The most common and irregular verbs of French
The verbs we deal with on this page are generally the most common and
most irregular verbs of French. On the following pages, we will deal with
other irregular French verbs which in general
share a lot in common and are actually less "irregular" than the verbs listed on
être, avoir, aller, faire
These verbs are extremely common1 and
highly irregular in a number of respects:
- They have more distinct present tense forms than other verbs. In particular,
they don't follow the usual pattern of all present tense singular forms sounding
- Their 3rd person plural present tense form ends in -ont,
unlike any other verb in the language.
- They have either present tense forms or future stems (or both) that
are wildly different from the infinitive (sometimes clearly derived from different
- In the case of faire and être,
along with dire,
their vous forms are the only ones in the language not to
end in -ez.
- They have irregular subjunctive forms.
The table below lists the irregular features of each of the four
verbs. Some of this information is aimed at advanced learners. Beginners are
advised to click on the verb to see its conjugation, and look at the present
tense. Intermediate learners will want to look at the other tenses.
- 5/62 distinct present tense forms, of which suis,
sommes and sont bear no relation to the
- sommes is the only nous form in the language
not to end in -ons;
- êtes one of two vous forms in the language
not to end in -ez;
- future forms ser-, derived from Latin ESSE, different from the
infinitive, derived from Latin STARE (cf. Spanish ser vs
- stem of the imperfect and present participle (étais etc)
is not that of the nous form of the present tense (virtually the
only such form in the language3);
- subjunctive forms not predictably based on the 3rd person plural of the present tense;
nous and vous subjunctive forms do not have
-i- (soyons, soyez);
singular endings -s/-s/-t rather than -e/-es/-e;
- past participle été one of very few to end in
-é but not be from a regular -er verb.
- 1st person singular present tense form ai different
to other singular forms as/a;
- singular present tense forms do not end in -s/-s/-t in the spelling;
- 3rd person plural form ont;
- future stem aur- a phonetic contraction of previous form
avrai etc (cf Spanish habré);
- present participle ayant has a different stem to the
nous form avons;
- subjunctive forms not based on the 3rd person plural of the present tense;
nous and vous subjunctive forms do not have
-i- (ayons, ayez);
singular forms aie/aies/ait do not follow the normal
subjunctive ending pattern (-e/-es/e);
- unpredictable past participle eu.
- Initial v- of present tense forms not present in the infinitive;
- 3rd person plural form vont one of only four to end
- Past participle allé one of very few to end in
-é but not be from a regular -er verb;
- Irregular subjunctive form aille etc not based on the
3rd person plural present tense form;
- Future stem ir- derived from a different root to the infinitive,
the original Latin infinitive IRE.
(The source of the all- forms is not generally agreed upon.)
|faire||(to) make, do
- Present tense vous form faites one of only
two (with êtes) not to end in -ez;
- Reduction of the vowel to a schwa in the pronunciation of faisons,
faisais etc, as well as in the future stem fer-;
- Irregular subjunctive form fasse, not based on the 3rd person
plural present tense form, plus fassions/fassiez, which do not
resemble the imperfect forms;
- Past participle fait practically the only one to end in
The modal auxiliaries pouvoir, vouloir and savoir
After the four verbs in the previous section, these verbs are arguably the next
most irregular, since they have unpredictable subjunctive forms and future
stems. The short past participles of pouvoir and savoir are
|Verb||Engliah meaning||Future stem||Subjunctive form||Past participle||Other irregularities|
|pouvoir||(to) be able to||pourr-||je puisse|
|pu||Singular present tense form je/tu peux spelt with -x rather than -s. Present tense form je puis retained in literary usage and in the inverted form puis-je.|
|vouloir||(to) want (to)||voudr-||je veuille|
|voulu||Singular present tense form je/tu veux spelt with -x rather than -s.|
|savoir||(to) know (how to)||saur-||je sache|
|su||Present participle sachant.|
Other features of these verbs' conjugations, such as the vowel alternation
in je veux vs vous voulez, occur in other irregular
verb patterns too (cf je meurs vs vous mourez).
Where to go next...
1. These are common, key verbs in the language partly because they have auxiliary uses:
avoir and être are used to form
compound tenses (similar to English I have done),
and être to form the passive
(similar to English the postman was bitten by the dog);
- aller is used to form a type of immediate future
construction (similar to English I'm going to do it);
- faire is used to form a causative construction
(similar to English I'll have the car repaired;
I'll make him do it: see this site's article on
the translation of the keyword 'faire').
2. Six forms in the written language: suis, es,
est, sommes, êtes, sont.
In the spoken language, most speakers do not make a discriminatory pronunciation
difference between es and est.
3. To my knowledge, the only other "irregular" imperfect/present participle stem
still encountered in contemporary French is the slightly archaic
florissait from fleurir. The verb
falloir has fallait, arguably predictable
from the infinitive, and pleuvoir has pleuvait,
but arguably an "artificial" nous form pleuvons
(and certainly a plural form pleuvent) are possible.
4. The verb traire (to milk) has trait.
5. The forms veuillez and sachez are used
as a type of imperative to mean 'kindly ...' and
'you should know that ...', 'please acknowledge that ...' respectively.
This page written by Neil Coffey. Copyright © Javamex UK 2012. All rights reserved.