Building basic French sentences:


Here is a quick overview of how to build basic French sentences from an introductory knowledge of subjects, verbs, and tenses.


What is a subject?

A subject is the person or thing that is performing an action (a verb).  A  basic understanding of pronoun subjects is important as it will allow you to appropriately conjugate verbs and build sentences.

French pronoun subjects:

Je        = I

Tu        = You (familiar)

Il          = He

Elle  = She

On          = Indeterminate (“one”, “people”, “they”, “we”, and “you” in English.)

Nous        = We

Vous        = You (formal or plural)

Ils          = They (masculine – group of males, or a mixed group)

Elles         = They (feminine – group of females)


What is a verb?

Verbs are words that can indicate actions, events, or states of being (eg. Run, Die, Be).

In French, there are three groups of verbs which are classified based on their endings:  -ER, -IR, and –RE. 

Many of these verbs follow regular conjugation rules which once learned will open up a wide number of verbs you can comfortably use.  However, French also has a healthy supply of irregular verbs and exceptions.  For now, we will be focusing on the regular verbs and the most important irregular verbs.  The lesson after this will introduce you to verb conjugation.


What is a tense? 


Tense refers to the time at which, during which, or over which the verb (action) takes place.  Many people are aware of the past, present, and future tenses in a general way, but there are many more!

For simplicity’s sake, we will just look at three “beginner” tenses for now:


Présent de l’indicatif (Present): I walk, I do walk, I am walking. 

Futur (Future): I will/shall walk.

Passé composé (Compound past):  I have walked, I walked, I did walk.


Basic French sentences:

Add some vocabulary to the mix and we now have the appropriate beginner tools to create basic French sentences.  French sentences follow a general format that includes asubject, a verb, and an object.


Take for example: 

“I throw a ball.” 

I is the pronoun subject, throw is the verb, a is an article, and ball is an object/vocabulary item that I can act on.

In French: “Je lance une balle.”  

Je is the pronoun subject, lance conjugated in the present indicative tense for the “Je” pronoun, and balle is the object/vocabulary item that I can act on.  In this case balle is a feminine word and therefore uses the indefinite feminine article “une”.  The masculine indefinite article is “un”, but more on this later.





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