[ French grammar index ] [ Irregular verb patterns ]

The -re verb pattern

Around 50 French verbs fall into a pattern commonly called the "regular -re verb" pattern in English-speaking material. (In most French-speaking material, these verbs are usually classified simply as a variant of "group 3" verbs.) Verbs in this pĂ ttern have a characteristic [d] sound in all places except the singular present tense forms, and have d throughout their spelling. They all have past participles ending in -u1.

Which verbs?

With possible exceptions mentioned below, all of these verbs in fact end in -dre, and more specifically have three types of ending:

Infinitive ending Exceptions Example verbs
-endre and -andre [ɑ̃dʁ]. prendre and its compounds. attendre to wait, await
défendre to prohibit; to defend
descendre to go/come down
dépendre (de) to depend (on)
entendre to hear
répandre to spread
vendre to sell
-ondre [õdʁ] -- correspondre to correspond
fondre to melt
pondre to lay
répondre to reply, respond
-erdre [ɛʁdʁ], -ordre [ɔʁdʁ] -- mordre to bite
tordre to twist

The verbs in these three subcategories do not behave any differently, but having one of these specific endings is what marks a verb as categorically following the "regular -re" pattern. Verbs ending in -dre but with other vowels before this ending (such as craindre or absoudre) don't fall into this pattern.

Forms

The characteristic consonant, d, is pronounced as expected in plural present tense forms and in all other forms of the verb. Unusually, the characteristic consonant is also written, but not pronounced, in the present tense singular forms.

In the following information, we use the example verb vendre ("to sell").

Present tense

Singular forms:
In pronunciation, the singular forms all sound like the infinitive minus the final -dre. So vendre [vɑ̃dʁ] gives the singular form [vɑ̃]. In the spelling, the group 3 endings (-s, -s, -(t)) are added to the stem (infinitive minus final syllable) but the d is retained. This gives je/tu vends but because of the -d, no final -t is added to (il) vend.
Plural forms
As expected, the plural forms consist of stem plus characteristic consonant plus the endings -ons, -ez, -ent (the plural endings that generally apply to any tense of any French verb). This means that these endings are added to vend-, giving nous vendons, vous vendez, ils vendent.

This information is summarised in the following table:

Singular/ pluralStem formStem form (spelling)Ending (spelling)Form (spelling)Stem form (pronunc.)Ending (pronunc.)Form (pronunc.)
SingularInfinitive mins -dre, but d retained in spelling.vend--s
-s
-
je vends
tu vends
il vend
[vɑ̃]-[vɑ̃]
PluralInfinitive minus -re (the characteristic consonant d is retained.)vend--ons
-ez
-ent
nous vendons
vous vendez
ils vendent
[vɑ̃d][õ]
[e]
-
(nous) [vɑ̃dõ]
(vous) [vɑ̃de]
(ils) [vɑ̃d]

Past participle

The past participle is formed by replacing -re of the infinitive with -u. For vendre, this gives vendu.

Other tenses

Other tenses are formed as for any other verb:

  • The imperfect takes the stem vend- of the nous form, giving je vendais etc.
  • In the future tense, the future stem is the infinitive minus final -e, giving je vendrai etc.
  • The conditional is the future but with imperfect endings, giving je vendrais etc.
  • The subjunctive takes the stem of the ils present tense form (i.e. it includes the characteristic consonant, vend-) and adds the usual subjunctive endings, giving je vende etc.
(See note 1 for the past historic form.)

Verbs not ending in -dre that follow this pattern?

If you accept that the characteristic consonant doesn't have to be d, then a couple of other verbs fall into essentially the same pattern as vendre:

rompre (to break)
If we take the p of the infinitive to be the characteristic consonant, this verb has the same pattern as vendre etc, except that in the spelling, the p is maintained in (il) rompt. The derivative verbs corrompre (to bribe) and interrompre (to interrupt) follow the same pattern.
vaincre (to defeat)
If we take the c [k] of the infinitive to be the characteristic consonant, this verb has the same pattern as vendre etc. In the spelling, -t is omitted from il vainc, just as for vendre etc. A slight complication occurs in the plural present tense forms (and derived forms), where c changes to qu in the spelling, including the nous form: present nous vainquons, vous vainquez, imperfect il vainquait, subjunctive (que) je vainque etc. The more common verb convaincre (to convince) also follows this pattern.
foutre (to do, chuck, shove, stick...)
In very informal speech, this is a common pejorative verb meaning to do (qu'est-ce que tu fous? = what the hell are you doing?) or to put, close to English chuck, stick, sling, shove etc (je te foutrai dehors = I'll chuck you out). Taking t to be the characteristic consonant, it essentially behaves as vendre, with present tense forms je/tu fous, il fout and past participle foutu2.

Notes:
1. Another salient feature is that they have past historic forms ending in -is etc, whereas most other verbs with past participles ending in -u have past historic forms -us etc.
2. Probably because this is a very informal, often impolite-sounding verb, the past historic is rare (and only used with a humorous or ironic connotation?). Both je foutus and je foutis are found on the Internet.

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This page written by Neil Coffey. Copyright © Javamex UK 2014. All rights reserved.