• French

Filed under:

E-reader for easy translations.

Preface

I started casually learning French in the summer of 2019. I became more dedicated to practice in January of 2020. Here I document the tools and resources I have used and use for learning, advice I would have given myself when starting, and a mixed set of notes I've taken down during my studies.

Current Tools

On Reading

For reading, I either get French books out of the library or I use an e-reader that can translate French > English by tapping on a word. This is very useful, although it can slow you down if you just want to practice trying to read uninterrupted, reading in your head in your target language.

On Vocabulary

Ankiº is a software program for helping with spaced repetition. It's most commonly described as a digital flashcard system. It's quite useful for learning new words and sentences. I generally use pre-created decks which can be found on AnkiWeb . I have had more luck learning from the decks that offer full sentences; it helps construct a context and is a good challenge when it comes time to translate from your native language to your target language.

Using an Assimilº book ("New French with Ease") has been useful. These books are expensive to buy, but I got a copy from my library with the audio files and a digital version of the book.

On Conversation

See Language Exchange Exercisesº.

On Listening

Improving listening can be intimidating. Podcasts are helpful. After a few months, the Inner French podcast was on regular rotation for me. I find the topics interesting and important, and it is motivating when you realize that you are starting to understand more than you miss.

If I was to advise myself in starting from scratch again, I would note that jumping between resources at the start is normal; you just want to find the fastest way to learn, and avoid the hard work that you inevitably have to do. Then, you find resources that work for you, and you stick with them, until they no longer work for you. Then you move on and repeat the process. I would also tell myself to start actually practicing with people / finding tutors online sooner (even though it is intimidating.)

Below are some notes I've taken along the way.

Verb Tenses and Moods [0/0]

Verb tenses (conjugation, largely) might be the most difficult thing about learning French for me. This section is pretty long, but describes the verb tenses and moods and tries to provide some sexample usage.

Présent

This is where beginners usually start with learning verbs and conjugation. This tense corresponds to the following three English present tense forms:

I buyI am buyingI do buy

To say I watch and I am watching in English is to use two different present tenses. In French this is commonly represented in a single tense: Je regarde.

Present Tense Verb Tables

The following table provides a generic description of how "regular" verbs (those ending in Er, Ir, and Re) are conjugated based on pronoun.

FormErIrRe
InfinitiveAimerFinirVendre
Je'aimeFiniVend
TuaimesFinisVends
Il/Elle/OnaimeFinitVend
NousaimonsFinissonsVendons
VousaimezFinissezVendez
Ils/EllesaimentFinissentVendent

There are many irregular verbs that are not conjugated like the above, and their conjugations vary based on tense.

Le présent progressif ("in the middle")

It is possible (albeit, more specific) to give weight to the "present" part of the verb using être en train de before an infinitive verb.

"I am in the middle of working" becomes "Je suis en train de travailler."

To provide another example - to say, Je me préparer could mean "I am getting ready" or "I get ready", but using Je suis en train de me préparer specifically means "I am getting ready", or more accurately, "I am in the act of getting ready" or "I am in the middle of getting ready."

Le passé récent ("just happened")

This tense is sometimes known as "The immediate past."

In English, the immediate past is constructed with the combination of have just + past participle: "I have just finished my work, why are you making me do more?"

In French, we operate similarly to the présent progressif (the use ofen train de), to express something that has just happened in the present: by combining a conjugation of venir de + infinitive verb.

For example, we have just eaten becomes: Nous venons de manger. You can see that venir is conjugated based on the use of the pronoun nous in the Present tense.

Some more examples:

  • "I just showered" → "Je viens de prendre une douche".

  • "You just told me that" → "Vouz venez de me dire que".

According to this source, it is also possible to conjugate venir based on theImperfect past tense (L'imparfait), if an event has just happened in the near past, rather than the recent present.

Le passé simple

Le passé simple, also known as le passé historique, is a French past tense that is only used in written language. It has the same meaning as the passé composé; it talks about a completed, one-time action in the past.

