Tag Archives: French

French Regular Verbs – Present Subjunctive Tense

French verbs

“I hate French!”

The subjunctive in French is generally used in the present tense after expressions such as ‘il faut que’ and some verbs that also take the word ‘que’ after them. These are generally the ones that express feelings or doubts (eg vouloir and craindre), especially when two parts of a sentence have different subjects, eg ‘I want her to be happy’ becomes ‘Je veux qu’elle soit contente’. Verbs ending in -er or -re have one set of endings, but  -ir verbs have another (shown here in red):

Verbs Ending in -er, eg Donner (to Give)

Je donne          (I may give)
Tu donnes          (You may give – informal)
Il/elle donne          (He/she may give)
Nous donnions          (We may give)
Vous donniez          (You may give – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles donnent          (They may give – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs Ending in -re, eg Vendre (to Sell)

Je vende          (I may sell)
Tu vendes          (You may sell – informal)
Il/elle vende          (He/she may sell)
Nous vendions          (We may sell)
Vous vendiez          (You may sell – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles vendent          (They may sell – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs Ending in -ir, eg Finir (to Finish)

Je finisse          (I may finish)
Tu finisses          (You may finish – informal)
Il/elle finisse          (He/she may finish)
Nous finissions          (We may finish)
Vous finissiez          (You may finish – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles finissent          (They may finish – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

How to Become a Private Tutor


I’ve talked to a few people who wanted to become private tutors, so I thought I’d write down a few tips for anyone who’s interested.

How Did I Start Out?

I started as a private tutor quite by accident. It was 2009, and I was finding it hard to get work as a freelance management consultant when I happened to read an article in the Telegraph called 10 Ways to Beat the Recession.

The author mentioned a few ways of earning some extra cash, including becoming an extra on film sets – which I was already doing – and working as a private tutor. I’d never done any proper teaching before, although I was a golf coach, and I’d coached skiing a few times in the Alps, but I thought I’d sign up with a couple of agencies and see what happened.

Within a week, I had two clients, and I’ve never looked back since!

What Qualifications do I Need?

The first and most important thing to say is that you don’t need any teaching qualifications! Yes, that’s right. You don’t need a PGCE, and you don’t need to have done any training as a teacher. As a private tutor, you are just that – private – so you don’t have to jump through all the Government hoops that a teacher in a state school would have to do.

Obviously, potential clients want the best person to teach their child, so you need to show some sort of academic record, but that can be as little as a degree in English – which is what I had when I started. Admittedly, I went to Oxford, which probably counts for a lot with Russian billionaires (!), but you don’t need to have an Oxbridge degree to become a tutor. Far from it.

However, what you probably will need is a criminal records check. This is just a piece of paper that certifies you haven’t been convicted of a criminal offence and was often known as a ‘CRB check’, although it’s now officially called an Enhanced Certificate from the Disclosure and Barring Service, or ‘DBS check’.

You can’t apply for an ‘enhanced certificate’ yourself, but your tuition agency can help you. In fact, they may require you to have one and even to renew it every year or two. It costs around £18 and can take up to three months to arrive, so it’s worth applying as early as possible.

Some agencies may charge up to £80 to make the application on your behalf, so be careful! You can find further information here.

What Subjects Can I Teach?

You can teach whatever you like! Agencies will just ask you which subjects you offer and at what level, so you have complete freedom to choose. I focus on English and Maths, which are the most popular subjects, but that’s mostly led by demand from clients. They are the main subjects at 11+ level, so that’s what most people are looking for help with.

What Age Children Can I Teach?

Again, the choice is yours. I’ve taught students from as young as five to as old as 75, but the peak demand is at 11+ level, when the children are around 10 years old. I make it a rule that I’ll only teach a subject to a level that I’ve reached myself, such as GCSE or A-level, but clients sometimes take you by surprise.

When I turned up to teach what I thought was going to be English to two boys, the nanny suddenly asked me to do Latin instead. When I said I hadn’t done any Latin since I was 15, she just said, “Oh, you’ll be fine…!”

What Preparation do I Need to do?


One of the big attractions of tutoring for me is that the work is very enjoyable. I like teaching, and I like spending time with children, so it’s the perfect combination! The reason I stopped work as a management consultant was the constant stress, the persistent worry that I wasn’t up to the job, but teaching 10-year-olds never makes me feel like that.

