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French verbs are the devil. No really. The immensely long list of verb tenses and moods and sorcery is intimidating. They demotivate me.

Wat are the most important ones? What tenses should one leatn at the beginning and what ones should one flee and hide from until they level up?

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First learn Être (to be) and Avoir (to have), then the verbs from the 1st group (they end with "er") : Manger (to eat), aimer (to love/like), aller (to go), préférer (to prefer), nager (to swim), regarder (to look), parler (to speak)....

They all conjugate themselves the same way.

After that there is the 2nd group (end with "ir" and end with "issons" with nous (we)): finir (to finish/end), agir (to act), choisir (to choose), grandir (to grow up), réagir (to react)....

They also conjugate themselves the same way.

Finally there is the 3rd groupe, it's the hardest because the verbs don't have the same endings.

Vivre (to live), lire (to read), fuir (to run away), faire (to do/make), suivre (to follow), naître (to born), mourir (to die), pleuvoir (to rain), rire (to laugh), revenir (to come back), répondre (to answer), boire (to drink), apprendre (to learn), combattre (to fight, dire (to say), dormir (to sleep)....
There is a lot of verbs in this group.

 I think it is important to recognise and know how to use the infinitive.

That means you need to be used to useing  2 verbs in combination .

I want to do (je veux faire)

I like to say. (j'aime dire)

That is very common  so   you have to know this even if it very basic.

Then there are the auxiliary  verbs. They are like  the others but  are really when you use "to go"  to , have " or  "to be".

You use these in the same way in combination with other verbs (normally the infinitive or the past participle) and  the effect can be to give you a future tense or a past tense.

So "I am going to say" is like "I will say" ("je vais dire "is like "je dirai")

and "I have said" is the past tense (j'ai dit)

Just a few ideas.......

One of the problems is actually that (a) the French spelling system and (b) the way textbooks typically lay verbs out actually makes them look more complicated than they really are. For example, if you look at a conjugation table for the present tense of an -er verb, it makes things look as though there are 5 forms. But in reality, 3 of these ("donne/donnes/donnent") sound identical, and one of them (the "nous" form) is practically never used in everyday speech. So to all intents and purposes, there are really only 2 or 3 forms, even though the big book of conjugation tables makes it look like there's 6 of them to learn.

So as you're looking through, try to spot patterns *across* different verbs as well. Here is a list of tips that might help you: http://www.french-linguistics.co.uk/grammar/gettingtogripswithverbs...

Start by learning:

- the present tense

- the imperfect, which is essentially "regular" once you're really familiar with the present tense

- the future, which only has a couple of irregularities

- the perfect, for which most verbs are regular, and you just need to know one form for each of a few irregular verbs

Once you've got to grips with these, the rest don't pose many more complications:

- the conditional is a combination of future and imperfect: once you know the future and imperfect well, the conditional is very easy to form

- other "compound" tenses (pluperfect, future-perfect, conditional perfect) are completely predictable once you know the above tenses plus the perfect

- the present subjunctive is frequently used, but there are only a few irregular forms to learn.

To start with, you can pretend that the past historic and past subjunctive don't exist-- they're only used in specific types of writing such as classical literature or some other formal contexts.

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