How to Conjugate 'Jouer' (to Play)

Young boy playing soccer.
Cultura RM Exclusive/Luc Beziat

The French verb jouer means "to play." This is a very common regular -er verb and it is used so much that you'll want to be able to use it properly. That means that you need to know how to conjugate it and understand how to use it to mean different types of play. A quick French lesson will show you how all that is done.

Conjugating the French Verb Jouer

Just as in English, French verbs need to be conjugated to match the tense of the sentence.

You will use a different form of jouer when you want to say "playing" in the present tense, "played" in the past tense, and "will play" in the future tense. 

The good news for French students is that joeur is a regular -er verb. It follows the most commonly found conjugation pattern in the French language, which means that it is easier to memorize. This is particularly true if you've studied similar regular verbs like sauter (to jump) or poser (to put), or any of the other words that fall into this group.

We will begin with the indicative mood. You must first identify the verb stem (jou-), then add various endings based on the subject pronoun and the tense of your sentence. Using this chart, you can learn that "I am playing" is je joue and that "we will play" is nous jouerons. Practicing these in context will help you memorize them, so go ahead and play around with jouer.

 Present Future Imperfect
jejouejoueraijouais
tujouesjouerasjouais
iljouejouerajouait
nousjouonsjoueronsjouions
vousjouezjouerezjouiez
ilsjouentjouerontjouaient

To form the present participle of jouer, add -ant to the verb stem. The result is jouant.

Among the many compound tenses that you can learn, the passé composé is the most common and easiest to construct. To form this past tense of jouer, you will use the past participle joué along with the auxiliary verb avoir

For example, "we played" is nous avons joué.

There are a few more simple conjugations you can use for jouer and they each serve a purpose. The subjunctive and the conditional each imply uncertainty to the action in their own way. If you do much reading, it's possible that you will come across either the passé simple or the imperfect subjunctive.

 SubjunctiveConditionalPassé SimpleImperfect Subjunctive
jejouejoueraisjouaijouasse
tujouesjoueraisjouasjouasses
iljouejoueraitjouajouât
nousjouionsjouerionsjouâmesjouassions
vousjouiezjoueriezjouâtesjouassiez
ilsjouentjoueraientjouèrentjouassent

There will be times when you want to say something as simple as, "Play!" For this, the imperative verb mood is used and you can skip the subject pronoun completely, leaving it at "Joue !"

 Imperative
(tu)joue
(nous) jouons
(vous)jouez

Jouer With No Preposition

Jouer with no preposition means "to play, have fun, or fool around":

  • Arrête de jouer ! Stop playing/fooling around!
  • Je fais ça pour jouer. I'm doing that for fun.

In reference to music, theater, television, and movies, jouer means "to play or perform":

  • Quel orchestre va jouer ce soir ? Which orchestra is playing tonight?
  • Tu joues très bien. You act very well. / You're a very good actor.

    Jouer can also mean "to gamble, bet, wager," "to speculate (in the stock market)," or "to deceive or dupe," as in: 

    • Messieurs, faites vos jeux. Gentlemen, place your bets. (roulette especially)

    Jouer With Prepositions

    Jouer can be used both transitively and intransitively, and it requires different prepositions depending on what exactly is being played.

    Jouer à means "to play a game or sport," or "to play with something":

    • Il joue aux échecs. He's playing chess.
    • Nous allons jouer au golf. We're going to play golf.
    • Elle ne joue pas à la poupée. She doesn't play with dolls.
    •  jouer à la guerre  to play soldiers

    Jouer de means "to play a musical instrument":

    • J'aimerais jouer du piano. I'd like to play the piano.
    • Depuis quand joue-t-elle de la flûte ? How long has she played the flute?
    • Il ne sait pas jouer de la guitare. He doesn't know how to play the guitar.

      Jouer avec means "to play or toy with":

      • Il joue toujours avec ses cheveux. He's always playing/fiddling with his hair.
      • Il ne faut jamais jouer avec les sentiments. You should never play with someone's feelings.

      Jouer sur means "to play on, use, or exploit":

      • J'aime jouer sur les mots. I like to play with words / make plays on words.
      • Il faut jouer sur l'effet de surpriseWe should use the element of surprise.

      Using Se Jouer

      Se jouer, the pronominal form of jouer, can be used in the passive voice or the active voice with quite different meanings.

      Passive

      • In film: to be on, to be shown
      • In theater: to be on, to be performed
      • A piece of music: to be played or performed

      Active 

      • Mon sort va se jouer sur cette décision. My fate depends / hangs on this decision.
      • L'avenir du pays se joue dans cette négociation. The fate of the country depends / hinges on the outcome of these negotiations.
      • en se jouant with the greatest of ease

      Se jouer de is the pronominal form plus the preposition de. It means "to ignore," or "to deceive, dupe, fool."

      Expressions with Jouer

      As you might imagine, there are a number of common French expressions that use jouer. Among those are a few that you need to conjugate. Others already define the subject, so the conjugation is done for you (unless you change the subject pronoun).

      jouer avec le feuto play with fire (literally and figuratively)
      jouer franc jeuto play fair
      jouer le jeuto play the game (literally and figuratively)
      jouer un mauvais/vilain tour à qqunto play a dirty trick on someone
      se la jouer to show off (informal) 
      Je ne joue plus.I'm not playing anymore.
      (figuratively) I don't want to have any part of this anymore.
      À quel jeu joues-tu ?What do you think you're playing at ?
      Ne joue pas au plus fin avec moi !Don't try to be smart / clever with me !
      Bien joué ! (games) Well played ! / Good move !
      (figuratively) Well done !
      Rien n'est encore joué.Nothing has been decided yet.
      jouer gros jeu(literally and figuratively) to play for high stakes / big money
      jouer un rôle(literally and figuratively) to play a part /a role
      jouer des poings to use one's fists
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      Your Citation
      ThoughtCo. "How to Conjugate 'Jouer' (to Play)." ThoughtCo, Feb. 26, 2018, thoughtco.com/jouer-to-play-1370468. ThoughtCo. (2018, February 26). How to Conjugate 'Jouer' (to Play). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/jouer-to-play-1370468 ThoughtCo. "How to Conjugate 'Jouer' (to Play)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/jouer-to-play-1370468 (accessed April 25, 2018).