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:

 SubjectPresentFutureImperfect
jepaie
paye
paierai
payerai
payais
tupaies
payes
paieras
payeras
payais
ilpaie
paye
paiera
payera
payait
nouspayonspaierons
payerons
payions
vouspayezpaierez
payerez
payiez
ilspaient
payent
paieront
payeront
payaient

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."

SubjectPresent Future Imperfect
j'appelleappelleraiappelais
tuappellesappellerasappelais
ilappelleappelleraappelait
nousappelonsappelleronsappelions
vousappelezappellerezappeliez
ilsappellentappellerontappelaient

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

SubjectPresentFutureImperfect
jejettejetteraijetais
tujettesjetterasjetais
iljettejetterajetait
nousjetonsjetteronsjetions
vousjetezjetterezjetiez
ilsjettentjetterontjetaient

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

lève

lèveras

levais

il

lèves

lèvera

levait

nous

lève

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."

SubjectPresentFutureImperfect
jecomplètecompléterai
complèterai
complétais
tucomplètescompléteras
complèteras
complétais
ilcomplètecomplétera
complètera
complétait
nouscomplétonscompléterons
complèterons
complétions
vouscomplétezcompléterez
complèterez
complétiez
ilscomplètentompléteront
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."

PresentPresentFutureImperfect
jenettoienettoierainettoyais
tunettoiesnettoierasnettoyais
ilnettoienettoieranettoyait
nousnettoyonsnettoieronsnettoyions
vousnettoyeznettoiereznettoyiez
ilsnettoientnettoierontnettoyaient

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

SubjectPresentFutureImperfect
j'ennuieennuieraiennuyais
tuennuiesennuierasennuyais
ilennuieennuieraennuyait
nousennuyonsennuieronsennuyions
vousennuyezennuierezennuyiez
ilsennuientennuierontennuyaient

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."