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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

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 extremely useful. Consult Resources for the decks that I've found helpful. I generally use pre-created decks. Surprisingly, there is even an Assimil deck.

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 comecs time to translate from your native language to your target language.

Using an Assimilº book (specifically, "New French with Ease") has been useful and is one of the main tools I'm using to study currently. If you're lucky, you can get it from a library.

Improving listening can be intimidating. Podcasts are extremely helpful. After a few months, the Inner French podcast was on regular rotation for me. I find the topics interesting and important, and it's a huge motivator when you realize that you can understand what is being said.

If I was to advise myself, 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 still have not started with a tutor proper, but I'm sure my process will change when that happens.

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

Nouns

Nouns are either masculine or feminine. How can you tell? Often you just need to look up new words as you learn them. However, there are some tips to helping you discern or take a guess at what gender a noun is:

  • Most nouns ending in a mute e are feminine.

  • All nouns ending in -ée are feminine*

  • Nouns ending in -ion are feminine*

    • With a few exceptions.

The pluralizing of a noun usually happens by adding an un-pronounced s to the end. For nouns ending in eau , add an x. Some nouns that end in -ou (bijou, genou) become plural by adding an x as well.

Adjectives

Adjectives usually come after the words they describe and should agree with the gender and form of the noun in question. The ending of adjectives will also change based on plurality and gender.

Feminine adjectives endings form differently depending on the word:

  • -eux

    • becomes: -euse

    • ex: dangereux > dangereuse

  • -en, -on, -il

    • all double the final consonant and add e

    • bon > bonne , genil > gentille

In most other cases, the feminine ending simple adds an e.

Adjectives don't always come after the noun. The following words come before nouns: bon, mauvais, beau, grand, petit, autre, long.

Adverbs

Adverbs are placed directly after the verb they describe.

Adverbs share some similarities to adjectives; some adjectives are adverbs (haut, vite )

For feminine forms of adjectives, most times you will add -ment to the ending:heureux becomes heureusement.

Verbs (families)

Verbs make for a large topic, and so have been broken up throughout this document. This section deals with verb families, rather than tenses. Verbs fall into one of three groups, or families, based on their infinitive ending:

  • ER verbs - Parler

  • RE verbs - Vendre

  • IR verbs - Tenir

The endings of verbs change based on their family and the tense used.

Reflective verbs (me, se, te)

Some Verbs require me, te, se, or the repetition of nous and vous. These can be loosely translated to mean myself, yourself, himself, etc.

Le matin, je me réveille tôt.

In the morning, I wake up early.

Prepositions

[Prepositions are] a word governing, and usually preceding, a noun or pronoun and expressing a relation to another word or element in the clause, as in ‘the man on the platform’, ‘she arrived after dinner’, ‘what did you do it for?’.

I commonly mixup masculine/feminine uses of à and de. à / au / aux can all mean in. They can also mean at! de means of or some.

FrenchEnglishMasculineFeminineVowel/HPlural
à + {x}to the / at theauà laà l'aux
de + {x}of, somedude lade l'des

Other prepositions:

FrenchEnglish
apresAfter
avantbefore
avecwith
contreagainst
dansin
depuissince; from
derrièrebehind
devantin front of; outside
enin (or, of it, of them)

Verb Tenses and Moods [0/5]

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 a infinitive verb.

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

Another example:

Je me prépare.Je suis en train de me préparer.I am getting ready.

To say, Je me préparer could mean "I am getting ready" or "I get ready", but using Je suis en train de me préparer can only mean "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 sort of 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.

Or, "I just showered" > Je viens de prendre une douche.


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. This is more nuanced that I understand, so for my own understanding, I will stick to mostly using venir conjugated by the present tense.

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 get 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 / 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.

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

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-

TODO Verb Moods [0/4]

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.; So be it.

Examples:

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

TODO L'impératif

https://www.thoughtco.com/introduction-french-imperative-mood-1368858

TODO Indicatif

TODO Participe

TODO Infinitif

Idioms, Slang, and Expressions

Idioms

The following are some French idioms I have come across in my research. 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
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
Côté...In terms of.."side"; but used here when starting a sentence
[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

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 their English equivalent, but are not.

FrenchEnglish
ActuellementNow / At the moment
Assister àTo attend (not to help)
CautionBail / Deposit / Guarantee
CélibataireSingle / Unmarried
CoinCorner
DélitCrime, Offence
ExplicationExplanation
EventuellementPossibly
FameuxGreat / Fire
FormationTraining
FormationTraining
IssueOutcome, way, exit, solution
LargeWide
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
SensibleSensitive
ServietteTowel, Napkin, Briefcase
SociétéA company
SympathiquesNice, Kind
TentativeAttempt
Un librarieA book-shop owner
Une caveA cellar
Une déceptionA disappointment
Une librairieA bookshop

Uncategorized Notes

Common questions

Phrase / Word / ThingMeaning
C'est vs il estBoth say "it is"; former to explain a thing. Latter used to refer to a thing just referenced.
Ce vs CetteMeans this. Former is masculine, latter feminine. Ces is plural.
EnMeans "of it" or "of them". Used to avoid repeating a noun.
Reflexive verbsVerbs preceded with me, te, se, or the repetition of nous and vous.
S'agir De'It is a matter of.' / 'It is about'.
y / il y aY is used to avoid repeating a place name or location. J'y habite = I live here/there

Falloir (To Have To)

Falloir is an "impersonal verb".

In the present tense it only takes the form of of third person singular: il

ex: Il faut beaucoup de patience pour apprendre le français

It is easy to mistake the il to mean "he", but here it means it, or even one. In English, the above sentence would translate roughly to you need a lot of patience to learn french.

I suppose il faut can sort of translate to "one must" or "you must", loosely, but more literally translates to "it is necessary [to]."

Read more about Falloir vs Devoir.

Usage of tout and tous

Lots of permutations here, esp. based on placement around nouns/verbs

  • "toutes les dix minutes" - Every ten minutes.

  • If "tous" comes after a verb (is a pronoun), it means "all of you/them" and is pronounced [toos]

  • If "tous" comes before a plural noun it means "all" and is pronounced [too] (ex: Tous les journaux)

"Not have that" vs "only have":

The following two sentences are the same:

J'ai seulement cinq minutes

Je n'ai que cinq minutes

translates: "I only have five minutes"

You can perhaps think of the latter as saying "I do not have BUT five minutes."

Further examples:

Ils n'ont qu'un enfant - They have only one child.

Je n ai plus que - I have only... left.

Je n'ai plus que trois jours avant de rentrer. - I have only three days left before I return.

source: Lesson 39 of Assimilº

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.