades.
    6. Vous regardez beaucoup de télé!
    7. Ma mère prépare le dîner parce qu'elle aime cuisiner.
    8. Je voudrais dîner au restaurant italien.
    9. Mon frère déteste étudier mais ma soeur adore faire ses devoirs.

    B.3.2 To conjugate or not to conjugate?

    Hint: the conjugated verb and infinitive may be separated by a preposition such as à or de.  Look for a conjunction or a new subject before a verb to help you decide if it should be conjugated. Remember, if you would translate the second verb as to X in English, it will be in the infinitive in French.

    All verbs in this exercise are given in parentheses in the infinitive form. Either conjugate each verb or leave it in the infinitive as necessary. Write out the entire sentence. Then write a translation of each sentence.

    Exemple: Nous (aimer) (parler) français.            Nous aimons parler français.

    1. Georges (détester) les fruits.
    2. Paul (aimer) (jouer) au foot, mais Marie (détester) tous les sports.
    3. Je (préférer) (écrire) un e-mail; je n'(aimer) pas (écrire) des lettres.
    4. Nous (regarder) la télé et (dîner) dans le salon.
    5. Est-ce que tu (avoir) besoin de (travailler) ce soir?
    6. Pauline (refuser) de (parler) anglais en classe.
    7. Je (jouer) de la flûte et mon mari (jouer) du saxophone.


    B.4 Yes/No Questions

    In chapter 1 (B.8, page 54), you were introduced to the three main ways to ask questions in French: intonation, inversion, and est-ce que. In this chapter, we would like you to begin using est-ce que and inversion to ask questions in French. Right now, you will focus on yes/no questions; that is, questions which will be answered by a "yes" or "no" answer. You will also understand and be able to answer questions requiring more information (who, why, what, etc.), and you will gradually become more familiar with them; in chapter 6, you will practice forming informational questions yourself.

    Questions with est-ce que

    To ask a question with est-ce que, you simply place Est-ce que in front of the subject of a declarative sentence. It does not matter whether the subject is a noun or a pronoun. Remember that est-ce que has no real meaning in the sentence; it simply signals that you are about to ask a question, just as the word do usually signals that a question is coming in English (e.g. Do you speak French?). Est-ce que is pronounced [ɛ skə] — the "s" sound is from the ce, since the letters "st" in the verb est are silent. If the word immediately following "est-ce que" begins with a vowel or a silent h, you will change que to qu'. Remember that this is called élision. Observe the following examples.

    Phrase déclarative Question

    Tu es français.
    You are French.

    Est-ce que tu es français?
    Are you French?

    Il est américain.
    He is American.

    Est-ce qu'il est américain?
    Is he American?

    Vous parlez français.
    You speak French.

    Est-ce que vous parlez français?
    Do you speak French?

    Hélène aime le café.
    Helen likes coffee.

    Est-ce qu'Hélène aime le café?
    Does Helen like coffee?

    Les professeurs sont stricts.
    The teachers are strict.

    Est-ce que les professeurs sont stricts?
    Are the teachers strict?

    B.4.1 Est-ce que vous comprenez?

    Transform the following sentences into questions using "est-ce que." Pay attention to the proper punctuation of your question. For simplicity, in this exercise, do not change the subject given. That is, if the subject of the sentence is "tu," the subject of your question should remain "tu." Also give the English translation for each question.

    1. Tu étudies le français.
    2. Le président est intelligent.
    3. Karim aime le football.
    4. Nous avons un examen demain.
    5. Les professeurs ici donnent beaucoup de devoirs.
    6. Elles regardent un film.
    7. Abdel joue au basket.
    8. Vous travaillez à la bilbiothèque.

    Questions with inversion

    Grammar Note

    Remember, the subject pronouns are:


    Asking a question with inversion is somewhat more difficult. To form a question by inversion, you invert (switch the order of) the subject pronoun and the verb, placing the verb before the subject and connecting them with a hyphen.

    Phrase déclarative Question
    Tu es français. Es-tu français?
    Il est américain. Est-il américain?
    Vous parlez français. Parlez-vous français?
    Elle arrive demain. Arrive-t-elle demain?

