Visual Mnemonics for French Verb Tenses – Overview

Recently I challenged myself to put to rest the doubts that I had, about being able to recognize verb tenses. I decided to go with visual mnemonics. I have added these pictures to the prior posts on the topic, and any comments and improvements are welcome.

My goal is to establish links between the words themselves, and the tense, while at the same time creating a mnemonic sentence that a student can write down during a test. This sentence actually contains the keys to solving the conjugation of a verb in that tense. The challenge is not to create a sentence which can somehow be confused for another tense or conjugation sequence.

Future (futur simple) – The future will be infinity and bey-on-d!


This phrase is familiar to anyone that has ever seen Buzz Lightyear in any of the Toy Story movies, with a slight variation. Although it is intuitive that “will be” is in the future, the color lands your eye next to “infinity” which represents the infinitive of the verb. This tells you that the conjugation will contain the complete verb “parler”, reinforced by the matching color. To help with conjugations, the picture shows Nous and Ils, being linked to the “on” in beyond, using colors. The problem with “ai”, “as”, “a” and “ez”, is solved by having them aligned under “infinity” and the first two letters underlined visually remind the user that the remaining conjugations are limited to two letters.

Past Future/Future Perfect (futur anterieur) – The past and future will have a perfect EZ aura. Que sera, sera.


Since we’re in the future, lets talk about the other future conjugation, the past future, future past, futur anterieur, whatever you wish to classify “will have”. The mnemonic contains both tense elements and the theme is consistent, promising “perfect” to trigger the inclusion of the past participle. An EZ aura, triggers the beginning and endings for many of the conjugations. Since the auxiliary verb could also be “to be”, a simple reminder that whatever will be, will be…(a song made famous in America by Doris Day…look it up), gives us the conjugations of Être.

Pluperfect/Past Perfect (plus-que-parfait) – Ava had flown Avions to the EU, and the ETA was pluperfect, EZ and convenient.


The pluperfect is the tense which gave me the most trouble when conjugating. It doesn’t help that it is also known as the Past Perfect (which means it contains the past participle element, which means there are two auxiliary verb conjugations to worry about). There are two words which anchor the mnemonic, Avions and Pluperfect. Either one, for me, triggers the entire mnemonic, which in turn solves the riddle of the conjugation, and the English equivalents. All of the other “perfect” tenses (the ones that use the past particle) can also use the orange irregular past particles seen in this picture (keyed using EU…), but I call the irregular out in this picture because it’s the perfect tense where I most often encountered the irregular past participles.

Past Simple (passé  simple) – Simple paid past-times, test a rented SST


This was the most difficult mnemonic to create, and also the most intricate one. This mnemonic is not as intuitive as the others, and may require you to use it several times before it’s automatic. The mnemonic does contain all of the conjugations for -er verbs, as seen by the colors. The ending triggers the peculiar -ir and -re verb conjugations for je, tu, and Il/elle/on. Notice the accent above the “Nous” and “Vous” conjugations? I have no idea how to trigger that in this mnemonic, so you simply have to note that the accent makes the Past Simple not that simple.

Imperfect (imparfait) – She was eating a parfait, it is imperfect, how I-ronic.


For an American, a parfait is something they sell at McDonald’s, and it contains yogurt or ice cream, and is adorned with nuts, syrup, etc. What could be more perfect? The irony is that as “she” was eating one, it is imperfect, and therefore ironic. The mnemonic attempts to reveal the conjugation trickery of the Imperfect tense. Through the use of colors, the strange “a” that appears in je, tu, il and ils is shown. The “is” and “it” are revealed in the je, tu, and il conjugations, and finally, the word I-ronic reminds the conjugator, to make sure they slip an “i” into each conjugation.

Present Perfect (passé composé) – A composer says, “I have spoken!”, to his Avon selling son.


This visual not only tells you the English equivalent, but reminds you that an accent mark at the end of the past particle tells you that it is one of the perfect tenses. You will see this tense so often, that you will probably have no problem with the je, tu, il, and vous conjugations, but you may be tricked by the nous and ils conjugations. The mnemonic addresses that with Avon and son, color linking mnemonic words to the conjugations. The mnemonic does not address the irregular past participles which you saw in the visual for the Past Perfect, so if you wish, you can add a trigger or key to the visual, and personalize it.

