App Review: the Bescherelle Conjugaison

Posted on 17/02/2012



CRW_3421 (Photo credit: tompagenet)

Since the dawn of time, the school supply lists of French schoolchildren have included a book known as the Bescherelle. French verbs andtheir spellings are notoriously difficult, even for native speakers, and the Bescherelle is a kind of road map to help them (and their parents) navigate the pitfalls.

It basically consists of list after list of verbs conjugated in every tense imaginable. (And the French have a great imagination for tenses.) The irregular verbs – like avoirêtre, aller – are all there, of course, and then a prototype of each kind of verb. For example, manger is a specific type of -er (or 1st group) verb: it’s mostly regular but has a spelling idiosyncracy on the nous form. Voyager follows the same pattern, and so if you wanted to know how to conjugate voyager, you would look it up in the index, and the index would send you to manger, from which you could deduce that voyager followed the same rules. It sounds complicated, but you soon get the hang of it.

Enter the Bescherelle app. It costs $3.99 – a fraction of the book’s price – and is worth every penny.

It’s clean, well-presented, and easy to use. You enter the verb you are looking for, and it gives you exact matches – aimer, for example, also brings up the reflexive s’aimer – as well as near matches, in case you meant to type in aider or limer.

On the same page, it also shows you homophones: conjugations that sounds the same but, infuriatingly, are spelled differently. Exact homophones of aimer include aimez and aimées, while aimai and aimaient are close homophones – not identical, but near enough. Sadly, there’s no audio function, though.

You then click on the verb of choice, and find it listed, just as it would be in the book. You can toggle between different types of tense: compound tenses, like the passé composé, consist of an auxiliary and a past participle; simple tenses are, well, simple (in comparison) since they are made up of just one verb. You can also look up the passive form of each verb in each tense, too.

Each verb also has a little extra information in the bottom right corner, like which verb group it belongs to, whether it uses avoir or être for compound tenses, whether it needs a direct object.

If all that jargon sounds a bit confusing, don’t worry about that for now. The important thing to remember is that this is a super valuable tool for reference. Yes, you’ll still need to do exercises and learn conjugations, since you can’t really whip out the app mid-sentence every time you need a verb at the corner shop. But the Bescherelle app is incredibly useful for double checking your written work and for gaining extra points in Scrabble: once you know zozoter in the imperfect subjunctive form, you’ll be unstoppable.


— for more hints and tips on language learning, buy Conquering Babel: A Practical Guide to Learning a Language here in the US and here in the UK.
Posted in: Uncategorized