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  • Comprehensive
  • Compact
  • Clear, attractive layout
  • Up to date
  • Good insight into French system of verb analysis
  • Won't help vocabulary learning
  • Not for beginners

Book review:
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 considering.

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 controversial cases. 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 -eler 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 mentioned earlier.

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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