Comprendre: Meaning & Conjugation

Instructor: Susan Binkley

Susan has taught college-level French and has a PhD in French studies.

The verb 'comprendre,' means 'to understand' in English. This lesson will show you how to use that verb. We'll look at a common situation where you might hear it, view the conjugation, and learn a few sentences with the verb.

Using the Verb Comprendre

What a great opportunity: you're studying at a university in France this year. At a café, you've met a group of French students who love to study other languages, and everyone is sharing which languages they understand. You start out with the obvious, that you understand French! 'Je comprends' (I understand French; pronounced: zhuh kohm prahn) 'le français.' Then you turn to someone you just met and ask if he understands English: 'Vous comprenez' (pronounced: voo kohm pre nay) 'l'anglais?' To your pleasant surprise, he answers that he does understand English: 'Oui, je comprends l'anglais'. He points to Nadine and Jeanne at another table and says that they understand Italian: 'Elles comprennent' (prounounced: el kohm pren) 'l'italien'.

Did you notice the forms of comprendre (pronounced: kohm prahn druh) that are used? Comprendre is the infinitive form of the verb, or the basic, generic form. When we use it with a pronoun such as je to say 'I understand,' we use the appropriate form, or conjugation: je comprends.

Let's take a look at the verb conjugation in the present tense for all the forms.

Forms of Comprendre

Here's the conjugation chart for comprendre:

Subject Pronoun Comprendre Conjugation Pronunciation Translation
je je comprends (kohm prahn) I understand
tu tu comprends (too kohm prahn) you understand
il/elle/on il/elle/on comprend (eel/el/ohn kohm prahn) he/she understands
nous nous comprenons (noo kohm preh nohn) we understand
vous vous comprenez (voo kohm preh nay) you understand
ils/elles ils/elles comprennent (eel/el kohm pren) they understand

The conjugation of this verb is not exactly the same as the other verbs that follow the pattern for verbs that also end in -re. Since this verb does not fit the normal pattern of verbs ending in -re, we call this an 'irregular' -re verb.

One thing you might have noticed is that the 'd', which is in the first three forms, is not used in the nous, vous, or ils/elles forms of the verb.

Other Examples of Comprendre

Let's get back to the group of students, and look at some more examples of comprendre.

Yves, a friend of yours, tells you that he and Jean studied in Germany, and they understand German: 'Nous comprenons l'allemand.' ('We understand German'.) Jean, who had a short stay in Spain, even understands Spanish: 'Il comprend l'espagnol aussi' ('He understands Spanish, too').

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