- Clear, attractive layout
- Up to date
- Good insight into French system of verb analysis
- Won't help vocabulary learning
- Not for beginners
La Conjugaison pour tous
As students progress further in their studies of a foreign language, there's
often an advantage in seeking out material aimed at native speakers of the
language in question. Quite often, this gives you more detailed information
about the language, and gives you an insight into how speakers think about
their language. Thanks in part to the Internet,
works such as La Conjugaison pour tous are more available
than ever to learners worldwide1.
If you are beyond absolute beginner level and are serious about your study
of the language, then opting for a native-language guide is definitely worth
In the case of a verb conjugation guide such as the Bescherelle offering,
what do you get? Well, for starters, the guide is compact yet complete. In a format
that will fit easily into a satchel, you get the information necessary to conjugate
some 9,000 verbs, plus 50 or so pages of grammatical information relating to
verbs. The conjugation information is on the whole clearly presented and up to date,
including notes on the (largely ignored) 1990 spelling reform.
In all, 88 conjugation patterns are presented (fully conjugated in all 14 tenses
plus participles and imperative forms); a list of verbs is then given cross-indexed
to these conjugations.
This is the normal "analytic" approach
for a verb guide, but is different, for example, from the approach taken by
Barron's 501 French Verbs, which explicitly
lays out conjugations for a number of common regular verbs, at the expense of
repeating several identical patterns.
Unlike guides specifically aimed at foreign
learners, this is definitely not a vocabulary guide: no indication is
given (even in French) of the meanings of even the rarest of the verbs listed.
But the information that it does seek to give is generally clear and complete.
The guide suffers from the same problem as many when it comes to forms
that are not universally agreed upon: it does not quote sources in specific
In the case of some defective verbs, for example,
the authors appear to have been able to dredge up some forms
which are little attested elsewhere. And in the case of
and -eter verbs which do not have universally agreed
spellings, like many, the authors side with one spelling but
do not justify their decision.
In case you're wondering, 9,000 verbs is enough to include
some extremely rare verbs. And that's both a strength and weakness. The problem with
the "single index" approach is that it makes no attempt to break the list down
according to the likelihood of the reader actually having a doubt over the
conjugation of that verb. There is genuine controversy, for example, over the
conjugation of many verbs ending in -eler and -eter,
so it would make sense to put them in a separate list.
On the other hand, few readers are probably salivating to find out whether
the imperfect subjunctive of wolophiser is wolophisasse.
Nonetheless, you have to wade through verbs of this ilk to find the one you're after.
I wonder if a more intelligent way of
breaking down and organising the 9,000-strong list could have been found.
Learners brought up in the tradition of many English-language guides to French
will need to note some of the features of the traditional French analysis that underpins this
book. In particular, the French scheme doesn't explicitly recognise "regular -re verbs".
And like Thomas before them, the authors give a suspiciously long list of
"verbs that can take the auxiliary étre".
The 50 or so pages of grammatical information is more forward-thinking than
other francophone grammars that spring to mind. But it still gets bogged down in certain
details that preoccupy old-school French grammarians but few foreign learners
(or indeed native French speakers in general). Hence discussions of obscure cases of
past participle agreement and customary divine obligations
such as "si je voudrais, je pourrais [...] doit être évité"...
If you're looking strictly for a compact, clearly laid out and
comprehensive conjugation guide, then
this will be a sound choice. As an added bonus, you will gain an insight into some of the
gory details of participle agreement that seem to haunt French speakers' analysis
of their language.
If you're looking for a vocabulary learning aid, or if you are not quite
ready to take the "analytical" approach of applying the pattern/index approach,
then you may wish to consider a guide more squarely aimed at foreign learners
such as the Barron's 501 French Verbs guide
1. And those of us who remember making trips to
France specifically buy such books in the pre-Internet age are eternally envious...
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All comments and material contained on this page are accurate to the best of the author's knowledge.