Top 10 Books to Perfect Your French

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FULL GRAMMARS

French grammar books are a dime a dozen; the following three grammars are different in that they address high-level French grammar in an applicable and accessible way. As already-intermediate/advanced speakers of French, it’s important to reinterpret ‘basic’ French grammar through your now-refined understanding of the language as a whole. You’ll be amazed at how much you can manipulate apparently simple grammar to express yourself more thoroughly!

Harper’s Grammar of French – Samuel N. Rosenburg

‘Harper’s Grammar of French’ examines the basics in a whole new light. Even the first chapter on present tense verbs presents fantastic explanations of how the present tense (and other subsequent tenses, of course) can be used to convey various ideas of time, such as habitual action (‘je ne travaille pas le weekend’) or imminent futurity (‘Elle se marie dans trois jours’; ‘Mon train part à six heures’). I can’t recommend ‘Harper’s Grammar of French’ enough for both reinforcing and greatly expanding your command of French grammar.

Grammaire française – Jacqueline Ollivier & Martin Beaudoin

There’s no substitute for a French grammar book written in Frenchand for French speakers; ‘Grammaire française’ is an advanced highschool grammar book for native French speakers and thoroughly covers all applications of grammar. One of the strengths of this book is the accessible, everyday example sentences used throughout as well as the indispensable “application immediate” sections after each subsection.

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L’expression française écrite et orale – Christian Abbadie & Bernadette Chovelon

Being a part of a “Français langue etrangère (FLE)” grammar series, ‘L’expression française écrite et orale’ is slightly more accessible to a non-native learner of French than ‘Grammaire française’ (although both are written in entirely in French). Less a full grammar than a guide to advanced expression in French, a strength of this work is its chapers on expressing: thoughts, wishes, feelings, comparison, cause, consequence, objective, concession, and hypothetical. ‘L’expression française’ is easily devoured chapter by chapter and you can skip around to what seems most interesting without losing any continuity.

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NUANCED LANGUAGE & EXCEPTIONS TO RULES

After mastering the proper way to say everything, it’s time to throw all that out the window (kind of). It’s no secret that native speakers of any language don’t sound like grammar robots when they talk; this second area of mastering your French involves learning how to break the rules to fit in and go incognito as a native speaker. It’s like the difference between writing “I don’t know” versus everyone actually muttering “I dunno” – you have to learn what to drop, when, and where in order to talk the talk.

Le français que l’on parle – Yves Cortez

One of the toughest things when learning French is grasping what register different words and phrases fall into. You don’t want to say something like “Veuillez mater le mec dont je vous ai parlé” where you sound both fancy and super causal at once. ‘Le français que l’on parle’ contains hundreds of side-by-side conversations with one soutenuand one casual example of the same scenario. The examples are a bit extreme, but the accompanying explanations help to recognize why different words/phrases belong to which level of expression.

Difficultés grammaticales du français – Larousse

Once you’ve mastered your grammar through the 3 previous ‘Full Grammars,’ you’ll want to delve into ‘Difficultés grammaticales du français.’ Because this is written for native French speakers, it contains the most common grammar mix-ups and shows how to fix them with uses current, common phrases. The introduction uses the example: “Vaut-il mieux terminer une letter par En attendant une confirmation de votre part, veuillez agréer…ou par En attendant une confirmation de votre part, je vous prie d’agréer…?” My understanding of the minute differences in meaning between different concepts and grammar has skyrocketed through applying the contents of ‘Difficultés grammaticales.’

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French Prepositions – Trudie Maria Booth

Who hasn’t made the mistake of saying “Je cherche pourquelque chose” – French is notorious for using different prepositions than English to say the same thing. And in many cases, French uses no preposition where English has one (ie chercher, look for). Booth’s ‘French Prepositions’ is the most thorough and most accessible compendium of French prepositions I’ve ever found. After covering the forms of prepositions (simple and compound), Booth begins an in-depth study of 25 prepositions (definition, common uses, application with verbs and nouns, expressions, idioms, and translation difficulties). Without a doubt a must-have.


STYLE GUIDES & ‘FRENCHIFYING’ YOUR LANGUAGE

The cherry on top to really perfecting your French is acquiring what I call the ‘French brain.’ If you grew up in a French-speaking place, how would your perceptions, thoughts, and ways of expressing yourself be different? More so, simply finding the right words and phrases to translate your English thoughts isn’t enough; the French language constructs throughts in completely different ways and often finds different kinds of information more important to showcase than an equivalent English concept.

Exercises de style – Raymond Queneau

Raymond Quneau is a founder of the French literary movement Oulio – “ouvroir de littérature potentielle” – in which creative possibilities become endless when written under specific structural constraints. In ‘Exercises de style,’ the exact same short story is written 99 times over in 99 different styles! Studying the myriad ways in which one concept can be stylistically altered helps to see how malleable and expressive the French language really is. Try writing out a paragraph on a topic of your choice and then adapting that same content to different styles in an effort to expand your communication savoir-faire and arrive at more nuanced ways of expressing yourself!

Le français au bureau – Office québécois de la langue française

If learning to speak a foreign language is hard, try doing business in it! International business carries its own set of linguistic and cultural dos-and-don’ts and the language used in business tends to be extrememly nuaced due to the hierarchical nature of French work culture. ‘Le français au bureau’ covers the format and language of resumes, cover letters, emails, phone calls, memos, contracts, and more. Even if you’re not working in business, the material covered in this book are essential for perfecting high-level French.

Stylistique comparée du français et de l’anglais – Vinay & Darbelnet

If this isn’t the French style Bible, I don’t know what is. Vinay & Darbelnet’s work is an absolutely masterful and thorough study of the structural differences between French and English. Written with the professional translator in mind, ‘Stylistique comparée’ is the best work I’ve ever found explaining the systematic patterns that affect how French and English express the same concepts in drastically different ways. We often fall into the trap of plugging proper French words into an English framework, but this often isn’t the best (or even correct) way to say the same thing in French. One poignant examples is how French is less interested than English in the wayan action is carried out; “Blown away” therefore translates as “Emporté par le vent.” The sense of ‘away’ is what carries the most importance for a French speaker, with the ‘how’ (blown/par le vent) unnecessary additional information.

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OVERALL KNOWLEDGE

Being truly fluent in a foreign language means being well-rounded speaker;
French has a highly politicized past and understanding the ways in which French has shaped countries and cultures will only deepen your ability to carefully craft how you exercise your linguistic prowess. Becoming familiar with the history of the French language – howand why French acts the way it currently does as a living language – brings a lot of logic to the grammar rules you’ve spent so long learning.

The Story of French – Jean-Benoit Nadeau & Julie Barlow

The Story of French covers the expansive history of the French language, explaining both how the language came to be formed over time as well as how French has expanded throughout the world to influence other cultures and forge new linguistic roots. I found that, in particular, understanding how Old and Middle French came to produce the modern language has helped me to have a stronger innate understanding of how French works. On an equally important note, it’s essential to recognize that French does not belong solely to France; ‘The Story of French’ profiles the French language in every place from Acadia in Canada to the Francophone countries of Africa. Becoming a fluent French speaker means understanding how you play a part in the big, linguistic picture.

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