Like I always say: it’s the little things that get you. I was chatting with a friend the other day. Stendahl’s The red and the black, one of the more famous French novels of the early 19th century, came up. They know about “The red and the black” in the United States?, asked my friend? (If it’s in italics, it happened in French.) Oh, yes, I said–I readed it in college.
I read it in college, my friend corrected me. Readed–that’s cute! But, it’s read. Fuck–it’s always those little things… I got my only C on a literature paper–ever–for a paper on The red and the black, and consequently have never forgotten it. So, I can talk about unfulfilled homosexuality in Stendahl’s masterpiece, but I can’t say the past tense of the verb to read in French without sounding like a 2-year-old. ‘tain!
My problem here was the past participle. This is a form of the French verb that is used in some past tenses, in passives, and occasionally as an adjective. I need to take a French proficiency exam this fall and don’t want to make this kind of basic mistake, so let’s review.
You almost certainly know h0w to form the past participle of -er class verbs. These make up about 80% of French verbs, so you hear that past participle a lot. I’m not aware of any irregular -er verb past participles. This includes -er verbs that have changes to the stem in some tenses. For example:
Now: regular -ir class verbs. Although the -er verbs are the most common in French, the Lawless French web site points out that there are several hundred regular -ir verbs. The regular -ir verbs have an i at the end of their past participle. Let’s look at a few, just to drill this into my head:
Now, lots of the fun of speaking French comes from its irregularities, and we do have some -ir verbs with irregular past participles. The Lawless French web site has a helpful page on irregular -ir verbs. We’ll work our way through it, starting with -ir verbs that have past participles that end with -ert:
Notice a pattern there? It’s our old friends: verbs with a labiodental fricative followed by r. (Native speakers: anyone have an example of a verb with fr or vr in the root that belongs to the -ir class and doesn’t have a past participle with -ert?)
|to refrain, to abstain from||s’abstenir||abstenu (native speakers, is this right?)|
|to reach, to achieve||parvenir||parvenu|
|to suit, to be suitable||convenir||convenu|
The generalization? All of those verbs end not just with -ir, but with -enir. Here’s another fun little pattern with the past participles of -ir verbs:
|to inquire about||s’enquérir de||enquis|
|to recapture, to recover||reconquérir||reconquis|
I came across this little gem of advice related to this class of irregular -ir past participles in David Brodsky’s book French verbs made simple(r):
Easily remembered, my ass…
Now, I know what you’re thinking: I’ve given you all of these irregular past participles, but still haven’t gotten anywhere near the past participle of the verb “to read.” To which I respond: you’re right. However, my head is at near-explosion-point with irregular past participles already, so for now let’s just accept that I sound even stupider when speaking French than when speaking English, and let it go until another day. Oh–number of gun deaths in the United States in the past 72 hours: 104. Here are the most recent:
- David Urban, South Londonderry Township, Pennsylvania (click here for news story–his wife did it)
- Killeen, Texas. Murder-suicide at a Dollar Store–names not released yet. (click here for news story)
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 54-year-old male, name not released yet. Drove himself to the ER with a bullet in his chest, hitting a few walls while trying to pull into the parking lot. Died in the ER. (click here for news story)
- Monroe, Louisiana. Two people shot in the Civic Center parking lot. Names not released yet. (click here for news story)
- Harvey, Illinois. 49-year-old woman, name not released yet. (click here for news story)