Tomber: Definition & Conjugation

Instructor: Lucy Barnhouse
This lesson covers the Group I verb 'tomber,' to fall, the auxiliary verb it takes, and common idioms in which it appears. We'll talk about falling for acquaintances, getting sick, and falling in love, as well as the more literal applications of the verb.

Conjugation and Definition of Tomber


Like other regular French verbs ending in -er, tomber, (tohn-bay) is part of Group I of French verbs. These verbs are often the first assigned to learners since their conjugation is regular. The stem of the verb, or tomb-, never changes. The present tense endings of the verb are as follows:

first person second person
je tombe nous tombons
tu tombes vous tombez
il/elle tombe ils/elles tombent

The basic definition of tomber is to fall. Let's say, for instance, that two friends, Jeanne and Laila, are having coffee. Observing Laila's toddler, Jeanne might say, 'When small children are learning to walk, they often fall.' Quand les petits enfants apprennent à marcher, ils tombent souvent. As we shall see, tomber is also found in many common French expressions and idioms.

Auxiliary Verb

Tomber takes the auxiliary verb être, to be. This is because, just like other verbs taking être, for instance, aller and renter, the verb tomber contains motion. It may be stumbling motion, but it's still a motion! If Jeanne, returning from her coffee date, fell on the rain-wet sidewalk, she would say: Le trottoir était glissant et je suis tombé, 'The sidewalk was slippery and I fell.'

Idioms with Tomber

Tomber is a useful verb primarily because of the many figurative contexts in which it appears. Here are some examples of idioms using tomber.

  • tomber en panne (tohn-bay ahn pan) / to break down, of a machine
  • tomber sur quelqu'un (tohn-bay sür kel-kehn) / to stumble across someone
  • tomber sur quelque chose (tohn-bay sür kel-kö shohz) / to stumble across something
  • tomber amoureux ((tohn-bay am-oo-rö) / to fall in love
  • laisser tomber (less-ay tohn-bay) / to let something drop or to let something go

Hopefully, you won't have occasion to say Notre voiture est tombée en panne! (Our car has broken down!) Where English speaks of 'running into' old acquaintances, French speaks of 'falling over' them. Tomber sur is also used for coming across objects like first editions in dusty bookshops or old photos in attics. You might say, for instance, Quand elle a rendu visite a&grave sa grand-me&gravere, Jeanne est tombe´e sur un vieil album. 'When Jeanne visited her grandmother, she came across an old photo album.'

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