French Language Database: Lexique
Lexique is a free database of frequent French words that you can download (text file or spreadsheet) or consult online. It contains 140,000 French words that can easily be filtered or sorted to look at patterns such as most frequent words or phrases, number of homophones, parts of speech, etc. The corpus that it is based on includes both literature and film subtitles so you can also compare differences among books and films. You can also search the corpus for the sentences containing certain words to see how they are used in context.
Frequent French Words: Verbs
One aspect of Lexique that I prefer over other databases or frequency lists is that verbs are not only included as the infinitive form. All conjugated forms are included so you can easily see which tense or person/number is more frequent. Auxiliary verbs (avoir and être used in compound tenses) are separated from regular verbs, so if you are interested in form only rather than meaning, you’ll need to add up the frequencies. Homonyms such as va (imperative) and va (present tense) are not separated, but different parts of speech are, i.e. danse as a verb vs. danse a noun are two separate entries in the database.
If you download the Excel spreadsheet, apply a filter to only show AUX and VER, then sort the list by frequency, you can get some interesting on data on verb forms. In the table below, you will see that the imperfect tense is quite common in books. There are also a few conditional forms, but no future or subjunctive, in the top 30 verb conjugations.
This is something to keep in mind when learning/teaching French. Perhaps we should introduce the conditional before the future? Most textbooks tend to do the opposite, especially since the future and conditional use the same stems. However, the imperfect and conditional use the same endings, so the same argument could be made for teaching them together – which is strengthened by the fact that conditional forms are more frequent than future forms, as the Lexique database indicates.
I’ve always disagreed with teaching tenses separately (going from present to passé composé, then adding imperfect, followed by future, conditional, subjunctive, etc.) It seems more useful to me to teach the most common verbs and their forms regardless of the tense. This is why I include imperfect and future forms when I first introduce avoir and être in my French Language Tutorial – though now I see that I should perhaps have included conditional instead.
Thanks to corpus linguistics techniques, it is easier to design language learning materials that represent actual language use. Part of my PhD dissertation explores this topic if you’re interested in learning more.
Let me know if there are other databases of frequent French words that include conjugated verb forms instead of just infinitives!