French is sometimes described as the most difficult European language, and this is true to a certain extent. You wouldn't believe the number of completely silly rules in the language, especially weird spellings that aren't pronounced. As a result, many native speakers with a college education (like me) still make a substantial number of spelling mistakes (1 per paragraph say).

Here's a sample of what you'll have to suffer through if you try to learn French and spell it properly (to be fair, other languages have some of these characteristics too; I'm comparing it to English here):

  • Verb conjugations. There are around 50 (not kidding) ways to conjugate each verb. (there are many tenses not found in English or that can be expressed more simply) There are 3 different types of regular verbs, so you can start by memorizing how those work. That won't help you with all the irregular verbs, though.
  • Masculine/feminine. In French, each noun is given an arbitrary gender. You must memorize it. The most noticeable effect of this is that it changes articles. ("le" and "la" for example) However, it also subtly changes the spelling of adjectives, pronouns and other words that happen to be around it in complex, irregular ways.
  • A hopelessly irregular grammar. For example, if I recall correctly, the spelling of the past participle used with the verb "avoir" varies with the direct complement, but only if the complement is before the verb. This rule is terminally stupid and it's a fertile source of mistakes. And don't even let me get started on when to spell "leur" as "leurs". French is full of such rules which you'll have to painfully remember.
  • Accents, placed pretty much arbitrarily. It's hard to remember where to put them, especially since there are 3 types.

Quebec native speakers use a dialect of French which is different in many moderately important ways from standard French. Interestingly enough, there's no official grammar for it or accepted way of writing it down, so in written texts we use standard French (which is taught in Quebec schools), which sounds rather formal to us. So I hate IRC chatting in French: it's a choice between overly formal standard French or Quebec French, which seems unnatural when written down. Not to mention, I hate making spelling mistakes, and in French I still do :(.

Here's an example of standard French versus Quebec French:
Standard: Veut-il venir?
Quebec: Y veut-tu venir?
Both sentences mean "Does he want to come?". The first is correct, but would sound very odd and overly pedantic about grammar if someone from Quebec actually said it in a real-world situation. The second has completely crazy grammar (what's that "tu" doing there!?) and "Il" is mispronounced "Y", but it's perfectly natural and easy to understand for a French Canadian. Don't worry though, nobody minds when foreigners speak standard French.

My favorite poetry is all written in French: for some reason there's something about the language that makes its poetry so much better-sounding to my ears. "Les sanglots longs des violons de l'automne" (Verlaine), mmmmm. If you learn French you *must* read the work of Nelligan, the most famous French Canadian poet. Everyone likes Nelligan.

Personally, I have never heard French described as the most difficult language. A language's difficulty is relative anyway; learning German is probably easier for a European than it is for a Japanese person, for example.

The fact that a language has numerous verb conjugations does not necessarily make it difficult or strange. English is actually the oddball in European languages in that its verbs are relatively uninflected. Spanish, commonly described by English speakers as easier than French, actually has more a more complicated verb system than does French, and Portuguese and Italian are even more so. Chinese has no verb conjugations whatsoever and I imagine that it is harder to for English-speaking people to learn than any Indo-European language.

French (?), a. [AS. frencisc, LL. franciscus, from L. Francus a Frank: cf. OF. franceis, franchois, franois, F. franais. See Frank, a., and cf. Frankish.]

Of or pertaining to France or its inhabitants.

French bean (Bot.), the common kidney bean (Phaseolus vulgaris). -- French berry Bot., the berry of a species of buckthorn (Rhamnus catharticus), which affords a saffron, green or purple pigment. -- French casement Arch. See French window, under Window. -- French chalk Min., a variety of granular talc; -- used for drawing lines on cloth, etc. See under Chalk. -- French cowslip Bot. The Primula Auricula. See Bear's-ear. -- French fake Naut., a mode of coiling a rope by running it backward and forward in parallel bends, so that it may run freely. -- French honeysuckle Bot. a plant of the genus Hedysarum (H. coronarium); -- called also garland honeysuckle. -- French horn, a metallic wind instrument, consisting of a long tube twisted into circular folds and gradually expanding from the mouthpiece to the end at which the sound issues; -- called in France cor de chasse. -- French leave, an informal, hasty, or secret departure; esp., the leaving a place without paying one's debts. -- French pie [French (here used in sense of "foreign") + pie a magpie (in allusion to its black and white color)] Zool., the European great spotted woodpecker (Dryobstes major); -- called also wood pie. -- French polish. (a) A preparation for the surface of woodwork, consisting of gums dissolved in alcohol, either shellac alone, or shellac with other gums added. (b) The glossy surface produced by the application of the above. -- French purple, a dyestuff obtained from lichens and used for coloring woolen and silken fabrics, without the aid of mordants. Ure. -- French red rouge. -- French rice, amelcorn. -- French roof Arch., a modified form of mansard roof having a nearly flat deck for the upper slope. -- French tub, a dyer's mixture of protochloride of tin and logwood; -- called also plum tub. Ure. -- French window. See under Window.

 

© Webster 1913.


French, n.

1.

The language spoken in France.

2.

Collectively, the people of France.

 

© Webster 1913.

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