PronounEr verbs (aimer)Ir verbs (finir)Re verbs (vendre)
Ij’aimaije finisje vendis
youtu aimastu finistu vendis
he/she/itil/elle/on aimail/elle/on finitil/elle/on vendit
wenous aimâmesnous finîmesnous vendîmes
youvous aimâtesvous finîtesvous vendîtes
theyils/elles aimèrentils/elles finirentils/elles vendirent

source: Le passé simple: the past historic in French

The Passé Composé (The "Composed Past")

We use the passé composé to talk about one-time, completed actions that took place in the past.

The past tense is formed by using the present tense of avoir (it becomes an "auxiliary") in combination with the the past participle of the verb in question. Passé Composé gets its name from the composition of auxiliary and infinitive verb.

With Avoir

The past particle is formed as so for the three verb groups:

InfinitivePast tense
acheteracheté
finirfini
vendrevendu

Example:

Passé ComposéEnglish
Il a acheté un portable.He bought a phone (lit. he has bought a new phone).
Ne n'avons pas fini^we have not finished

^Note: To perform a negation, add ne and pas between the auxiliary (avoir):

With Être

Some past tense construction happens with être + the past participle rather than avoir. Many of these verbs usually involve movement or a change of position of some kind.

InfinitiveEnglishPassé ComposéEnglish
AllerTo goJe suis alléI went
SortirTo go outElle est sortie avec des amisShe went out with friends
VenirTo comeJe suis venu au jeuI came to the game
PartirTo leaveNous sommes partis après 20 minutesWe left after 20 minutes
DescendreTo go downJe suis descendu au sous-solI went down to the basement
TomberTo fallJe suis tombé de mon véloI fell off my bike
NaitreTo be bornIls sont nés à 2 minutes d'intervalleThey were born 2 minutes apart
DevnirTo becomeIl est devenu irritableHe became irritable
DescendreTo descendTu es descendu les escaliersYou descended the stairs
ArriverTo arriveIls sont arrivés tardThey arrived late
MonterTo go upIls sont montés sur le toitThey went up to the roof
MourirTo dieElle est morte en 1894She died in 1894
RetournerTo returnIls sont revenus après une heureThey returned after an hour

Exceptions and Irregularities

There are several irregular verbs to be aware of.

EnglishInfinitiveIrregular Past Particible
to learnapprendreappris
to haveavoireu
to drinkboirebu
to understandcomprendrecompris
to driveconduireconduit
to knowconnaîtreconnu
to discoverdécouvrirdécouvert
to be obliged to, to have to, to owedevoir
to say, telldiredit
to writeécrireécrit
to beêtreété
to do, makefairefait
to readlirelu
to put, place, put onmettremis
to obtainobtenirobtenu
to offeroffriroffert
to openouvrirouvert
to rainpleuvoirplu
to be ablepouvoirpu
to receiverecevoirreçu
to seevoirvu
to wish, wantvouloirvoulu

Le Plus-que-parfait

Corresponds to the "past perfect tense" in English. Used to talk about an action or situation that took place before another past action, and so, this tense is often used in conjuction with another past tense to establish an order of events.

The Plus-que-parfait is constructed by combining the imperfect form of avoir and etre as the auxiliary verb, followed by the participe passé of the main verb:

Elle avait beaucoup travaillé avant de pouvoir jouer le morceau parfaitement.

It is quite similar to using the passé composé, except that the auxiliar is the past tense of avoir or etre.

L'imparfait (Imperfect)

The L'imparfait (see: Imperfective aspect) is used for describing states and continuous, ongoing or repeated events in the past. The L'imparfait is often used for telling stories. It is to the Future simple as The Passé Composé is to the *Future Proche*; in this case, verb endings are changing and we are not creating auxiliaries from avoir/etre.

Examples:

Quand il était petit, Lucas aimait beaucoup les gâteaux.

When he was small, Lucas liked cake a lot.

We were talking on the phone.

Nous parlions au téléphone.

L'imparfait: We were talking on the phone -> nous parlions au téléphone Passé Composé: We talked on the phone -> nous avons parlé au téléphone Conditional Past: We would talk on the phone -> nous parlerions au téléphone

The imperfect tense is conjugated by using the present-tense stem of a verb in the nous form (that is, in the first person plural form, we), and adding different endings depeneding on the pronoun.

