How to Conjugate "Expliquer" (to Explain) in French

A Quick Lesson Will "Explain" This Verb Conjugation

Portrait of businesswoman explaning something
Westend61/Getty Images

When you want "to explain" in French, use the verb expliquer. This is a rather easy word to remember and French students will be happy that the conjugations are not as big a headache as other verbs.

Conjugating the French Verb Expliquer

Expliquer is a regular -ER verb. This means that it follows the most common verb conjugation pattern found in the French language. Using the same infinitive endings you learn here, you can quickly learn how to conjugate similar verbs like entrer (to enter) and écouter (to listen to), among many others.

Before conjugating any verb, we must identify its stem. For expliquer, that is expliqu-. With that, we can apply the appropriate endings to match the subject pronoun as well as the present, future, or imperfect past tense. For example, "I explain" is "j'explique" and "we will explain" is "nous expliquerons."

Practicing these in context will significantly help you memorize all these forms.

SubjectPresentFutureImperfect
j'expliqueexpliqueraiexpliquais
tuexpliquesexpliquerasexpliquais
ilexpliqueexpliqueraexpliquait
nousexpliquonsexpliqueronsexpliquions
vousexpliquezexpliquerezexpliquiez
ilsexpliquentexpliquerontexpliquaient

The Present Participle of Expliquer

When needed, the present participle of expliquer is formed by adding -ant to the verb stem. This forms expliquant, which can act as an adjective as well as a verb, gerund, or noun.

The Past Participle and Passé Composé

The past participle expliqué is used to form the passé composé.

It's a familiar way to express the past tense "explained" in French. You will also need to conjugate avoir (an auxiliary verb) and include the subject pronoun. For instance "I explained" is "j'ai expliqué" while "we explained" is "nous avons expliqué."

More Simple Expliquer Conjugations to Know

To imply some degree of question or uncertainty to expliquer, either the subjunctive verb mood or the conditional can be used.

More specifically, the conditional mood says that the "explaining" will only happen if something else also occurs.

While those two are useful in conversation, the passé simple is often found in formal writing. The same applies to the imperfect subjunctive and learning these two will aid your reading comprehension.

SubjectSubjunctiveConditionalPassé SimpleImperfect Subjunctive
j'expliqueexpliqueraisexpliquai       expliquasse
tuexpliquesexpliqueraisexpliquas       expliquasses
ilexpliqueexpliqueraitexpliqua       expliquât
nousexpliquionsexpliquerionsexpliquâmes       expliquassions
vousexpliquiezexpliqueriezexpliquâtes       expliquassiez
ilsexpliquentexpliqueraientexpliquèrent       expliquassent

The one time when it's acceptable to skip the subject pronoun is when the imperative verb mood is employed. The verb implies the subject and the sentence is meant to be short, so you can use "explique" rather than "tu explique."

 Imperative
(tu)explique
(nous)expliquons
(vous)expliquez