Mnemonic devices for French verbs

Are there any common mnemonic devices for remembering French verb tenses/verb conjugations that someone might learn in a French class but an online learner might not be exposed to?

For instance, I remember learning the 'WEIRDO' acronym in high school Spanish to help figure out when the subjunctive tense should be used. Are there any other helpful acronyms like that I should learn?

April 17, 2018


weirdo? I don't have any advice but a question: what's weirdo? I took four years of Spanish in high school and several semesters in university and I don't think I ever heard that one.

April 17, 2018

Wishes Emotions Impersonal Expressions Recommendations Doubt/Denial Ojalá

More info here:

April 17, 2018

Thanks. French and Spanish both use the subjunctive much more than English so it's worth learning. You have to be careful with that mnemonic, though, because the website you linked directs you to look out for a first verb (weirdo) which tells you whether a second verb should be subjunctive. Yet, in everyday speech the first verb often isn't given. for example, when travelling around Mexico, I often hear people tell me "que le vaya muy bien." (Presumably some form of esperar would have preceded it in formal speech.)

For one of my classes I had to buy "501 Spanish Verbs" They explain the common subjunctive tenses (as well as the rare ones) pretty well, but there's no mnemonic device given.

There's a "501 French Verbs" as well. I never bought that one, but recently I downloaded French Verb Drills, 3rd edition, by R. de Roussy de Sales. No mnemonic device is given in that one either but he does a pretty good job explaining the purpose of the subjunctive case, when and how to use it.

April 17, 2018

The only one I've heard of is "Dr. & Mrs. P. Vandertramp" to designate those verbs that use etre in passe compose. (Though it's almost easier to just remember the verbs themselves!)

April 18, 2018

I think that answers the OP. I googled it and found many hits. Apparently it is commonly taught in freshman French courses.

I'm not much into mnemonic abbreviations because it's just one more thing to remember--on top of what you're already meant to remember--but I sort of like “Guppies are Hell without Tartar Sauce” for remembering the relationship between Gibbs Energy, Enthalpy, Temperature, and Entropy in thermodynamics courses: dG = dH - TdS

I generally look for patterns. From de Roussy, Here's a list of common verbs conjugated with etre in passé composé:

aller arriver descendre devenir entrer monter mourir naître passer partir rester retourner revenir sortir tomber venir

I was inspired by the OP to try to find a pattern and here's what I have noticed: The verbs requiring etre are all things like coming, going, entering, exiting, and falling. (to my mind, being born is a sort of entering or coming) So they all (except "remaining") involve a change of location ("dying" figuratively so). In that sense they are verbes de mouvement. Perhaps that's why this pattern evolved.

The other (or perhaps related) possibility is they are intransitive verbs. (Sort of.) I suspect that I'm oversimplifying and I'm not a linguist by training, but if I recall correctly, German has a similar split. For example, compare Ich habe geschlafen (I have slept) to Ich bin gefallen (I have fallen). In one case haben (to have) is used and in the other sein (to be) is used. but German also has werden (to become) so that's a three-way split. Still, maybe English is the odd language. Perhaps those other languages have preserved something that English lost. (e.g., the phrases "I am fallen" and "I am born" both appear in older English literature.) At some point the verb "have" must have generalized to be the perfective auxiliary for both transitive and intransitive verbs. So French only seems weird because we're not used to the split.

April 18, 2018

I agree with you on patterns- for me also it is the best way generally since it allows you to make a judgment on a new verb and have a good chance of success. I didn't know about vandertramp until very recently when I was using outside sources to practice, but thought it might help someone. The etre verbs have a very definite movement/ change of state pattern I find easier to follow than the mnemonic, which looks like it would take some time to employ! It might be most helpful to a student taking a test who had a bit of time to work it out. Still, when these devices are most useful, I think, is when you create them yourself.

Having said all this, I just realized that I do in fact sometimes say the word BANGS in my head when deciding whether to place an adjective before or after a noun in French. (This stands for Beauty, Age, something, something, Size ;), you see, patterns or just familiarity seems to work better for some.

Edit* Looked up the missing words: N is for number, which is intuitive; and G is for 'goodness' (e.g., bon etc.)

April 18, 2018

BANGS is exactly what I'm looking for (and it deals with something I've always been confused about). Thank you so much!

April 18, 2018
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