If you’re lacking a good reason to love France today, here’s a fine one: the Bescherelle has been on the Amazon France bestseller list for 324 days. It’s currently the 19th highest-sales item, and that’s down from its previous listing.
The written French verb is a marvelous thing, with inflections for person, number, tense, aspect, mood, and occasionally gender (e.g. adjectival past participles of verbs conjugated with être). This works out to maybe 50 forms for every verb, with lots of irregularities that you just have to memorize. The most popular reference is Bescherelle: La conjugaison pour tous (“Conjugation for everyone”). Named after a 19th-century French lexicographer and grammarian, Bescherelle is actually a series of books on conjugation, grammar, and orthography (spelling), and it is so popular that the word Bescherelle is used in the modern language to refer to any guide to conjugation (or so Wikipedia tells me—I haven’t heard this usage).
As you can guess, French verb conjugation is a challenge, and the ability to do it correctly is the sign of a well-educated person. In the United States, it’s tough to study French without a copy of 500 French Verbs. (It’s a great book, but don’t buy the Kindle version–it’s probably the worst Kindle book I’ve ever seen.) In contrast, the Bescherelle lists 12,000 (twelve thousand) verbs, or at least my 1997 edition does—I’m not sure what the number is for the most current version. The African language scholar Laura Downing once told me that when things got boring around the office in France, her (French) co-workers would toss around the Bescherelle and take turns quizzing each other. I can attest that when I was puzzling over an odd verb tense at work one day, my office mate Brigitte said: “There’s the Bescherelle!”
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