French Stem-Changing Verbs

Verbes qui changent d'orthographe

French stem-changing verbs are conjugated with the same endings as regular -er verbs but have two different radicals or stems. Stem-changing verbs are sometimes also called boot verbs or shoe verbs because if you circle the forms that have stem changes in a certain style of conjugation table, the resulting shape looks like a boot or shoe.

The Stem-Changing Verbs

There are six different kinds of stem-changing verbs based on the final four letters of the verb. The actual spelling change required for each type of stem-changing verb is different, such as y changes to i in -oyer verbs and é changes to è in -é_er verbs, but the tenses and grammatical persons that undergo the stem change are the same.

For example, in the present tense, the je, tu, il, and ils (me, you, he, and they) forms of these kinds of verbs all have a stem change. So once you learn which conjugations need a stem change for one type of stem-changing verb, you will know which conjugations need the stem change for all the other kinds.

-Ayer Verbs

The -ayer verbs have an optional stem change: y changes to i in all forms except for nous (we) and vous (you). For the verb payer (to pay), the conjugations would be:

Subject Present Future Imperfect
je paie
tu paies
il paie
nous payons paierons
vous payez paierez
ils paient

Note that -ayer verb can be conjugated as any regular -er verb, as the second example in each conjugation shows: Either set of conjugations is acceptable.

-Eler and Eter verbs

With -eler and -eter, double the letter "l" or "t" in the stem when conjugating these verbs. An example of an -eter  verb conjugation would be appeler, which means "to call."

Subject Present Future Imperfect
j' appelle appellerai appelais
tu appelles appelleras appelais
il appelle appellera appelait
nous appelons appellerons appelions
vous appelez appellerez appeliez
ils appellent appelleront appelaient

An example of an -eter verb conjugation would be jeter, meaning "to throw."

Subject Present Future Imperfect
je jette jetterai jetais
tu jettes jetteras jetais
il jette jettera jetait
nous jetons jetterons jetions
vous jetez jetterez jetiez
ils jettent jetteront jetaient

The present participle of jeter is formed with an -ant ending to create jetant. It's also an adjective, noun, or gerund in certain circumstances.

-E_er Verbs

For verbs that end in -e_er, where _ indicates one or more consonants, the stem change consists of changing the e before that consonant to è in all forms except for nous and vous. For example, the conjugations of the verb lever (to lift), would be:

Subject Present Future Imperfect
je lève lèverai levais
tu lèves lèveras levais
il lève lèvera levait
nous lèvons lèverons levions
vous levez lèverez leviez
ils lèvent lèveront levaient

Other than acheter (to buy), geler (to freeze), harceler (to harass), and peler (to peel), most verbs that end in -eler and -eter are part of a different stem-change group: -eler or -eter verbs.

-É_er Verbs

All verbs that end in –é_er change the  é to è in the stem-changed conjugations. An example of conjugations for this verb would be compléter, meaning "to complete."

Subject Present Future Imperfect
je complète compléterai complétais
tu complètes compléteras complétais
il complète complétera complétait
nous complétons compléterons complétions
vous complétez compléterez complétiez
ils complètent complèteront complétaie

The present participle of compléter is complétant. This can be used as a verb but also serves as an adjective, gerund, or noun in some circumstances. 

-Oyer and Uyer Verbs

French verbs that end in -oyer and -uyer must change y to i in all forms but nous and vous. For -oyer  verbs, an example would be netoyer,  which means "to clean."

Present Present Future Imperfect
je nettoie nettoierai nettoyais
tu nettoies nettoieras nettoyais
il nettoie nettoiera nettoyait
nous nettoyons nettoierons nettoyions
vous nettoyez nettoierez nettoyiez
ils nettoient nettoieront nettoyaient

For -uyer verbs, an example would be  enoyer, which means "to bore."

Subject Present Future Imperfect
j' ennuie ennuierai ennuyais
tu ennuies ennuieras ennuyais
il ennuie ennuiera ennuyait
nous ennuyons ennuierons ennuyions
vous ennuyez ennuierez ennuyiez
ils ennuient ennuieront ennuyaient

The imperative verb form  is used for short statements that often request or demand something. When using these, skip the subject pronoun: use "ennuie" rather than "tu ennuie."

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Team, ThoughtCo. "French Stem-Changing Verbs." ThoughtCo, Jul. 15, 2022, Team, ThoughtCo. (2022, July 15). French Stem-Changing Verbs. Retrieved from Team, ThoughtCo. "French Stem-Changing Verbs." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).