Regular vs Irregular verbs: What's the difference?

Posted by Josh on 14th Sept 2022 in the blog in the learning french category

All verbs fall under one of two categories: regular and irregular. The regularity of a verb simply refers to the way it is conjugated.

Learning the differences between these two types of verb will make conjugating a lot easier — so read carefully!

Regular Verbs

Most verbs conjugate according to one of three patterns, based on the three common endings for infinitives. These are what we call regular verbs. They are as follows:

Verbs which end in -er (parler, manger aimer, marcher)

Verbs which end in -re (pendre, entendre, répondre, vendre)

Verbs which end in -ir (finir, choisir, réagir, obéir)

But be careful! Some verbs which have these endings are in fact irregular. The standard conjugation patterns only apply to those verbs which are regular.

Below are the present tense conjugations for each of the three verb patterns.

-er verbs (e.g. parler)
je parle
tu parles
il/elle/on parle
nous parlons
vous parlez
ils/elles parlent

-re verbs (e.g. pendre)
je pends
tu pends
il/elle/on pend
nous pendons
vous pendez
ils/elles pendent

-ir verbs (e.g. finir)
je finis
tu finis
il/elle/on finit
nous finissons
vous finissez
ils/elles finissent

By learning these three patterns, you will be able to conjugate any regular verb you come across.

You can find the conjugations for the different tenses in Lessons 15, 20, 21, 23, 31, 34, 35 and 36 of the Complete French Course.

Irregular Verbs

'Regular verbs are all alike; every irregular verb is irregular in its own way.'

Okay, we're misquoting Anna Karenina slightly there, but the point still stands: while regular verbs always conjugate according to either of the three regular verb patterns, irregular verbs each conjugate in line with their own pattern. This means that, whereas learning the regular verb patterns will set you up to be able to conjugate any regular verb you come across, the same strategy won't work with irregular verbs.

Here are examples of a few.

je peux
tu peux
il/elle/on peut
nous pouvons
vous pouvez
ils/elles peuvent

je dis
tu dis
il/elle/on dit
nous disons
vous dites
ils/elles disent

je tiens
tu tiens
il/elle/on tient
nous tenons
vous tenez
ils/elles tiennent

Since irregular verbs are all conjugated in different ways, you will need to learn their patterns separately.

Luckily, irregular verbs have some features in common that make them relatively simple to conjugate. For instance, with the exception of être, avoir, faire and aller, the nous form of the verbs always ends in -ons, the vous form always ends in -ez, and the ils/elles form always ends in -ent.

The patterns are usually similar, but the first letters are often different from the infinitive. There are also some patterns in common. Irregular verbs that end in the same suffix, such as '-uire' or '-prendre', will almost always conjugate the same way.

Some of the most common words in French, such as avoir, être and faire, are irregular verbs. However, while there are over 500 irregular verbs, some are quite obscure, so they don't need to be at the top of your priorities.

Some examples of irregular verbs include venir, mettre, falloir, devoir, as well as those listed above.

You can learn more about how we conjugate some of the commonest irregular verbs in the Lesson 11 of the Complete French Course.

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