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Most grammar books will tell you that the way to learn tenses in French is to go through all the motions, the full “process” and the boring nitty-gritty.
But as most native French speakers would agree, there is an express path or a quick shortcut in expressing French tenses, and this is to use some verbs and expressions to talk about something that recently happened, something that is still going on, and something about to happen in the near future.
When studying French grammar, the first step is always learning the indicative form of the verbs. The indicative mood is the very basic fundamental. After which, you gradually progress to the other tenses. However, in this quick method, you can use the indicative directly to state recent past, near future and ongoing actions without learning the other complicated tenses.
For non-French speakers, this can be an easier, faster way to learn to speak French, and it is also a great prerequisite to learning the other tenses.
So if you're ready, check out this useful guide in making proper use of the French verbs venir and aller, and the expresssion être en train de.
I. Expressing recent past using the verb venir
Venir is one of the most commonly used French verbs. It is an irregular verb which basically means “to come”, and it can be easily used to conjugate the recent past or convey the idea that you have just done something recently.
How to use venir in recent past
The format is simple. All you have to do is form a sentence construction using this formula:
The conjugated present form of 'venir' + de + the infinitive form of the action that recently happened.
Viens de is the closest thing in English to the word “just”.
For example: “Je viens de manger” which means“I just ate” in English.
Note that by using the word “just”, you are expressing yourself casually and informally by telling someone of a recent action that you did. This is basically the same logic behind the use of viens de.
Here are the rest of the conjugations for venir.
|Pronoun||Venir form in Present Tense|
Some examples when used
For first person singular --- Je viens de manger. (I just ate.)
For second person singular --- Tu viens de manger. (You just ate.)
For third person singular --- Il vient de manger. (He just ate.)
For first person plural --- Nous venons de manger. (We just ate.)
For second person plural ---Vous venez de manger. (You just ate.)
For third person plural ---Ils viennent de manger. (They just ate.)
II. Expressing the near future using the verb aller (Futur Proche)
Another commonly used irregular French verb is the word “aller”. While it literally means 'to go', it is also used as a casual way of expressing the near future tense. By near future, we mean something that is about to happen, or something that someone is about to do.
Some French learners would have trouble between futur proche and futur simple, and their uses are often interchanged. But the difference between the two are the following:
- The form: the futur proche or near future makes use of the auxiliary aller. On the other hand, the futur simple or simple future tense changes the ending of the infinitive and is formed by a single word.
- The context: Unlike the simple future, the near future is often used in informal speech and less in writing.
- The distance to the present moment: The near future is more immediate and refers to something that is about to happen at a closer time.
- The certainty or perception of the speaker: The simple future is more of a statement of something that the speaker is sure about. Example: 'Il va tomber!' (He is going to fall!) versus 'Il tombera!' (He will fall!)
How to use aller in near future
This is basically the same with the previous discussion on venir. Simply follow the following format in using aller to express near future actions.
The conjugated present form of 'aller' + the infinitive form of the action that is about to happen.
Aller in its present form can be literally translated in English to mean “going to”.
Here are the correct conjugations for aller.
|Pronoun||Aller form in Present Tense|
Some examples when used
For first person singular --- Je vais partir dans cinq minutes. (I am going to leave in five minutes.)
For second person singular --- Tu vas partir dans cinq minutes.(You are going to leave in five minutes.)
For third person singular --- Il va partir dans cinq minutes.(He is going to leave in five minutes.)
For first person plural --- Nous allons partir dans cinq minutes.(We are going to leave in five minutes.)
For second person plural --- Vous allez partir dans cinq minutes.(You are going to leave in five minutes.)
For third person plural ---Ils vont partir dans cinq minutes.(They are going to leave in five minutes.)
III. Expressing ongoing action using the expression être en train de
Unlike English, the French language does not have a direct counterpart of the present progressive verb form. The simple present tense is often used in French to mean both simple present and present progressive.
Example: Je parle which literally means 'I speak' can also be used to mean 'I am speaking'.
But to speak precisely, however, you can always use the French expression être en train de which literally means to be _____-ing, to be in the middle of doing something or to be in the process of of doing a certain action.
How to use être en train de
Here's the format to follow when using être en train de to express an ongoing action.
The conjugated present form of ' être' + en train de + the infinitive form of the action that is about to happen
Here are the conjugated forms of the irregular verb être.
|Pronoun||être form in Present Tense
Some examples when used
For first person singular --- Je suis en train de parler. I am speaking (right now).
For second person singular --- Tu es en train de parler. You are speaking (right now).
For third person singular --- Il est en train de parler. He is speaking (right now).
For first person plural --- Nous sommes en train de parler. We are speaking (right now).
For second person plural --- Vous êtes en train de parler. You are speaking (right now).
For third person plural --- Ils sont en train de parler. They are speaking (right now).
IV. Quick Recap of the Topics
To wrap up this lesson, here are the key things to remember: [symple_box color="red" text_align="left" width="100%" float="none"]
P.S. You would be doing me a HUGE FAVOR by sharing it via Twitter or Facebook.
Here are some FAQs about French Tenses
How many tenses are there in the French language?
There are eight total tenses in the French language: présent, imparfait, passé antérieur, passé composé, passé simple, plus-que-parfait, futur, and futur antérieur.
Remember that tenses are used to express time in either past, present, or future; verbs can also be conjugated based on mood, such as expressing a possibility or doubt. The six verb moods are: conditionnel, impératif, indicatif, subjonctif, infinitif, and participe.
How can I learn French tenses?
Through practice! We encourage you to start with the basics, and slowly build your way up. The first tenses most French language learners start with is the present tense, or the présent. Understanding how to conjugate a verb tense, memorising irregular verb conjugations, and making your own sentences using the tense are a great way to learn a French tense.
Of course, many French learners can agree that tenses are a headache to study. Especially conjugations, and irregular verbs! That’s why this article is such a lifesaver; we can talk about actions in the past, present, and future without actually using a tense!
How do you know which tense to use in French?
It’s important to study each tense one by one. Exposing yourself to all the tenses at one time is too confusing, so start with one tense, and study it in depth. Understand when to use that particular tense. French tenses don’t differ too greatly from their English counterparts, so if you’re familiar with your English tenses, you should be okay when trying to determine which tense to use in the French language.
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As an intermediate level French learner, I found your tips on using venir, aller et etre so simple and it makes my life much easier when I am in france! Thankyou
An excellent lesson Frederic! As for the English equivalent of “Je viens de…..manger/aller etc.” I prefer “I have just eaten etc.” to “I just ate” i.e., using the present perfect rather than the simple past. The former is more common in the UK, the latter in North America.
Wonderful Lesson Frederic…
Je m’appelle David. Je t’avais imaginé porter un béret. Vous enseignez très bien.J’ai récemment trouvé votre podcast, et j’adore ça. Merci beaucoup.
Merci David c’est gentil haha. Je ne porte pas de béret. J’évite d’être un cliché ahaha.