French has a reputation of being difficult to learn, firstly for its pronunciation, but also by its conjugation of verbs.

I understand that changing the verb ending according to the pronoun comes from Latin, and probably some older ancestor language. But the verb ending depends also on the group of the verb. French verbs are divided into 3 groups: the first group with all verbs in -er (aimer, manger, chanter,...) except aller; the second one with regular verbs in -ir and the last group with all other verbs (including irregular -ir).

Where does this division of verbs come from? As far as I know, it does not exist in Latin.

  • 4
    You’re wrong about latin.
    – Édouard
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 9:31
  • Ah... So I remember my Latin classes even more poorly than I thought :(.
    – Taladris
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 12:40
  • 1
    There is such division in Spanish too, for instance.
    – kiwixz
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 17:44
  • Some even talk of another group -oir (plus a number of subsets of irregular verbs with characteristics in common). Commented Dec 13, 2014 at 13:35

2 Answers 2


C'est un héritage direct de la conjugaison latine. Les « conjugaisons » latines basées sur la voyelle finale, ont donné les « groupes » en français. À la différence qu'en latin il y a quatre conjugaisons (ou cinq, une des conjugaison étant divisée en deux sous-groupes) et en français il y a trois groupes.
Ce système de classification de la conjugaison des verbes basée sur la voyelle finale de « l'infinitif » se retrouve dans d'autres langues romanes, italien espagnol, roumain... Il me semble qu'on peut aussi distinguer des groupes de conjugaison (2) en grec ancien.

The French conjugations ("groupes" in French) are a direct heritage from the Latin conjugations and this division is present in most romance languages, not only in French. Latin had four conjugations (one being split into two sub groups some will say Latin had five conjugations) and French has three "groupes".


Don't be discouraged. Scientifically, it doesn't seem to be true that some languages are objectively harder than others, with a few exceptions: http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2013/08/economist-explains-19

If you speak English, French is very attainable. The vocabulary overlap is tremendous. It's true that the French spelling system takes some getting used to, but the reality is that the hardest part about speaking French is just learning a huge vocabulary and getting used to the "sound" of it, which is the hardest part about every language. The spelling-to-pronunciation rules are a little unpredictable and weird, but once you learn about 20-30 rules, there are very few exceptional spellings to learn.

In fact, French verb conjugations are not so bad, if you're willing to spell things wrong but pronounce things right. Even if you get it wrong, the subject pronoun is mandatory, so you won't have problems being understood or understanding people once you learn the tense endings. Contrast Spanish, where mastering conjugation is essential to even basic conversation.

In my opinion, the classification of verbs into three categories is a little obsolete -- it may be useful to native speakers or people interested in the history of the language, but to learners, I'd make three non-conventional categories: 1) regular -er verbs. "one radical" 2) otherwise-regular verbs where plural present does not sound like singular present 3) highly irregular verbs.

Then category 3) is a short-list (10 or so verbs that you really use in everyday life), category 2) is a long list but completely robotic once you get the pattern, (including the type II -ir verbs but also a lot of verbs that are classified as type III currently) and category 1) is easy.

  • I am actually French :D. I was asking the question because I help foreign friends to learn French and I am always clueless when explaining why we have three groups of verbs - except a relic of history. Anyway, merci :)
    – Taladris
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 12:57
  • 2
    The question is "Where does this division of verbs come from?". I don't really think this is an attempt at answering this question at all.
    – N.I.
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 19:38
  • 1
    "the hardest part about speaking French is just learning a huge vocabulary and getting used to the "sound" of it, which is the hardest part about every language." - I'd say the hardest part is trying to understand French people. :-) I've been learning French for 15 years and I still can barely understand a word they say. They speak so fast and their words are so blurred together, I don't think I ever will.
    – Jez
    Commented Dec 14, 2014 at 23:35

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