Whether it’s English or Maths, I’m confident in my ability to teach and never worry about being asked an impossible question. However, that doesn’t mean you can walk into your first lesson without doing any preparation at all.

In my case, I wanted to teach English, so I needed to find out what kind of questions cropped up in 11+ and 13+ entrance exams and come up with a good method of answering them. Once I’d done that, I was ready.

Maths was a bit easier, but I still looked through a few papers to make sure there was no risk of being blind-sided by something I’d forgotten how to do or had never studied. Whatever the subject you’re offering, I suggest you do the same.

Past Papers

The other thing I needed to do was to find past papers to give to my pupils. That was a bit tricky in the early days until a kind parent gave me a collection of photocopied exams. After that, I carried a couple around with me to take to lessons, but it wasn’t a great solution, so I decided to create a website – this one.

Over time, I collected dozens of past papers and wrote various articles on how to do different kinds of question in Maths, English and French. Now, I don’t have to carry around anything with me or spend time dictating notes. I can simply ask my pupils to look it up online.

Setting up a website is pretty easy using WordPress or something similar, but you should feel free to use the resources on my past papers tab if you don’t want to go to the trouble yourself, and all my articles are available for free if you need them.

The main ones I use for English are about doing comprehensions and writing stories, but there are plenty more. The website proved unexpectedly popular, and I had over 28,000 visitors last year! The other advantage is that it generated enough business for me not to need agencies any more.

That means I can charge what I like, I don’t have to pay any commission, and I can have a direct relationship with all my clients without anybody acting as an intermediary – and often just getting in the way!

Business Cards

I know it sounds a bit old-fashioned, but having business cards is very useful. If you’re just starting out, nobody knows your name, so paying a few quid to market your services is one of the best investments you can make.

You never know when people will tell you they’re looking for a tutor, and it’s the easiest thing in the world to give them a business card. Even if you don’t have a website, it will at least tell them how to reach you, and you should get a lot more clients out of it.

How Can I Find Work?

Tuition agencies are the best place to start, but there are different kinds. Some are online and simply require you to fill out a form for them to check and vet, but others ask you to go through an interview, either over the phone or in person.

Either way, you need to put together a tailored CV that shows off your academic achievements and highlights any teaching experience you’ve had. This may not be very much at the beginning, but you simply need to show enough potential to get you through the door.

Once you’ve shown enough aptitude and commitment to get accepted by a few agencies, you’ll rapidly build up your experience on the job.

Here is a list of the tuition agencies I’ve been in touch with, together with contact details where available. I’m based in London, so there is obviously a geographical bias there, but some of the agencies such as Fleet Tutors offer national coverage, and you can always search online for others in your local area.





