There are so many French verb changes. Looking at my Bescherelle, I began to wonder, 'Are all these really necessary and practical? Is there not some inefficiency?' I understand truly that grammatical gender is necessary (because every European language except English has it) but all these verb changes(futur simple, plus-que-parfait for instance)... Could some one tell me whether my question makes sense?

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    What do you mean by "practical and efficient"? As in, for describing their conjugation for language learners?
    – Circeus
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 2:27
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    I mean, do you mean, like, the different verb types (er, -eler, -ir, -dre etc.) or just de different tenses and mood, or as far language learning or just in an abstract way? If you're not interested in writing French, it's not that much more complicated than English, really.
    – Circeus
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 6:27
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    Grammatical gender is absolutely not necessary, because English and other languages do fine without it. Languages have plenty of components that are not necessary.
    – Mel
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 8:11
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    It's not true that every European language except English has grammatical gender, for instance Hungarian and Basque also don't have it.
    – lmc
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 9:57
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    Of course there’s inefficiency. The major part of most languages’ grammar is inefficient and unnecessary. That’s just how language works. It’s not efficient. @LPH Languages that don’t have gender will just have different ways of keeping things clear. English is no more or less clear to an English speaker than French is to a French speaker. Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 11:32

3 Answers 3


If by different types, you mean different tenses and different moods, you can skip at the stage you're at the passé simple and passé antérieur de l'indicatif, the imparfait du subjonctif and the plus que parfait du subjonctif. Those forms of the verb are never used in spoken French and appear rarely in written French, only in literary texts. In other words, you can ignore for now :

  • je marchai, tu marchas, il/elle marcha, nous marchâmes, vous marchâtes, ils/elles marchèrent
  • j'eus marché, tu eus marché, il/elle eut marché, nous eûmes marché, vous eûtes marché, ils/elles eurent marché
  • je marchasse, tu marchasses, il/elle marchât, nous marchassions, vous marchassiez, ils/elles marchassent
  • j'eusse marché, tu eusses marché, il/elle eût marché, nous eussions marché, vous eussiez marché, ils/elles eussent marché

To a lesser extent, you don't need to focus too much on the futur antérieur de l'indicatif, which in practice is rarely used, that is :

  • j'aurai marché, tu auras marché, il/elle aura marché, nous aurons marché, vous aurez marché, ils/elles auront marché

For learners of French whose mother tongue is English, the great number of verbal forms we have in French, or Italian or Spanish for that matter, are indeed a bit overwhelming. It's something those languages got from the extremely complex verbal system of Latin. But the four conjugations I mention, I believe you can safely forget about for the time being.

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    I'd say keep the passé simple in mind as it can occur from time to time in non literary texts. The others are completely useless in everyday life.
    – Azaghal
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 15:01
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    It is worth remembering, when you are considering which tenses to prioritize in your learning, that you have to balance how useful it is when speaking or writing with how easy it is to learn. So je marchasse (which my spell checker didn't even know existed) takes a lot of learning as many verbs have unpredictable forms. But on the other hand, you have to learn j'aurai and you have to learn the past participle for all common verbs. Once you have done that, it is easy to form j'aurai marché When required and it's pretty obvious what it means. So time is better spent on compound tenses. Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 17:05

Like petitrien, if you mean the different forms of a verb (mode, temps) rather than the different types of verbs (1er, 2e, 3e groupe...), note that many forms are just combinations of others:

  • Passé composé is based on the combination of the present of the auxiliary verb and the participe passé.
  • Plus-que-parfait: imparfait of the auxiliary verb + participe passé
  • Likewise for passé antérieur, futur antérieur, passé du subjonctif, plus-que-parfait du subjonctif, etc.

So the only forms you would need to learn are:

  • présent, imparfait, futur simple of the indicatif,
  • présent du subjonctif,
  • présent du conditionnel,
  • présent de l'impératif,
  • participe présent
  • participe passé

One difference with English is that english has more forms that use auxiliary verbs. Were English would use "will" for the future or "would" for conditional, French has dedicated forms of the verb itself.

You will also quickly find there are patterns in all of that, and much less irregularity than English verbs for instance (though irregularity in English is mostly just for past tense and past participle). There are a few very irregular verbs such as avoir, être or aller, most other verbs are quite easy to conjugate once you know the basic rules.


They are not as practical as Englih verbs but they are absolutely necessary because there is no other solution. One thing you don't seem to realise, probably because you've learned English while growing up, is that until you've mastered about a 150 to 200 hundred English irregular verbs with their irregular variants you can't but write and speak an unsatisfactory English and you are constantly bothered while reading English from the past as you can't be too sure of the forms used: those irregular forms are absolutely necessary. It is the same in French, except that, unfortunately, it is more complicated than in English.

  • So, there is no other choice if I'd love to learn French isn't it? There is one thing that bothers me though; French verb conjugation types seems to invade each other in meaning. Is it because I'm still just a beginner? Is everything clear to the native French speakers?
    – Victoria
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 5:35
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    @Victoria No other choice. True on the count of aspect: more than one mood and tense can result in the same aspect. It is a matter of what sort of French speaker you are talking about: it is certainly clear for the educated French speaker. Allow me to give you a piece of advice though, as you seem bewildered by this task you see ahead of you: if you want to make something with this language, as with any other for that matter, read it as much as possible (children books first) and, as nowadays audio material is available, listen to it as much as possible (radio stations, audio books, videos…).
    – LPH
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 6:00

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