    In the last example above, the letter "t" has been added between the verb and the pronoun. This "t" is added when the verb ends in a written vowel and the subject pronoun also begins with a vowel, to avoid having two vowels together. (It is called the t euphonique, if you are interested!). Since most verb forms end in a consonant, this can occur only with third person singular forms (il, elle, on) of -er verbs and the verbs avoir (il a) and aller (il va), where the verb forms end in a vowel. Two hyphens are used to join the "t" to the subject and verb. Here are some more examples of this.

    Phrase déclarative Question
    Elle va bien. Va-t-elle bien?
    Il raconte une histoire. Raconte-t-il une histoire?
    Elle dîne avec nous. Dîne-t-elle avec nous?
    Il travaille beaucoup. Travaille-t-il beaucoup?
    Il aime danser. Aime-t-il danser?

    Inversion is used less often in spoken French than either intonation or est-ce que. However, it is the form you will see most often in written French. Additionally, inversion is not used when the subject is "je."1

    1There are three set phrases that invert with "je": suis-je? ai-je? and puis-je? (the latter ("may I?") is an obsolete form of "je peux," used only in this
    context). Since one doesn't really ask questions about oneself very often, this is not something you need to remember in first-year French.

    Inversion with a noun subject

    Since inversion is done between the subject pronoun and the verb, you must have a subject pronoun in order to do inversion. If the subject is a noun instead of a pronoun, the only way to do inversion is to reduplicate the noun with the appropriate pronoun.2 If the noun is a masculine singular noun, for example, the appropriate pronoun
    would be "il." You keep the noun in the usual position (before the verb), but you also invert the verb and the added pronoun. Observe:

    Phrase déclarative Question
    Hélène aime le fromage. Hélène aime-t-elle le fromage?
    Les professeurs sont stricts. Les professeurs sont-ils stricts?
    Le train arrive. Marc et Christine parlent au
    Vous détestez parler en classe. Détestez-vous parler en classe?

    Inversion with Negative Verbs

    To answer "yes" to a negative' question (i.e., to contradict the questioner), French uses the word si ("yes") instead of oui.

    E.g. "Tu n'as pas de cours ce soir?" "Si, j'ai un cours de maths."

    If the verb is negative, the negative surrounds the entire verb-subject hyphenation, for that is now considered one word.

    Phrase déclarative Question
    Elle ne va pas bien. Ne va-t-elle pas bien?
    Vous ne parlez pas italien. Ne parlez-vous pas italien?
    Elle n'arrive pas aujourd'hui. N'arrive-t-elle pas aujourd'hui?
    Gilles et Paul n'écoutent pas. Gilles et Paul n'écoutent-ils pas?

    B.4.2 Comprenez-vous?

    Transform the following sentences into questions using inversion. Pay attention to the proper punctuation of your question. For simplicity, in this exercise, do not change the subject given. That is, if the subject of the sentence is "tu," the subject of your question should remain "tu."

    1. Tu travailles à la bilbiothèque.
    2. Nous dînons à la cafeteria.
    3. Le professeur donne beaucoup d'examens.
    4. Elle chante bien.
    5. Mireille et Joseph aiment les Etats-Unis.
    6. Vous êtes chinoise.
    7. Les étudiants n'ont pas beaucoup d'argent.
    8. Tu n'es pas italienne.
    9. Ils sont contents.
    10. La lle répond toujours au professeur.
    2If the question contains an interrogative word and is very short, basically just the subject and verb, one occasionally sees the noun inverted; for example, "Ou est le train?" Do not worry if you see this structure!


    B.5 L’adjectif interrogatif Quel

    French has several different constructions that correspond to the English interrogative what. In this chapter, we will learn the interrogative adjective quel, which is always used with a noun. Quel can be translated into English as what or as which depending on the context, and even as who if it is referring to a person. Anytime you are asking "What/ which something," you will use a form of quel in French. Since it is an adjective, quel has four forms. They are all pronounced the same ([kɛl]), unless the plural form (quels, quelles) makes liaison with a following vowel.

      masculin féminin
    singuler quel quelle
    pluriel quels quelles

    Quel has two possible positions. It can come directly in front of the noun it is modifying, or it may precede the verb être, with the noun coming later in the sentence. Observe the following examples:

    French English
    Quelle heure est-il? What time is it?
    Quel est ton acteur préfére? Who (which) is your favorite actor?
    Quel jour sommes-nous? What day is it?
    Quels sont les meilleurs étudiants de la classe? Which (who) are the best students in the class?
    Quelles émissions est-ce que tu regardes souvent? What t.v. shows do you watch often?

    B.5.1 Quelles sont tes préf érences?

    (Notez le genre:)

    une actrice
    un groupe
    un restaurant
    une eur
    un parfum
    une couleur
    une marque
    une émission
    un sport
    une cuisine

    Complétez les questions avec la forme correcte de l'adjectif interrogatif quel. Faites attention au genre et au nombre. Répondez aux questions aussi.

    1. __________________actrices aimes-tu?
    2. __________________groupes de musique aimes-tu?
    3. __________________restaurant aimes-tu?
    4. __________________fleurs préfères-tu?
    5. __________________parfum aimes-tu?
    6. __________________couleur aimes-tu?
    7. __________________marque de jean préfères-tu?
    8. __________________émissions de télé aimes-tu?
    9. __________________sports pratiques-tu?
    10. __________________cuisine préfères-tu?


    B.6 -er verbs with spelling changes

    All -er verbs are regular, except the verb aller which you will learn in chapter 4. However, some -er verbs have minor spelling changes. All these changes are for reasons of pronunciation, so if you understand the reason for them, you will nd it easy to remember when the spelling change is necessary. Because these changes occur simply in order to maintain the correct pronunciation, these are not true "irregular" verbs like the verbs être and avoir that you have already learned.

    1. Verbs ending in -cer and -ger - Change in the nous form

    The first change occurs in verbs that end in -cer and -ger. Because the letters c and g each have two pronunciations, a spelling change must occur to keep the same pronunciation of the consonant in all six forms. As you remember, the letter c is hard ([k]) before a, o, and u, and soft ([s]) before e and i. The letter g is also hard ([g]) before a, o, and u, and soft ([ʒ]) before e and i. Since all -er endings except for the nous form end in -e, we must make a spelling change to the nous form to ensure a soft consonant before the -ons ending. For -ger verbs, we simply add an -e before the -ons. For -cer verbs, we change the -c to -c, which is always pronounced [s]. All -cer and -ger verbs make these changes in the nous form of the present tense. The other ve forms are the same as any other -er verb.

    Exemple: manger ([mã ʒe]  
    je mange [ʒə mãʒ] nous mangeons [mã ʒɔ̃]
    tu manges [ty mãʒ] vous mangez [mã ʒe]
    il/elle mange [il mãʒ] ils/elles mangent [il mãʒ]
    commencer ([kɔ mã se]  
    je commence [ʒə kɔ mãs] nous commençons [kɔ mã sɔ̃]
    tu commences [ty kɔ mãs] vous commencez [vu kɔ mã se]
    il/elle commence [il kɔ mãs] ils/elles commencent [il kɔ mãs]

    2. Verbs ending in - éCer and -eCer - Change je, tu, il, and ils forms

    The second type of spelling change occurs in four forms, the je, tu, il, and ils forms. Since these forms visually look like a shoe or a boot when written in the traditional conjugation pattern, many refer to this as the "shoe" or "boot" pattern.

    Exemple: préférer ([pre fe re]  
    je préfère [ʒə pre fɛr] nous préférons [nu pre fe rɔ̃]
    tu préfères [ty pre fɛr] vous préférez [vu pre fe re]
    il/elle préfère [il pre fɛr] ils/elles préfèrent [il pre fɛr]
    Exemple: peser ([pə ze]  
    je pèse [ʒə pɛz] nous pesons [nu pə ʒɔ̃]
    tu pèses [ty pɛz] vous pesez [vu pə ze]
    il/elle pèse [il pɛz] ils/elles pèsent [il pɛz]
    Exemple: appeler ([ap le] ou [a pə le])  
    j'appelle [ʒa pɛl] nous appelons [nu zap lɔ̃] ou [nu za pə lɔ̃]
    tu appelles [ty a pɛl] vous appelez [vu za ple] ou [vu za pə le]
    il/elle appelle [i la pɛl] ils/elles appellent [il za pɛl]

    These changes affect all verbs with infinitives ending in -eCer or -eCer, where C represents a single consonant. As you recall from chapter two, the letter "e" has three pronunciations in French: [ə], [ɛ], and [e]. French pronunciation rules say that [ə] and [e] occur only in open syllables, that is, syllables that end with a vowel sound. In a closed syllable, that is, one ending with a consonant sound, we need the sound [ɛ̃].