A-Star Tuitionastartuition@btinternet.com01772 814739astartuition.com
Approved Tutorsapprovedtutors.co.uk
Athena Tuitionathenatuition.co.uk/
Beacon Tutorsinfo@beacontutors.co.uk020 8983 2158beacontutors.co.uk/
Bespoke Tuitionemma@bespoketuition.com07732 371880bespoketuition.com
Bigfoot Tutorstutors@bigfoottutors.com020 7729 9004bigfoottutors.com
Bright Young Things07702 019194brightyoungthingstuition.co.uk
Dulwich Tutorsinfo@dulwichtutors.com020 8653 3502dulwichtutors.com
Enjoy Educationkate@enjoyeducation.co.ukenjoyeducation.co.uk
Exam Confidence
First Tutorsfirsttutors.co.uk
Fleet Tutors0845 644 5452fleet-tutors.co.uk
Greater London Tutors020 7727 5599greaterlondontutors.com
Harrison Allenharrisonallen.co.uk
Holland Park Tuitionrecruitment@hollandparktuition.com020 7034 0800hollandparktuition.com
IPS Tutorsinfo@ipstutors.co.uk01509 265623ipstutors.co.uk
Ivy Educationivyeducation.co.uk
Kensington & Chelsea Tutorstutors@kctutors.co.uk020 7584 7987kctutors.co.uk
Keystone Tutorsenquiries@keystonetutors.com020 7351 5908keystonetutors.com
Kings Tutorsemily@kingstutors.co.ukkingstutors.co.uk
Knightsbridge Tutors07890 521390knightsbridgetutors.co.uk
Laidlaw Educationlaidlaweducation.co.uk
Mentor & Sonsandrei@mentorandsons.com07861 680377mentorandsons.com
Osborne Cawkwellenquiries@oc-ec.com020 7584 5355oc-ec.com
Personal Tutorsadmin@personal-tutor.co.ukpersonal-tutors.co.uk
Russell Education Groupjoe@russelleducationgroup.comn/a
Search Tutorssearchtutors.co.uk
Select My Tutorinfo@selectmytutor.co.ukselectmytutor.co.uk
SGA Educations@sga-education.comsga-education.com
Simply Learning Tuitionsimplylearningtuition.co.uk
The Tutor Pagesthetutorpages.com
Top Tutors020 8349 2148toptutors.co.uk
Tutor Houseinfo@tutorhouse.co.uk020 7381 6253tutorhouse.co.uk/
Tutor Hunttutorhunt.com
Tutors Internationaltutors-international.net
UK Tutorsuktutors.com
Westminster Tutorsexams@westminstertutors.co.uk020 7584 1288westminstertutors.co.uk
William Clarence Educationsteve@williamclarence.com020 7412 8988williamclarence.com
Winterwood winterwoodtutors.co.uk

That’s obviously a long list, but, to give you an idea, I earned the most from Adrian Beckett (teacher training), Bespoke Tuition, Bonas MacFarlane, Harrison Allen, Keystone Tutors, Mentor & Sons, Personal Tutors and Shawcross Bligh.

Once you’ve been accepted by and started working for a few agencies, you’ll soon see the differences. Some offer higher rates, some the option to set your own rates, some provide a lot of work, some offer the best prospects of jobs abroad. It all depends what you’re looking for.

Where Will the Lessons Take Place?

When I first started tutoring, I had to cycle to all my clients. I put a limit of half an hour on my travel time, but it still took a lot of time and effort to get to my pupils. Fortunately, I’m now able to teach at my home, either in person or online using Skype and an electronic whiteboard, which means my effective hourly rate has gone up enormously.

Travel is still a little bit of a problem for most tutors, though, and I certainly couldn’t have reached my pupils without having a bicycle. I didn’t have a car, and public transport wasn’t really an option in most cases.

You just have to decide how far you’re prepared to go: the further it is, the more business you’ll get, but the longer it’ll take to get there and therefore the lower your effective hourly rate.

The other possibility, of course, is teaching abroad. I’ve been lucky enough to go on teaching assignments in Belarus, Greece, Hong Kong, Kenya, Russia, Switzerland and Turkey, and it’s a great way to see the world.

The clients can sometimes be a little bit difficult, and the children can sometimes behave like spoiled brats (!), but staying with a great client in a sunny getaway overseas can be a wonderful experience.

The only reason I don’t apply for more foreign postings is that I don’t want to let down my existing clients – going away for three weeks just before the 11+ exams in January would NOT go down well!

When Will the Lessons Take Place?

If you’re teaching children, lessons will usually be in the after-school slot between 1600 and 2000 or at weekends. That does limit the amount of hours you can teach, but it’s up to you how much you want to work.

I used to work seven days a week, but I eventually gave myself a day off and then another, so I now work Sundays to Thursdays with Friday and Saturday off.

During the holidays, you lose a lot of regular clients when they disappear to the Maldives or somewhere for six weeks (!), but others might ask for an intensive sequence of lessons to take advantage of the extra time available, and there’s obviously a greater chance of a foreign assignment.

All that means that the work is very seasonal, so you should expect your earnings to go up and down a bit and plan your finances accordingly.

What Should I do During the Lesson?

I generally teach from past papers, so I ask pupils to do a past paper for their homework and then mark it during the following lesson.

‘Marking’ means marking the questions, obviously, but it also means ‘filling in the gaps’ in the pupil’s knowledge. If he or she is obviously struggling with something, it’s worth spending a few minutes explaining the topic and asking a few practice questions.

