Apprendre: Definition & Conjugation

Instructor: Lucy Barnhouse
Apprendre, meaning to learn or understand, is a useful French verb. It can be used to talk about learning a skill, a language, or a piece of information. As its English relative 'apprehend' shows, it can also be used for more subtle forms of understanding.

Conjugation of Apprendre

Apprendre is a third group verb and thus irregular. It's also something of an anomaly in French grammar: Only verbs related to prendre are conjugated in precisely this way.

VERB: apprendre (ap-PRAHN-drö) - to learn

Subject Pronoun apprendre Conjugation Pronunciation Translation
je j'apprends (zha-prahn) I learn
tu tu apprends (ap-rahn) you learn
il/elle/on il/elle apprend (ap-rahn) he/she learns
nous nous apprenons (ap-rö-NOHN) we learn
vous vous apprenez (ap-rö-NAY) you (plural or formal) learn
ils/elles ils/elles apprennent (ap-REN) they learn

As the above table shows, apprendre takes no extra consonant in the third person singular, while the first and second persons take the -s, as in Tu apprends le français, (tü ap-rahns lö frahn-SAY), 'You are learning French.' The verb stem, that is, the part of the verb without its infinitive ending, stands on its own in the third person. Let's suppose that you're learning French through a community center course. If speaking of a classmate, you might say Fatima apprend aussi le français, (fa-tee-MAH ap-rahns oh-SEE lö frahn-SAY), 'Fatima is learning French as well.' For all plural forms of the verb in the present tense, the stem loses its final -d.

Uses of Apprendre

Apprendre can be used for learning languages or other skills. A few examples include:

  • Les petits enfants apprennent à lire (lay pötee zehn-fahn ap-REN ah leer) / 'The little children are learning to read.'
  • Voulez-vous apprendre la morale? (voo-lay voo za-PRAHN-drö la moh-RAHL) / 'Do you want to learn ethics?'
  • Fatima apprend le français (Fa-tee-MAH ap-rahns lö frahn-SAY) / 'Fatima is learning French.'
  • J'apprends à jouer du piano (zha-prahn ah zhoo-ay dü pyah-noh) / 'I am learning to play the piano.'
  • Veux-tu apprendre la nouvelle? (vö tü ap-PRAHN-drö la noo-vell) / 'Do you want to learn the news?'
  • Nous apprenons à cuisiner (noo zap-rö-nohn ah kwee-zee-nay) / 'We are learning how to cook.'

A group of people learning to cook

The above image illustrates a cooking class, a group activity that can be a useful way of getting to know people. If you, Jean, and Fatima, having met each other in French class, decide to take cooking lessons, you would say 'Nous apprenons a` cuisiner.' When speaking about learning skills, like cooking, the preposition à is used. This preposition fulfills the same function that 'to' does in English idioms.

When speaking of learning languages or other topics, the definite article le or la is used. Sometimes, this definite article is translated into English, as in 'When did you learn the news?' At other times, however, it is dropped. One says Elle apprend le français, but simply, 'She is learning French.'

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