    Since the je, tu, il, and ils forms of -er verbs are all pronounced the same, with silent verb endings (-e, -es, -e, -ent), the last sound in each of these forms is the last consonant of the stem. These four forms must change spelling to match their pronunciation. It is only the stem of the verb, that is, the part before the endings, that changes, so these are known as stem-changing verbs. The endings are still regular -er verb endings.

    2.a. Verbs ending in - éCer, like préférer above

    The je, tu, il, and ils forms are all pronounced the same, and contain the accent change from é to è, which changes the vowel sound from [e] to [ɛ̃]. The nous and vous forms keep the same vowel as the infinitive, written é and pronounced [e]. Note that this change affects only the final accented e in the stem of the verb. As you can see from the example of préférer above, it is the second e that changes (the stem is préfér-), not the first one.

    2.b. Verbs ending in -eCer, like peser or appeler above

    The je, tu, il, and ils forms are all pronounced the same, and contain the vowel change from the sound [ə] to the sound [ɛ]. The infinitive and the nous and vous forms remain unchanged, with the vowel sound [ə].

    There are two ways for spelling to indicate this pronunciation change. Most verbs in this pattern add an accent grave (è), but a few double the final consonant after the e. Common verbs that add an accent like peser include lever (to raise), enlever (to take o), emmener (to bring) and amener (to take).

    Since the spelling reform of 1990, the only remaining verbs that double the consonant are the verbs appeler and jeter (to throw) and their families (e.g. épeler (to spell), rejeter (to reject)).

    3. Verbs ending in -ayer, -oyer, -uyer

    Exemple: balayer ([ba la je]  
    je balaie [ʒə ba lɛ] nous balayons [nu ba lɛ jɔ̃]
    tu balaies [ty ba lɛ] vous balayez [vu ba lɛ je]
    il/elle balaie [il ba lɛ] ils/elles balaient [il ba lɛ]
    Exemple: nettoyer ([nə twa je]  
    je nettoie [ʒə nɛ twa] nous nettoyons [nu nɛ twa jɔ̃]
    tu nettoies [ty nɛ twa] vous nettoyez [vu nɛ twa je]
    il/elle nettoie [il nɛ twa] ils/elles nettoient [il nɛ twa]
    Exemple: essuyer ([ɛ sɥi je]  
    j'essuie [ʒɛ̃ sɥi] nous essuyons [nu zɛ sɥi jɔ̃]
    tu essuies [ty ɛ sɥi] vous essuyez [vu zɛ sɥi je]
    il/elle essuie [i lɛ sɥi] ils/elles essuient [il zɛ sɥi]

    In these forms, the -y- changes to -i- in the je, tu, il, and ils forms, but remains unchanged in the nous and vous forms. (With verbs of the -ayer type, you have the choice of changing or not changing, but since the change is required in the other two types (-oyer and -uyer), it is easiest just to learn that all three of these types change in the shoe pattern.)

    B.6.1 Stem-changing -er verbs

    For practice, consult the charts above and write the correct form of the verb in the present tense.

    1. Je (préférer) ___________________la salsa.
    2. Mon cours de français (commencer) ___________________à 10h50.
    3. Il s'(appeler) ___________________Georges.
    4. Nous (nettoyer) ___________________la cuisine tous les jours.
    5. Mon frère (essuyer) ___________________la vaisselle.
    6. Nous (ranger) ___________________nos affaires sur les étagères.
    7. Mes amis (balayer) ___________________leur chambre.
    8. Jean n'(essayer) ___________________pas de nouvelles choses.
    9. Nous (commencer) ___________________à parler français!
    10. Mon sac à dos (peser) ___________________lourd.
    11. A quelle heure (emmener) ___________________-vous votre fille à l'école?
    12. Qu'est-ce que vous (manger) ___________________?
    13. Vous (préférer) ___________________les oranges ou les pommes?
    14. Les clients (payer) ___________________à la caisse.

    This page titled 3.2: Grammar is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gretchen Angelo (Light and Matter) .