I’ve written a few articles on common problem areas in English and Maths, such as commas and negative numbers, so I often go through one of those and ask the pupil’s parents to print it out and put it in a binder. After a few weeks, that collection of notes gradually turns into a ready-made revision guide for the exams.

If the parents want you to work on specific topics, that’s also possible. For example, one mother wanted to help her son with ratios, so she printed out dozens of past papers and circled the ratio questions for him to do. He soon got the knack!

I approach English in a slightly different way to begin with. There are two types of question in the 11+, comprehensions and creative writing, so I generally spend the first lesson teaching pupils how to do one of those. I go through my article on the subject online and then ask them to answer a practice question by following the procedure I’ve outlined.

They usually finish it off for their homework. After a few weeks of stories or comprehensions, I’ll switch to the other topic and do the same with that. I also ask pupils to write down any new words or words they get wrong in a vocabulary book because building vocabulary is very important for any type of English exam (and also for Verbal Reasoning).

I ask them to fold the pages over in the middle so that they can put the words on the left and the meanings on the right (if necessary). Every few weeks, I can then give them a spelling test. If they can spell the words correctly and tell me what they mean, they can tick them off in their vocab book.

Once they’ve ticked off a whole page of words, they can tick that off, too! I usually try to reinforce the learning of words by asking pupils to tell me a story using as many words as possible from their spelling test.

It can be a familiar fairy story or something they make up, but it just helps to move the words from the ‘passive’ memory to the ‘active memory’, meaning that they actually know how to use them themselves rather than just understand them when they see them on the page.

What Homework Should I Set?

Most children who have private lessons have pretty busy schedules, so I don’t want to overburden them. I generally set one exercise that takes around 30-45 minutes. That might be a Maths paper or an English comprehension or story, but it obviously depends on the subject and the level.

Just make sure that the student writes down what needs to be done – a lot of them forget! You should also make a note in your diary yourself, just so that you can check at the start of the next lesson if the work has been done.

What Feedback Should I Give the Parents?

I generally have a quick chat with the mother or father (or nanny) after the lesson to report on what we did during the lesson, what problems the child had and what homework I’ve set. This is also a good time to make any changes to the schedule, for instance if the family goes on holiday.

If that’s not possible, I’ll email the client with a ‘lesson report’. Some agencies such as Bonas MacFarlane make this a part of their timesheet system.

How Much Will I Get Paid?

When I first started, I had absolutely no idea how much I was worth, and I ended up charging only £10 an hour, which is not much more than I pay my cleaner! Fortunately, a horrified friend pointed out that it should be ‘at least’ £35 an hour, and I upped my rates immediately.

I now charge £60 an hour for private lessons, whether online or in person. Unfortunately, some agencies such as Fleet Tutors don’t allow you to set your own rates, so that’s one thing to bear in mind when deciding which agencies to work with.

However, they did provide me with quite a bit of work when I first started, so it’s swings and roundabouts. The pay scale often varies depending on the age of the student and the level taught, so you’ll probably earn more for teaching older students at GCSE level or above if the agency sets the prices.

If you have any private clients, you can obviously set whatever rate you like, depending on where you live, the age of your pupils, whether lessons are online or in person and so on. Personally, I only have one rate (although I used to charge an extra £5 for teaching two pupils at the same time), and I raise it by £5 every year to allow for inflation and extra demand.

Tutoring is more and more popular than ever these days, and I read somewhere that over half of pupils in London have private lessons over the course of their school careers, so don’t sell yourself short! You should be able to make around £25,000 a year, which is not bad going for a couple of hours’ work a day!

Foreign jobs are a little different, and there is a ‘standard’ rate of around £800 a week including expenses. That means your flights and accommodation are all covered, and you can even earn a bit more on the side if you decide to rent out your home on Airbnb while you’re away!

When it comes to day-to-day expenses such as taxis and food and drink, it’s important to negotiate that with the agency before accepting the job. It’s no good complaining about having to live in the client’s house and buy your own lunches when you’re in Moscow or Bratislava! It can be a dream job, but just make sure you look at it from every angle:

  • What subjects will I be teaching?
  • How many hours will I have to teach?
  • How many days off will I get per week?
  • Where will the lessons take place?
  • How do I get to and from my accommodation?
  • How long is the assignment? (I refuse anything more than three months.)
  • Where will I be staying? (NEVER at the client’s house!)
  • How old are the children?
  • Will I have any other responsibilities (eg ferrying the children to and from school)?
  • Do I need a visa?
  • What is the weekly rate?
  • What expenses are included (eg flights, accommodation, taxis, food, drink)?

