You’ve put a lot of sweat and tears into your French…
…but maybe you still flub your grammar sometimes.
Hey, that’s okay.
We all make mistakes.
The good news is, French grammar checkers can rescue you from at least some of those mistakes.
You may think the capabilities of automated checkers are so limited that there is simply no point in bothering.
However, the best ones can actually be really handy: These checkers will flag things like gender errors, failure to use the subjunctive or article issues (like using des instead of de).
And they’ll also check your spelling, of course.
Plus, if you can wait a little longer, there are sites where human beings are willing to graciously fill the role of online grammar checker.
For the purposes of this article, I put all of the major free online grammar checker options to the test, as well as one popular site where human native speakers correct each other’s texts.
My test text was a 450-word description of my apartment for Airbnb; I translated it into French, intentionally including mistakes that are common for beginning and for advanced students of the language, as well as some mistakes common for un-schooled speakers who “pick up” French by speaking it.
And who am I kidding, I also made some nice, fat grammatical errors of the unintentional sort.
For comparison, I submitted my text to a professional, native-speaking French writer and translator who happens to be a friend.
Each grammar checker had its merits as well as flaws. All of them have free options for French learners.
In this post, we’ll look at only the absolute best of the best checkers, whom they’re best for and how to use them.
Check My French! The 3 Best Online French Grammar Checkers
This website is pretty plain and the tool is not as well-known as the others, so I was surprised that it won out overall in terms of thoroughness of corrections, ease of use of the interface and clarity of the grammar explanations.
Here’s what you should know about Scribens:
- It flagged gender problems throughout the text, including where an adjective was not immediately adjacent to the noun it was modifying. For example, it corrected “le chambre principal est petit” to “la chambre principale est petite” (the master bedroom is small); other checkers often failed to catch petit.
- It did not erroneously flag too many proper nouns, like Barcelone (Barcelona), Picasso and Gaudí, which some checkers did.
- It corrected some more complex issues, like use of the subjunctive, and even had a convenient drop-down box with the corrected subjunctive for you to click on to replace your own silly text. Most others didn’t offer features for such complex types of correction.
- A great feature for learners and grammar nerds is that it not only provides that drop-down box with the corrected word that you can click on, but also a short grammar explanation within the box, and a link to the règle générale (general rule), a page that provides even more explanation and—important for learners—a few examples.
- The free version allows you to paste quite a bit of text into a box and check it immediately on the page. There is a premium version for €39.90 that allows you unlimited text and has plugins for browser windows and desktop word processing programs.
This is the best choice for those who are starting out with French and want to have their grammar explanations and the interface in English. It allows you to check a smaller block of text in one go, and did not flag quite as many true mistakes as Scribens, but may still be more useful for you depending on your level and preferences.
Here’s what you should know about BonPatron:
- The tool did not catch problems with the gender of adjectives like principale and petite in the context above, but still caught problems with gender of articles.
- It caught some subjunctive issues and other more complex grammar issues.
- It does not have a drop-down menu that allows you to select the correction; you have to type it yourself. Some learners may find this beneficial, however.
- The grammar explanations in English were somewhat generalized but quite clear. This is not going to tell you the exact correct answer necessarily, just that, for example, you need a feminine article of some sort.
- There is a check box to indicate if you are writing in the first-person feminine, so that the tool will check the text accordingly. I tested this, and it seems to work fine.
- At the bottom of the page, your errors are linked to pages with much longer grammar descriptions in English of French grammar rules that you have violated.
The Human Grammar Checkers at Lang-8
There are a lot of issues with French that no automatic grammar checker is going to catch and make clear to you, especially if you’re not a native speaker.
Written French can be a vast horror, and if you happen to need a lot of guidance with your writing, using any automatic grammar checker can be like putting a Band-Aid over a severed limb.
That’s why it’s great to know about Lang-8, a resource that lets you get your writing corrected by native speakers.
I submitted the same text for correction on Lang-8, and then for karma (and for the site’s point system) corrected some other users’ texts in English. About 24 hours later, I received my correction.
The writer who corrected my text on Lang-8 changed many of my phrasings; some because they were wrong, but also a lot just because she could come up with words that sounded better, or were more standard in a given context.
For example, I wanted to say that there were both “tripots et restaurants chics” (dive restaurants and fancy places) in my lively neighborhood. Tripots apparently sounds awful, though, so she reformulated my phrase to “restaurants du plus populaire à l’ultra-chic.”
There are also cultural issues to consider in cross-cultural writing that, for now, no grammar checker is likely to master. “You shouldn’t call the bedroom petite at all,” she said. “By Parisian standards it’s actually quite large! No French person will be disappointed.”
So you may not be lucky enough to have a French writer friend nearby to check your text, but you can get always get native speakers to correct it at Lang-8.
The Lang-8 correction was not quite as complete as my friend’s, but absolutely far more complete than any of the automatic grammar checkers.
While you never know how well the native speakers on the site know their own language (French is a challenge even for the French), one advantage is that several people may eventually correct your text, so you get various perspectives on what is correct or the best phrasing (although this can be confusing, too).
Lang-8 has a social feature that allows you to friend other users and build a more personal connection, so that you can develop relationships and people to count on as you move forward with your writing. It’s not uncommon to make appointments with other users on Skype to talk through texts, for example.
But, as discussed, all of the automatic options are limited in terms of what they can do to help you write correctly in French, so if you have the time you should make the effort to exchange corrections with someone on Lang-8.com or in real life.
With the tools above, you should be better able to tackle the correction of any French text that you might produce, whether it’s for the pleasure of writing, improving your language skills or more concrete tasks like convincing traveling Francophones to rent out your “normal”-sized room.
And One More Thing…
If you want to learn French with fun, addicting material, then you’ve got to try FluentU.
FluentU lets you learn French from real-world content like music videos, commercials, news broadcasts, cartoons and inspiring talks. Since this video content is stuff that native French speakers actually watch on the regular, you’ll get the opportunity to learn real French—the way it’s spoken in modern life.
One quick look will give you an idea of the diverse content found on FluentU:
Love the thought of learning French with native materials but afraid you won’t understand what’s being said? FluentU brings authentic French videos within reach of any learner. Interactive captions will guide you along the way, so you’ll never miss a word.
Tap on any word to see a definition, in-context usage examples, audio pronunciation, helpful images and more. For example, if you tap on the word “suit,” then this is what appears on your screen:
Don’t stop there, though. Use FluentU’s learn mode to actively practice all the vocabulary in any video with vocabulary lists, flashcards, quizzes and fun activities like “fill in the blank.”
As you continue advancing in your French studies, FluentU keeps track of all the grammar and vocabulary that you’ve been learning. It uses your viewed videos and mastered language lessons to recommend more useful videos and give you a 100% personalized experience.
Mose Hayward blogs about languages, drinks, and adventures in France and around the world at TipsyPilgrim.com.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.