PronounAimer (Nous Aimons)Nous Finisson*Nous Vendons
JeJ'amaisJe finissaisJe vendais
TuTu aimaisTu finissaisTu vendais
Il/Elleelle aimaitIl finissaitElle vendait
NousNous aimionsNous finissionsNous vendions
VousVous aimiezVous finissiezvous vendiez
Ils/EllesIls AimaientIls finissaientIls vendaient

L'imparfait vs Passé Composé

I find it difficult remembering when to use which verb tense for the past. I think for now, I understand the following:

Use of "ed"

This is not a hard and fast rule so much as a useful pointer. In English, past tense verbs that end in ed likely correspond to Passé Composé. For example, you liked your room (tu as aimé ta chambre). In this example, we have a statement that describes a one time, completed action in the past as noted above in the section on the Passé Composé.

Sense of Narrative/Ongoing-ness

In contrast with the above, in a more narrative, continuous sort of conversation, one might say you were liking your room. (tu aimais ta chambre). Here, the example indicates that we are indeed "describing states and continuous, ongoing or repeated events in the past". The person was enjoying/liking the room they were staying in; it is a state of being that is continuous. Further, at least to me, this almost feels like a story or narrative, as if the account could go on () ("you were really liking your room when all of a sudden you realized there was mould in the ceiling!")

...She was liking her room; she was reading in her favourite chair every night and was using the new bookshelf too.

(elle aimait sa chambre; elle lisait dans sa chaise préférée tous les soirs etutilisait aussi la bibliothèque.)

For me, Keywords like was, were, and used to are possible indicators that L'imparfait may need to be used. This is a loose rule, as it seems in general that English does not have an imperfective tense.

The Present Participle ("ing")

The Present Participle, like The Conditional and The Subjunctive, are not exactly verb tenses, but are verb moods.

The present particile (participe présent) is formed by taking the first person plural (nous) of the verb and replacing -ons with -ant

The French present participle, which always ends in –ant, may be used as a verb, gerund, noun, or adjective. Because it has no number or person marker, it’s an impersonal verb mood.

InfinitifPlural first personPresent participle
donnerdonnons -> we give/let's givedonnant -> giving
vendrevendons -> sell / we sellvendant -> selling

Further reading:

Futur Proche (Near Future | aux.)

The Future Proche, also called The Future Composé, is used to describe actions in the near future. The construction of the future proche is similar to the passé composé, in that we are combining a conjugated auxiliary (Aller) with a verb infinitive.

EnglishFrench
I am going to walkJe vais marcher
We are going dancingNous allons danser
He will eatIl va manger

Futur Simple (Simple Future)

The futur simple corresponds to using "I will ---" in English. It allows one to say things in French such as "I will be able to..." or "I will walk".

This future tense is "created" by adding conjugations of the present tense suffixes of avoir (-ai, -as, -a, -ons, -ez, -ont) to the infinitive of a verb. In this way, it is called "Simple" in that there is no auxiliary.

Examples

PronounInfinitiveWith Avoir endingEnglish
JeacheterJ'acheteraiI will buy
TuparlerTu parlerasYou will talk
ElldonnerElle donneraYou will give
VousfinirVous finirezYou will finish
NousvendreNous vendronsWe will sell
Jealler*J'irai*I will go
Ilsaller*Ils irontthey will go
Nousavoir*Nous Auronsthey will have
Nousfaire*Nous FaironsThey will do/make
Tuetre*SerasYou will be
Ilpouvoir*pourraHe will be able to

Note that:

1) * in the above table indicates an irregular verb. There are many more irregular verbs (voir, savoir, vouloir, devoir, etc) 2) for verbs ending in re, the e is dropped.

There are several irregular verbs that you should be aware of:

InfinitiveStem
acheterachèter-
acquériracquerr-
appelerappeller-
allerir-
avoiraur-
courircourr-
devoirdevr-
envoyerenverr-
essayeressaier-
essuyeressuier-
êtreser-
fairefer-
falloirfaudr-
jeterjetter-
nettoyernettoier
pleuvoirpleuvr-
pouvoirpourr-
savoirsaur-
tenirtiendr-
valoirvaudr-
venirviendr-
voirverr-
vouloirvoudr-

Verb Moods

The following sections describe verb moods.

Conditionnel

The conditional tense 1 is largely analogous to the use of the English would.