How Do I Get Paid?

Most agencies ask for a timesheet and pay their tutors monthly via BACS payments directly into their bank accounts. That’s a bit annoying from a cash flow point of view, but there’s not much you can do about it – other than using a different agency.

When it comes to private clients, I generally ask for cash after the lesson, but it’s even more convenient if they can pay via standing order – as long as you can trust them! I once let a client rack up over £600 in fees because he tended to pay in big lump sums every few weeks, but then his business folded, and I had to use a Government website to try and chase him up.

Fortunately, his wife saw the email and paid my bill, but it took months to sort out. Normally, though, the worst that happens is that a client just doesn’t have the right change and promises to pay the following week, so you just need to keep track of who owes what.

I hope all this helps. Good luck!


Preceding Direct Objects in French

French verbs

“I hate French!”

Forming the perfect (or pluperfect) tense in French is sometimes made harder than necessary by what’s called a Preceding Direct Object (or PDO). The object of a sentence is whatever ‘suffers the action of the verb’, eg the nail in ‘he hit the nail on the head’.

If the object is a pronoun and the perfect (or pluperfect) tense is being used, the French put it before the auxiliary rather than at the end of the sentence as in English, eg ‘il l‘a frappé’ or ‘he it has hit’!

You might think that’s bad enough, but the real problem is that the past participle has to agree in number and gender with the PDO, eg ‘il les a frappés‘ or ‘he’s hit them’.

When it comes to reflexive verbs, it gets even worse. By definition, every reflexive verb has a PDO, so that means you have to watch what you write when a female character is speaking, eg ‘Je me suis lavé’ for a boy, but ‘Je me suis lavée’ for a girl.

Having said that, one of my male pupils once told me that the best way to get a good mark in his French prose was to tell a story in the first person and pretend to be a girl – that way, he’d get a tick every time he used a PDO!

French Regular Verbs – Conditional Tense

French verbs

“I hate French!”

The conditional tense in French is used to show that someone ‘would do’ or ‘would be doing’ something. All verbs end in -er, -re or -ir, and the endings are different (as shown here in red):

Verbs Ending in -er, eg Donner (to Give)

Je donnerais          (I would give)
Tu donnerais          (You would give – informal)
Il/elle donnerait          (He/she would give)
Nous donnerions          (We would give)
Vous donneriez          (You would give – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles donneraient          (They would give – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs Ending in -re, eg Vendre (to Sell)

Je vendrais          (I would give)
Tu vendrais          (You would give – informal)
Il/elle vendrait          (He/she would give)
Nous vendrions          (We would give)
Vous vendriez          (You would give – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles vendraient          (They would give – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs Ending in -ir, eg Finir (to Finish)

Je finirais          (I would finish)
Tu finirais          (You would finish – informal)
Il/elle finirait          (He/she would finish)
Nous finirions          (We would finish)
Vous finiriez          (You would finish – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles finiraient          (They would finish – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

French Regular Verbs – Future Tense

French verbs

“I hate French!”

There is only one future tense in French, and it’s used to show that someone ‘will do’ or ‘will be doing’ something. Verbs end in -er, -re or -ir, but the endings are the same (as shown here in red):

Verbs Ending in -er, eg Donner (to Give)

Je donnerai          (I will give)
Tu donneras          (You will give – informal)
Il/elle donnera          (He/she will give)
Nous donnerons          (We will give)
Vous donnerez          (You will give – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles donneront          (They will give – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs Ending in -re, eg Vendre (to Sell)

Je vendrai          (I will sell)
Tu vendras          (You will sell – informal)
Il/elle vendra          (He/she will sell)
Nous vendrons          (We will sell)
Vous vendrez          (You will sell – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles vendront          (They will sell – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs Ending in -ir, eg Finir (to Finish)

Je finirai          (I will finish)
Tu finiras          (You will finish – informal)
Il/elle finira          (He/she will finish)
Nous finirons          (We will finish)
Vous finirez          (You will finish – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles finiront          (They will finish – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

French Regular Verbs – Past Tense

French verbs

“I hate French!”

