How to Conjugate French Spelling-Change Verbs

They are regular '-er' verbs with slight spelling changes

There are two groups of otherwise regular -er verbs that have spelling changes in certain conjugations due to hard and soft consonants and vowels. That is, they are conjugated like regular -er verbs, except for slight spelling variations in certain conjugations in order to maintain soft consonant sounds throughout. They are known as are spelling-change verbs.

The Consequences of Orthography

These orthographic changes occur because of how hard and soft letters affect pronunciation. The letters  a, o, and u are sometimes called hard vowels while e and i are soft vowels. Certain consonants (c, g, s) change pronunciation according to which vowel follows them. Place the soft vowels e or i after them, and they have a soft sound; place the sometimes hard vowels a, o and u after these consonants and you could get a hard-sounding consonant. 

The spelling-change verbs follow these rules of orthography. Thus, wherever the g in -ger verbs is followed by a hard vowel like o, it changes to ge to keep the g soft, as in gel. In -cer verbs, wherever the c is followed by a hard vowel, it changes to ç to keep the c soft, as in cell. 

The Actual Changes: '-cer' Verbs

Generally, for -cer verbs, the  c > ç spelling change is found only in the imperative and the nous conjugation of the present tense: lançons. It is also needed in the present participlelançant, but not the past participlelancé.

All verbs that end in -cer undergo this spelling change, including:

  •    annoncer > to announce
  •    avancer > to advance
  •    commencer > to begin
  •    dénoncer > to denounce
  •    divorcer > to divorce
  •    effacer > to erase
  •    lancer > to throw
  •    menacer > to threaten
  •    placer > to put
  •    prononcer > to pronounce
  •    remplace > to replace
  •    renoncer > to renounce

The Actual Changes: '-ger' Verbs

For -ger verbs, the g > ge spelling change is likewise found only in the imperative and the present tense nous conjugation: mangeons. It is needed in the present participle, mangeant, but not the past participle, mangé.

All verbs that end in -ger undergo this spelling change, including:

  •    arranger > to arrange
  •    bouger > to move
  •    changer > to change
  •    corriger > to correct
  •    décourager > to discourage
  •    déménager > to move
  •    déranger > to disturb
  •    diriger > to direct
  •    encourager > to encourage
  •    engager > to bind
  •    exiger > to demand
  •    juger > to judge
  •    loger > to lodge
  •    manger > to eat
  •    mélanger > to mix
  •    nager > to swim
  •    obliger > to oblige
  •    partager > to share
  •    rédiger > to write
  •    voyager > to travel

For both types of spelling-change verbs, these slight changes also occur in the following tenses and moods:

For both, there is no spelling change in the conditional, future, or subjunctive.

See the Full Conjugations to Understand

Check out the full conjugations of spelling-change  -ger verbs and -cer verbs for a global picture of how these small changes affect spelling.

One caveat: Do not confuse spelling-change verbs with stem-changing verbs. They are completely different, as their names indicate.