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The French past participle (participe passé) is easily inferable with regard to first and second group verbs:

manger -> mangé
finir -> fini

I would like to know if there is any way to infer the ending of the French past participle of third group verbs? Can it be inferred at all? If so how? What explains the various endings?

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    This is straddling the border between language and linguistics. You can ask questions about French on French Language, though I'm not sure we'd be able to answer this question with more than “etymology”. Sep 22, 2012 at 20:52
  • Oh! Thanks Gilles, I didn't know there was one SO for French :) Sep 23, 2012 at 4:19
  • I voted to close this question, it's more a language question than a linguistics one and as such belongs on French Language and Usage as Gilles also suggests. We should have a way in close votes to suggest L&U sites to migrate to. Sep 24, 2012 at 3:55
  • @hippietrail: I don't agree since I expect the answer to be related to etymology and history of language. Otherwise I would stick to French grammar books and a ready-made 3rd group "catch-all" category as Robokitty mentioned. Sep 24, 2012 at 7:00
  • @Benjamin: No problem - it would take another three votes anyway. Sep 24, 2012 at 7:38

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The traditional categorization of conjugations in French is pretty messy, since it's modelled on the Latin paradigm but with many exceptions. The third conjugation is really a catch-all category for the messy verbs that evolved in distinct ways. Outside of those uniquely irregular verbs, there are groups of verbs you can discern patterns for, though.

-dre (except -indre, -oudre) > -du

(This applies for battre too, although it otherwise conjugates more like mettre.)

battre -> battu

-indre > -int

-uire > ui(t)

tenir/venir > tenu/venu

Historical sound change from Vulgar Latin coupled with Celtic/Germanic influence made French stand out from other Romance languages. Factor in also paradigm levelling, often applied inconsistently. Stress was an important factor, culminating in a stress accent system that eventually disappeared. The various vowels are however a remnant of that.

Many of the present alternations, which may seem more like exceptions, could be seen as remnants of much more extensive system of alternations in the past that evolved from conditioned sound changes. For example, all the -indre verbs in French are reflexes of or modelled on Latin Vngere (joindre < iungere), whereas prendre/rendre were from prehendere/*rendere respectively.

There have also been extensive dialectal differences in French, leading sometimes to lexical items being borrowed in fossilized form, occasionally levelled out by analogical change. Cf. oi ~ ai (François vs. français), VllV vs. VlVV (faillir vs. falloir).

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  • Thanks! Side note on former stress: is it what explains the strong and weak vowels in some -er verb conjugations? eg. céder, je cède, nous cédons; jeter, je jette, nous jetons. Sep 23, 2012 at 4:24
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    Not in this case, but stress is still the reason. Alternations like those were very common in Old French, as vowels in stressed positions underwent sound changes, sometimes becoming diphthongs. For example, Modern French aimer, j'aime, nous aimons < Old French amer, j'aim, nous amons. Most of these distinctions no longer exist in Modern French.
    – ROBOKiTTY
    Sep 23, 2012 at 6:47
  • Any good book you can recommend on the history of French language? Sep 23, 2012 at 7:04
  • What I meant with former stress accent was that in Old and Early Middle French, stress did not necessarily fall on the final syllable. But eventually, syllables following the stress were lost, and stress became uniformly word-final. An earlier alternation like recevoir ~ receivre would be an example.
    – ROBOKiTTY
    Sep 23, 2012 at 7:14
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    A history of the French language by Peter Rickard is a decent overview. A history of the French language through texts by Wendy Ayres-Bennett includes selected texts put into historical context and is quite good.
    – ROBOKiTTY
    Sep 23, 2012 at 7:23

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