Here are the basic forms of French regular verbs in the past tense, which include the perfect (or passé composé), pluperfect, imperfect and past historic (or passé simple). All verbs end in -er, -re or -ir, and there are different endings for each that are shown here in red.

Perfect (or passé composé)

The perfect tense is used in formal written French to say someone ‘has done’ something, but they sometimes use it in conversation and casual writing in the same way we use the simple past tense (or ‘preterite’), eg ‘j’ai donné’ might mean ‘I gave’ rather than ‘I have given’ – you just need to look at the context to help you decide which is the right translation.

Verbs Ending in -er, eg Donner (to Give)

J’ai donné          (I have given or I gave)
Tu as donné          (You have given or you gave – informal)
Il/elle a donné          (He/she has given or he/she gave)
Nous avons donné          (We have given or we gave)
Vous avez donné          (You have given or you gave – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles ont donné          (They have given or they gave – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs Ending in -re, eg Vendre (to Sell)

J’ai vendu          (I have sold or I sold)
Tu as vendu          (You have sold or you sold – informal)
Il/elle a vendu          (He/she has sold or he/she sold)
Nous avons vendu          (We have sold or we sold)
Vous avez vendu          (You have sold or you sold – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles ont vendu          (They have sold or they sold – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs Ending in -ir, eg Finir (to Finish)

J’ai fini          (I have finished or I finished)
Tu as fini          (You have finished or you finished – informal)
Il/elle a fini          (He/she has finished or he/she finished)
Nous avons fini          (We have finished or we finished)
Vous avez fini          (You have finished or you finished – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles ont fini          (They have finished or they finished – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)


The pluperfect tense is used to say someone ‘had done’ something. This is common in story-writing when an event is described that happened before that particular moment in the story, eg ‘j’avais donné’ means ‘I had given’.

Verbs Ending in -er, eg Donner (to Give)

J’avais donné          (I had given)
Tu avais donné          (You had given – informal)
Il/elle avait donné          (He/she had given)
Nous avions donné          (We had given)
Vous aviez donné          (You had given – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles avaient donné         (They had given – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs Ending in -re, eg Vendre (to Sell)

J’avais vendu          (I had sold)
Tu avais vendu          (You had sold – informal)
Il/elle avait vendu          (He/she had sold)
Nous avions vendu          (We had sold)
Vous aviez vendu          (You had sold – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles avaient vendu         (They had sold – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs Ending in -ir, eg Finir (to Finish)

J’avais fini          (I had finished)
Tu avais fini          (You had finished – informal)
Il/elle avait fini          (He/she had finished)
Nous avions fini          (We had finished)
Vous aviez fini          (You had finished – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles avaient fini         (They had finished – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)


The imperfect tense is used to say someone ‘was doing’ or ‘used to do’ something, eg ‘je donnais’ means ‘I was giving’ or ‘I used to give’.

Verbs Ending in -er, eg Donner (to Give)

Je donnais          (I was giving)
Tu donnais          (You were giving – informal)
Il/elle donnait          (He/she was giving)
Nous donnions          (We were giving)
Vous donniez          (You were giving – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles donnaient          (They were giving – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs Ending in -re, eg Vendre (to Sell)

Je vendais          (I was selling)
Tu vendais          (You were selling – informal)
Il/elle vendait          (He/she was selling)
Nous vendions          (We were selling)
Vous vendiez          (You were selling – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles vendaient          (They were selling – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs Ending in -ir, eg Finir (to Finish)

Je finissais          (I was finishing)
Tu finissais          (You were finishing – informal)
Il/elle finissait          (He/she was finishing)
Nous finissions          (We were finishing)
Vous finissiez          (You were finishing – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles finissaient          (They were finishing – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Past Historic (or Passé Simple)

The past historic is the equivalent of the simple past tense (or preterite) in English and is used in novels and other formal writing to say someone ‘did’ something, eg ‘je donnai’ means ‘I gave’ or ‘I used to give’. It is never used in conversation, where it is replaced by the perfect tense.