Past Conditional/Conditional Perfect (conditionnel parfait) – Laura is conditionally perfect in the past.


The mnemonic does not address the irregular past participles which you saw in the visual for the Past Perfect, so if you wish, you can add a trigger or key to the visual, and personalize it.

Present Conditional (conditionnel present) – Ain’t present conditions Infinite and EZ!



Study Idea – Read about How Languages and Your Memory Work

The inspiration for Anki, was the algorithm found originally in “Supermemo”:

and the link below is a FAQ (frequently asked questions) page for a preceding software called “Supermemo”. The developer of Anki and Supermemo cites many other interesting studies, books and the like, so it is worth fifteen minutes of your time:


First we need to draw a distinction between procedural learning and declarative learning. Procedural learning is used to (sic) acquiring a skill such as riding a bike or typing the keyboard. In procedural learning, we do not tell the brain exactly how it should perform. The brain provides “the answer” on its own by trial and error, while we only “approve or disapprove” of its performance. In declarative learning, as in memorizing a textbook, we tell the brain exactly what to learn, and expect it to encode information in memory. Procedural learning, by definition, is highly repetitive (you repeat the same moves again and again, only with a slightly improved precision). With declarative learning, we want to minimize the repetition. For those reasons we need to discuss the two types of learning separately.

Language learning is all about “declarative” and not “procedural”, in my opinion. I’m sure that is going to be a hot topic for debate, but I want you to think about it after you have read more about memorization methods.

Personally, I use several tricks that I learned at a young age, to memorize various things, like numbers, formulas, subject rules, etc. I read Harry Lorayne’s book “The Memory Book”, which he co-authored with one of my favorite basketball players at the time…I forget his name…kidding…Jerry Lucas, which is how I was introduced to visual memory systems, visual mnemonics, the loci method, number mnemonics, names, cards, foreign vocabulary, maps, etc. It is also important to physically write foreign words…

Writing stimulates a bunch of cells at the base of the brain called the reticular activating system (RAS). The RAS acts as a filter for everything your brain needs to process, giving more importance to the stuff that you’re actively focusing on at the moment—something that the physical act of writing brings to the forefront. In Write It Down, Make It Happen, author Henriette Anne Klauser says that “Writing triggers the RAS, which in turn sends a signal to the cerebral cortex: ‘Wake up! Pay attention! Don’t miss this detail!’

Let me give you a simple example of something I would do while using Duolingo. The first time I was asked the gender for “pomme” (apple), I guessed “le” because it seemed logical. Since this is wrong, I had to immediately stop and create an association of a visual image for “pomme” so that I never got it wrong again. I see a red apple (red and shades of red, like pink and purple, are for me, female gender memory aids), and then solidify it with the fact apple begins with “a” as in “la”. Done. Takes less than five seconds, and I will never miss it again. The strange part is that I am more confident of words I have missed than words I have correctly guessed genders for. Until I miss the gender in Duolingo French, and then take the five seconds I need to create some kind of visual association, I’m not 100% sure, which shows the power of deliberate thought.

In my wallet, I actually have a small piece of paper that reminds me of how to memorize numbers. Yes, it’s exactly the same letters to numbers as “The Memory Book” used, and is found on this blog post:

It looks like this:

memory card

Another video worth watching, once the above video convinces you of the power of mnemonics and memory techniques based on visualization:

Dr. Peter M. Vishton has a list that is very close to the one I use. My zero uses S or Z and his just S. My six uses soft g and j, while his uses sh, and ch. My seven uses K and G, and his uses O and K. Now can you think of a way to use mental triggers and visuals for language?

What about the Loci method he discusses, as he uses his childhood memory palace? Once you find the right method for coding, decoding, and associating information with visuals, your language learning will become easier.

Mnemonics for Present and Past Tenses

I only offer this because someone (other than myself) may find it useful:

Maybe you will go on to past tense/imperfect with the same method:

Other French mnemonics were gathered on this PDF: