1001 Most Useful French Words

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1001 Most Useful French Words (Beginners' Guides) By BuxbaumI’m not quite sure why this book was given that particular title, as the blurb says that ‘its contents encompass more than 1,000 of the most frequently used words in the French language.’ I’m afraid I have not counted the exact number, as I was more interested in reading the contents!

The book is divided into three sections. The first of these is the Alphabetical (Dictionary) Section covering forty-nine pages. After this comes a Category Section which is four pages long. The book ends with a one-page section entitled Vocabulary tips.

The Preface actually suggests starting with the Vocabulary Tips, so you may wonder why these are at the end. The focus of this section is the similarity between many French and English words, beginning with some that are spelled in exactly the same way, such as monument and probable. It also points out for example that the English -oun often corresponds to the French -on as in profond and fontaine. This page reminds me of Michel Thomas’s approach where he emphasises words such as situation which are identical in spelling and only differ in pronunciation. This book does not give any pronunciation guide at all.

The main Alphabetical Section lists a selection of French words, most of which are relatively common and useful. Their meanings are given and each word is used in a sentence. The biggest problem is that the whole section is French-English so if you want to know what the equivalent French of an English word is, this book will not be of any use. It is not a substitute for a bilingual dictionary. The Preface suggests going through the section quickly and marking off words that are ‘of special interest’. I don’t feel that this is the way for a beginner to learn, but it could be helpful to an intermediate student.

I like the idea of showing how a word is used in a sentence, but if a word has more than one meaning, only one example is given here. The verb avoir, for example, has so many uses, but all we are given here is ‘J’ai beaucoup de travail a faire’ (I have a lot of work to do). I am surprised as well that ‘adieu’ is given for goodbye but there is no mention of ‘au revoir’.

I am sure it is useful under ‘cheveu’ meaning hair to have the sentence ‘Je dois me faire couper les cheveux’ for I must have my hair cut, as this is not a word-for-word translation of English. Similarly, ‘il s’est coupe le doigt’ for he has cut his finger (literally he to himself is cut the finger). ‘Au fur et a mesure’, listed under ‘fur’ and meaning gradually, is a phrase that many students will perhaps be grateful to see used in a sentence.

“I obviously have some reservations, but I am not denying that this book fills a certain need.”

There are, however, some significant words that I feel have been given short shrift or omitted altogether. ‘Passer’ is given only in the sense of to pass or to spend, whereas for example ‘passer un examen’ means to take (not pass) an exam, and ‘se passer’ means to happen. ‘Propre’ is given its two meanings, clean and own, but there is no explanation that placed after a noun it means the former, but placed before the noun it means the latter (sa voiture propre – his clean car; sa propre voiture – his own car).

“Important’ is not included at all, although you could not be expected to guess that it means considerable, large or extensive in French as well as important. ‘Eventuel’ is another omission; it does not mean eventual in French, but possible or potential.

The four-page Category Section has words listed under topics such as the family, numbers, food, animals, occupations and so on. Once again it is French-English only, but it is easy to find what you are looking for in this short section. I did, however, notice in the number lists that a hundred and one is given as ‘cent et un’ rather than the correct ‘cent un’. In colours, I was a little surprised that purple is given as ‘pourpre’ whereas ‘violet’ is more usually taught, and ‘marron’ is given as chestnut but is these days taught as an alternative to ‘brun’. That said, the food list is quite extensive and presumably useful.

I obviously have some reservations, but I am not denying that this book fills a certain need. The run-of-the-mill phrase book is not going to tell you how to say ‘They swore to tell the truth at the trial’ in French! It is as light as a feather so would easily fit into a backpack and most handbags. The sentences are all polite and quite formal, but there are several books on the market now on colloquial French and slang that I don’t think that does any harm. For the price, it is quite a useful little book.

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1001 Most Useful French Words
by Buxbaum

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Written by frangliz