Verbs Ending in -er, eg Donner (to Give)

Je donnai          (I gave)
Tu donnas          (you gave – informal)
Il/elle donna          (he/she gave)
Nous donnâmes          (we gave)
Vous donnâtes          (you gave – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles donnèrent          (they gave – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs Ending in -re, eg Vendre (to Sell)

Je vendis          (I sold)
Tu vendis          (you sold – informal)
Il/elle vendit          (he/she sold)
Nous vendîmes          (we sold)
Vous vendîtes          (you sold – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles vendirent          (they sold – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs Ending in -ir, eg Finir (to Finish)

Je finis          (I finished)
Tu finis          (you finished – informal)
Il/elle finit          (he/she finished)
Nous finîmes          (we finished)
Vous finîtes          (you finished – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles finirent          (they finished – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)


Common French Verbs – Present Tense

French verbs

“I hate French!”

Language changes over time because people are lazy. They’d rather say something that’s easy than something that’s correct. That means the most common words change the most, and the verbs become ‘irregular’. In French, the ten most common verbs are ‘être’, ‘avoir’, ‘pouvoir’, ‘faire’, ‘mettre’, ‘dire’, ‘devoir’, ‘prendre’, ‘donner’ and ‘aller’, and they’re all irregular apart from ‘donner’. Here are their forms in the present tense.

Note: the irregular forms are shown in red.

Etre (to Be)

Je suis          (I am)
Tu es          (You are – informal)
Il/elle est          (He/she is)
Nous sommes          (We are)
Vous êtes          (You are – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles sont          (They are – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Avoir (to Have)

J’ai          (I have)
Tu as          (You have – informal)
Il/elle as          (He/she has)
Nous avons          (We have – formal and/or plural)
Vous avez          (You have – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles ont          (They have – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Pouvoir (to be Able to, ‘Can’)

Je peux          (I can)
Tu peux          (You can – informal)
Il/elle peut          (He/she can)
Nous pouvons          (We can – formal and/or plural)
Vous pouvez          (You can – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles peuvent          (They can – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Faire (to Do, to Make)

Je fais          (I do or make)
Tu fais          (You do or make – informal)
Il/elle fait          (He/she does or makes)
Nous faisons          (We do or make – formal and/or plural)
Vous faites          (You do or make – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles font          (They do or make – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Mettre (to Put)

Je mets          (I put)
Tu mets          (You put – informal)
Il/elle met          (He/she puts)
Nous mettons          (You put – formal and/or plural)
Vous mettez          (You put – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles mettent          (They put – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Dire (to Say, to Tell)

Je dis          (I say or tell)
Tu dis          (You say or tell – informal)
Il/elle dit          (He/she says or tells)
Nous disons          (We say or tell – formal and/or plural)
Vous disez          (You say or tell – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles disent          (They say or tell – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Devoir (to Have to, ‘Must’)

Je dois          (I have to or must)
Tu dois          (You have to or must – informal)
Il/elle doit          (He/she has to or must)
Nous devons          (We have to or must – formal and/or plural)
Vous devez          (You have to or must – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles doivent          (They have to or must – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Prendre (to Take)

Je prends          (I take)
Tu prends          (You take – informal)
Il/elle prend          (He/she takes)
Nous prenons          (We take – formal and/or plural)
Vous prenez          (You take – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles prennent          (They take – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Aller (to Go)

Je vais          (I have)
Tu vas          (You have – informal)
Il/elle va          (He/she has)
Nous allons          (We have – formal and/or plural)
Vous allez          (You have – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles vont          (They have – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

French Regular Verbs – Present Tense

French verbs

“I hate French!”

