The 14 French tenses:

For each tense, I will show you an example of what English equivalents there would be by using the verb Marcher (to walk). Bear in mind that for a number of tenses, there is no direct equivalent between French and English.  For simplicity’s sake, I have organized the tenses into simple and compound.   At the bottom of this summary chart there is a small table that shows another way that these tenses can be organized.

 

Simple tenses:

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

The présent de l’indicatif has the three different equivalent English meanings and usages. 

 

Imparfait de l’indicatif (Imperfect): I was walking, I used to walk, I walked.

The imparfait tense is a past tense which describes ongoing events or repetitive/incomplete actions.

 

Passé simple (Simple past): I walked, I did walk. 

The passé simple tense is a literary tense ofthe passé composé, and is increasingly being replaced by passé composé even in literature.

 

Futur (Future): I will/shall walk.

The futur is used to indicate actions/states that will happen at a later time.  Another future form is the futur proche which is commonly used to indicate actions that will happen in the near future (translated as going to).  This will be discussed later.

 

Conditionnel présent (Conditional):  I would walk.

The conditionnel présent is used for conditional statements (I would if), to express obligations (I ought/should), or courtesy (I  would like…).

 

Présent du subjonctif (Present subjunctive): That I may walk.

This is a tricky tense for many people because the subjunctive isn’t very common in English.  It is often used in French to express doubt or emotion.

 

Imparfait du subjonctif (Imperfect subjunctive): That I might walk.

This tense can be tricky like the présent du subjonctif, but is only used in literary works.  It is used for demands or requests in the past that were not completed.  Often being able to recognize this tenseand its usage is sufficient.

 

Compound tenses:

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

This is a very important tense as it is the most commonly used past tense in  French.  As can be seen by the English equivalents, the passé composé is quite versatile.

 

Plus-que-parfait de l’indicatif (Pluperfect/Past Perfect):  I had walked.

This tense is commonly used to express an action that took place in the past before  other past actions.

 

Passé antérieur (Past anterior):  I had walked.

The passé antérieur is used to express actions that completed/terminated in the past before another main action. 

 

Futur antérieur (Future anterior/Future Perfect):  I shall have walked.

The future antérieur describes an action that will be completed before a future action or point in time. 

 

Conditionnel passé (Past conditional):  I would have walked.

Usage in French is similar to that in English. The conditionnel passé is used to express actions that would have taken place if other conditions had been met. Ex. I would have walked if I had the time.

 

Passé du subjonctif (Past subjunctive): That I may have walked.

Like the présent du subjonctif, the passé expresses doubt or emotion.  The usage is essentially the same, except for the tense.  This will be looked at more later.

 

Plus-que-parfait du subjonctif (Pluperfect subjunctive): That I might have walked.

This is a literary tense form.  Once again, it is important to recognize this form but it is not necessary to learn it in detail until a much more advanced stage (if at all).

 

Lastly, the imperative is used to issue commands or orders:

Impératif (Imperative):  Walk!

 

 

Table of tenses organized based on Mood and Time:

 

 

Mood

Past

Present

Future

Personal

Indicative

Imperfect,

Compound past, Simple past, Pluperfect past,

Past anterior

Present

Future,

Future Perfect

Subjunctive

Imperfect subjunctive,

Past subjunctive, Pluperfect subjunctive

Subjunctive

Subjunctive

Imperative

Past imperative

Imperative

Imperative

Conditional

Past Conditional

Conditional

Conditional

Impersonal

Infinitive

Past Infinitive

Infinitive

Future Infinitive

Participle

Past Participle

Present Participle

Future participle