French Tenses Made Easy: Express Past, Present and Future Without Using the Actual Tenses
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French Tenses Made Easy: Express Past, Present and Future Without Using the Actual Tenses

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Reading time: 4 minutes

Difficulty: Beginner

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.  

PronounVenir form in Present Tense
je
viens
tuviens
ilvient
nousvenons
vous
venez
ils
viennent

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.

PronounAller form in Present Tense
Jevais
Tuvas
Ilva
Nousallons
Vousallez
Ilsvont

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
jesuis
tues
ilest
noussommes
vousêtes
ilssont

Some examples when used 

For first person singularJe 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:  

    • The irregular verbs venir and aller can be used to express the recent past and the near future, respectively.
    • The expression  être en train de is often used to talk about an ongoing action.
    • All three verbs and expressions are commonly used in informal speech.
    • All three verbs and expressions precede the infinitive form of the action being referred to.
    • Venir, aller, and être are all in their present forms when used in the recent past, the near future, and the progressive, respectively. 

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About the Author Frederic

Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Twitter and Google +

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