The conditional is formed by adding the endings of the imperfect (L'imparfait) to the stem of a verb in the futur simpl form.

EnglishFrench
We would playNous jouerions
She would danceElle danserait
You would smileTu sourirais
You would goVous iriezi^
I would buy it..Je l'achèterais^ ...

^ Marks an irregular verb.

Subjonctif

A verb form or mood.

The French subjunctive is a special verb form, called a mood, that is used in dependent clauses to indicate some sort of subjectivity, uncertainty, or unreality in the mind of the speaker. In French, feelings like doubt and desire require the subjunctive, as do expressions of necessity, possibility, and judgment. It can be helpful to consider them in themed groups:

The subjunctive is a verb form used in certain circumstances to express some sort of feeling, or to show there is doubt about whether something will happen or whether something is true. It is only used occasionally in modern English, for example, "If I were you, I wouldn’t bother."

Examples:

EnglishFrench
We must have a good excuseIl faut que nous ayons une bonne excuse.

TODO L'impératif

TODO Indicatif

TODO Participe

TODO Infinitif

Idioms, Slang, and Expressions

Idioms

The following are some French idioms I have come across. I have included a literal translation to English, which mostly demonstrates how difficult it is to derive the same meaning from literal translation (although, some idioms are shared across languagesº).

ExpressionIdomatic Meaning (English)Literal translation (approximate)
Où veux-tu en venirWhat are you getting at?Where do you want to come/be/reach?
faire des histoiresTo make a fussMake some stories
Fais d'une pierre deux coupsTo kill two birds with one stoneMake of one stone two blows
Je suis crevéI am worn outI am punctured (as in, a punctured tire)
Ça ne fait rienIt doense't matter / it's not importantIt makes nothing
Brûles les étapesJumping the gun / cutting cornersBurn the stages
Dans des beaux drapsTo be in a bad situation

Slang

WordMeaning
J'en ai marreI am fed up
Boire un potTo get a glass / drink
FricMoney
Truc/Machinthingamabob.
BoîtesA company (literally, a box)

Expressions

I learned many of these expressions through the Assimil New French With Ease book.

  • Ben - A sound, not a noun. Generally means "well..." or "you know...".

  • Bof - "Meh, oof" etc.

  • Elle tient à le faire - "She insists on doing it". Tenir means to hold, but when combined with à, becomes a sort of "to insist" or "to hold onto".

  • Ne vous en faites pas / Ne t'en fais pas - a casual way of saying "don't worry."

  • On Quelque Sortes - "In a manner of speaking" ; "In a certain way."

  • Quel temps de chien - "What terrible weather!"

  • Tant Pis - "Hard Luck" (Bad luck; too bad)

  • Sur des charbons ardents - on the edge of your seat, in a state of suspense, lit: on burning coals.

  • Renvoyer l'ascenseur. - to return a favour - lit: to send the lift back up.

"False Friends"

Words in French that look like their English equivalent, but are not.

FrenchEnglish
ActuellementNow / At the moment
Assister àTo attend (not to help)
CautionBail / Deposit / Guarantee
CélibataireSingle / Unmarried
ChargerTo Load
CoinCorner
DélitCrime, Offence
DéfautFault, defect, flaw
DécevoirTo disappoint
DéceptionDisappointment
ExplicationExplanation
EventuellementPossibly
FameuxGreat / Fire
FormationTraining
IssueOutcome, way, exit, solution
LargeWide
ManifestationDemonstration, event
OccasionOpportunity (can also be "occasion")
ObscuritéA darkness
Prendre PlaceTo take a seat (not, "to take place")
ProfondDeep
PublicitéAdvertising (can also be "publicity")
RentableProfitable
RéussirTo Succeed
RudeRough, Crude, Hard, Tough
SensibleSensitive
ServietteTowel, Napkin, Briefcase
SupplierTo beg / plead
SociétéA company
SympathiquesNice, Kind
TentativeAttempt
Un librarieA book-shop owner
Une caveA cellar
Une déceptionA disappointment
Une librairieA bookshop

Footnotes

1

The conditional is often referred to as a "Mood", like the subjunctive, but has been grouped under tenses to simplify the organization of information.