Nobody likes French verbs – not even the French! – but I thought I’d start by listing the most basic forms of the regular verbs in the present tense. All French verbs end in -er, -re or -ir, and there are different endings for each that are shown here in red:

Verbs Ending in -er, eg Donner (to Give)

Je donne          (I give)
Tu donnes          (You give – informal)
Il/elle donne          (He/she gives)
Nous donnons          (We give)
Vous donnez          (You give – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles donnent          (They give – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs Ending in -re, eg Vendre (to Sell)

Je vends          (I sell)
Tu vends          (You sell – informal)
Il/elle vend          (He/she sell)
Nous vendons          (We sell)
Vous vendez          (You sell – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles vendent          (They sell – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs Ending in -ir, eg Finir (to Finish)

Je finis          (I finish)
Tu finis          (You finish – informal)
Il/elle finit          (He/she finish)
Nous finissons          (We finish)
Vous finissez          (You finish – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles finissent          (They finish – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

If you’re learning French and have to memorise the present tense, it helps if you can spot the patterns:

  • The je, tu, il/elle and ils/elles forms all sound the same for -er and -re verbs (and the same is true of the je, tu and il/elle forms of -ir verbs)
  • The nous and vous forms always end in -ons and -ez (although -ir verbs have an extra -ss- in the middle)

People learn things in different ways, but the best way I’ve found is to make a recording on my phone and try to repeat the words at the same time as I listened to them on my headphones. I did a lot of acting at Oxford and in the Edinburgh Fringe, and that was the way I learned my lines.

If I made a mistake or forgot something, the recording prompted me with the right words, and I could carry on repeating the exercise until I was word-perfect. It meant I could learn my lines any time, anywhere – whether I was watching sport, making dinner or cycling around town!

Good luck…

Learning the Right Words

French. Nuts...

French. Nuts…

One of the frustrations about learning French is that you’re not given the words you really need to know.

I studied French up to A-level, but I was sometimes at a complete loss when I went out with my French girlfriend and a few of her friends in Lyon.

I was feeling suitably smug about following the whole conversation in French…until everyone started talking about chestnuts!

At the end of almost every story, someone would mention them. Now, it’s not often that chestnuts crop up in conversation (!), so I thought I’d check with Isabelle later on. When I asked her about it, she said her friends hadn’t been talking about chestnuts at all.

When I pressed her, she said they hadn’t been saying ‘marrons’ but ‘marrant’ – which is slang for ‘funny’! The next day, I started a list of all the slang words – or ‘argot’ – I came across, and within a few weeks I had over a hundred.

This is just a trivial example of what anyone knows who has lived and spoken French among French people: the words they use are almost never the ones you find in Longmans Audiovisual French!

More often than not, they are ‘argotique’ or slang. For example, a house is not a ‘maison’ but a ‘baraque’, and a car is not a ‘voiture’ but a ‘caisse’ or a ‘bagnole’. In addition, there are rules about when you can use slang and when you can’t.

I got into real trouble with my girlfriend when I threw a few slang words into my conversation with an old family friend of hers. I was just trying to practise my ‘argot’, but Isabelle told me in no uncertain terms that you NEVER, EVER use slang with someone you address as ‘vous’!

Pupils spend a long time being taught vocabulary for a given set of situations and environments – doing the shopping, going to school, going to the cinema etc – but they are rarely given a simple list of the most common words.

You can easily find such a list online (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Wiktionary:French_frequency_lists/1-2000), and learning those words strikes me as much more useful than wasting time with ‘le muguet’ (or lily-of-the-valley), which I remember cropping up in my own Longmans text book!

French ArgotEnglish
une pretexte baroquea bizarre or flimsy pretext
une bennea skip — where you dump things
merdes**t – can mean almost anything you want
le chefboss
la bagnolecar
la bite, bittec**k
le pénalistecriminal lawyer
au tapisdown (as in dead)
laisse tomber!drop it! Leave it!
stupéfiants, stupesdrugs
s**tdrugs, such as cannabis resin – as in “cent grams de s**t!”
gagner du fricearn money
une escort girlescort girl
la femme de compagnieescort girl
poiluFirst World War veteran
magouiller avecf**k with
le gentlemangentleman
le flinguegun
tu as plongé?have you started using [drugs] again?
c’est du bluffhe’s bluffing
la baraquehouse
j’ai des comptes à réglerI have scores to settle
je sais ce que vous traversezI know what you’re going through
embrouilléin a fine mess
mediatiquemedia-friendly, media-savvy
la crise d’angoissepanic attack
le proxénétismepimping, profiting from prostitution
dégagez!piss off!
le merdeuxs**thead
point finalthat’s it, end of story
la salopethe bitch, the disloyal woman
larguerto dump
fumerto kill
les chiottestoilets
t’as reçu un painyou got punched in the face