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Stem-Changing and Spelling Change French Verbs
French -ER verbs are mostly regular and therefore follow a pattern of conjugation that greatly simplifies their ability to be memorised and used successfully in both spoken and written communication. Their regularity renders them simpler than -IR and -RE verbs, usually making them an ideal starting point for those newly introduced to the French language. Whilst aller (to go) is the only truly irregular French verb, there are (just to complicate matters) a number of stem-changing and spelling change -ER verbs that need to be recognised and committed to memory before fluency in the language can hope to be achieved. In order to study stem-changing and spelling change verbs, reinforce your familiarity with regular -ER verb conjugation.
Spelling Change Verbs
For phonetic reasons, verbs ending in -CER and -GER undergo a slight spelling change in their otherwise regular conjugation, which needs to be committed to memory. This change occurs only before endings beginning with the hard vowels 'a' or 'o', and therefore takes place solely in the nous form of conjugation at the present tense, rendering it a relatively simple pattern to comprehend. Verbs ending in -CER undergo a change whereby the regular 'c' alters to a c with a cedilla (ç), whilst verbs ending in -GER must add or retain an 'e' after the 'g'. This pattern can be explored with the -ER spelling change verbs commencer (to begin) and manger (to eat).
Note the changes taking place in the nous form, interrupting the otherwise regular -ER conjugation.
Stem-changing verbs are a little more difficult than spelling change verbs and may therefore take slightly longer to understand and memorise. There are a number of varieties of these types of verbs, the first of which comprises verbs ending in -YER.
-YER verbs comprise three groups of verbs, those ending in -AYER, those ending in -OYER, and those ending in -UYER. Whilst the first offers only an optional stem change, the final two have necessary stem changes that must occur during conjugation. In these verbs, the 'y' must change to an 'i' in all forms excluding nous and vous. For example:
Balayer (to sweep):
(Note that as this verb ends in -AYER, the stem change from 'y' to 'i' is optional in all forms except nous and vous. Either form of conjugation is acceptable.)
Envoyer (to send):
Essuyer (to wipe):
(Note that as these verbs end in -OYER and -UYER, the change from 'y' to 'i' must occur in all forms excluding nous and vous.)
Verbs with an unaccented 'e' in the second last syllable of the infinitive can undergo a number of possible changes, greatly increasing their ability to confuse French students. There are three changes that can occur with this form of stem-changing verb:
1. Verbs ending in -ETER:
Some of these verbs double the 't' consonant in all forms except nous and vous. To use rejeter (to reject) as an example:
2. Verbs ending in -ELER:
Some of these verbs similarly double the 'l' consonant in all form except nous and vous. To use appeler (to call) as an example:
3. However, some -ETER and -ELER verbs follow the usual -E_ER verb pattern of conjugation, which involves changing the 'e' before the consonant to an è. This pattern is obvious in the conjugation of the verb mener (to lead):
Verbs with an accented 'e' in the second last syllable of the infinitive undergo a similar change to -E_ER verbs in that the 'é' changes to an 'è' in all forms excluding nous and vous. For example, the conjugation of compléter (to complete), should become:
Remember that a verb can involve more than one change. For example, the verb protéger (to protect):
As this verb contains both an -É_ER and a -GER ending, the stem-change and spelling change must occur.
French, like any language, is not one that can or will be learned overnight, so stick with it and eventually these changes and exceptions will become second nature. Good luck!