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.
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.
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.
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
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.
This is where beginners usually start with learning verbs and conjugation. This tense corresponds to the following three English present tense forms:
|I buy||I am buying||I do buy|
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:
Present Tense Verb Tables
The following table provides a generic description of how "regular" verbs (those
Re) are conjugated based on pronoun.
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
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 of
en train de), to express something that has just happened in the present:
by combining a conjugation of
venir de +
we have just eaten becomes:
Nous venons de manger. You can see
venir is conjugated based on the use of the pronoun
nous in the Present
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.
|Pronoun||Er verbs (aimer)||Ir verbs (finir)||Re verbs (vendre)|
|I||j’aimai||je finis||je vendis|
|you||tu aimas||tu finis||tu vendis|
|he/she/it||il/elle/on aima||il/elle/on finit||il/elle/on vendit|
|we||nous aimâmes||nous finîmes||nous vendîmes|
|you||vous aimâtes||vous finîtes||vous vendîtes|
|they||ils/elles aimèrent||ils/elles finirent||ils/elles vendirent|
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
Passé Composé gets its name from the composition of auxiliary and
The past particle is formed as so for the three verb groups:
|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
pas between the auxiliary
Some past tense construction happens with
être + the past participle rather
avoir. Many of these verbs usually involve movement or a change of
position of some kind.
|Aller||To go||Je suis allé||I went|
|Sortir||To go out||Elle est sortie avec des amis||She went out with friends|
|Venir||To come||Je suis venu au jeu||I came to the game|
|Partir||To leave||Nous sommes partis après 20 minutes||We left after 20 minutes|
|Descendre||To go down||Je suis descendu au sous-sol||I went down to the basement|
|Tomber||To fall||Je suis tombé de mon vélo||I fell off my bike|
|Naitre||To be born||Ils sont nés à 2 minutes d'intervalle||They were born 2 minutes apart|
|Devnir||To become||Il est devenu irritable||He became irritable|
|Descendre||To descend||Tu es descendu les escaliers||You descended the stairs|
|Arriver||To arrive||Ils sont arrivés tard||They arrived late|
|Monter||To go up||Ils sont montés sur le toit||They went up to the roof|
|Mourir||To die||Elle est morte en 1894||She died in 1894|
|Retourner||To return||Ils sont revenus après une heure||They returned after an hour|
Exceptions and Irregularities
There are several irregular verbs to be aware of.
|English||Infinitive||Irregular Past Particible|
|to be obliged to, to have to, to owe||devoir||dû|
|to say, tell||dire||dit|
|to do, make||faire||fait|
|to put, place, put on||mettre||mis|
|to be able||pouvoir||pu|
|to wish, want||vouloir||voulu|
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.
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.
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
nous form (that is, in the first person plural form,
we), and adding
different endings depeneding on the pronoun.
|Pronoun||Aimer (Nous Aimons)||Nous Finisson*||Nous Vendons|
|Je||J'amais||Je finissais||Je vendais|
|Tu||Tu aimais||Tu finissais||Tu vendais|
|Il/Elle||elle aimait||Il finissait||Elle vendait|
|Nous||Nous aimions||Nous finissions||Nous vendions|
|Vous||Vous aimiez||Vous finissiez||vous vendiez|
|Ils/Elles||Ils Aimaient||Ils finissaient||Ils 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
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.
|Infinitif||Plural first person||Present participle|
|donner||donnons -> we give/let's give||donnant -> giving|
|vendre||vendons -> sell / we sell||vendant -> selling|
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.
|I am going to walk||Je vais marcher|
|We are going dancing||Nous allons danser|
|He will eat||Il 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.
|Pronoun||Infinitive||With Avoir ending||English|
|Je||acheter||J'acheterai||I will buy|
|Tu||parler||Tu parleras||You will talk|
|Ell||donner||Elle donnera||You will give|
|Vous||finir||Vous finirez||You will finish|
|Nous||vendre||Nous vendrons||We will sell|
|Je||aller*||J'irai*||I will go|
|Ils||aller*||Ils iront||they will go|
|Nous||avoir*||Nous Aurons||they will have|
|Nous||faire*||Nous Fairons||They will do/make|
|Tu||etre*||Seras||You will be|
|Il||pouvoir*||pourra||He will be able to|
* in the above table indicates an irregular verb. There are many more
irregular verbs (voir, savoir, vouloir, devoir, etc)
2) for verbs ending in
e is dropped.
There are several irregular verbs that you should be aware of:
The following sections describe verb moods.
The conditional tense 1 is largely analogous to the use of the English would.
The conditional is formed by adding the endings of the
(L'imparfait) to the stem of a verb in the
futur simpl form.
|We would play||Nous jouerions|
|She would dance||Elle danserait|
|You would smile||Tu sourirais|
|You would go||Vous iriezi^|
|I would buy it..||Je l'achèterais^ ...|
^ Marks an irregular verb.
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."
|We must have a good excuse||Il faut que nous ayons une bonne excuse.|
Idioms, Slang, and Expressions
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).
|Expression||Idomatic Meaning (English)||Literal translation (approximate)|
|Où veux-tu en venir||What are you getting at?||Where do you want to come/be/reach?|
|faire des histoires||To make a fuss||Make some stories|
|Fais d'une pierre deux coups||To kill two birds with one stone||Make of one stone two blows|
|Je suis crevé||I am worn out||I am punctured (as in, a punctured tire)|
|Ça ne fait rien||It doense't matter / it's not important||It makes nothing|
|Brûles les étapes||Jumping the gun / cutting corners||Burn the stages|
|Dans des beaux draps||To be in a bad situation|
|J'en ai marre||I am fed up|
|Boire un pot||To get a glass / drink|
|Boîtes||A company (literally, |
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.
Words in French that look like their English equivalent, but are not.
|Actuellement||Now / At the moment|
|Assister à||To attend (not |
|Caution||Bail / Deposit / Guarantee|
|Célibataire||Single / Unmarried|
|Défaut||Fault, defect, flaw|
|Fameux||Great / Fire|
|Issue||Outcome, way, exit, solution|
|Occasion||Opportunity (can also be "occasion")|
|Prendre Place||To take a seat (not, "to take place")|
|Publicité||Advertising (can also be "publicity")|
|Rude||Rough, Crude, Hard, Tough|
|Serviette||Towel, Napkin, Briefcase|
|Supplier||To beg / plead|
|Un librarie||A book-shop owner|
|Une cave||A cellar|
|Une déception||A disappointment|
|Une librairie||A bookshop|
The conditional is often referred to as a "Mood", like the
subjunctive, but has been grouped under
tenses to simplify the organization of information.