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Top Tools for French/English Translators

Maybe more than anyone else, translators need good tools. Some of them are obvious (like dictionaries), but others may be less so to inexperienced or untrained translators. Here is a list of the translation books without which I simply could not work. This list is for French-English and English-French translators, but can easily be adapted for other language combinations.

Le Grand Robert
Le Grand Robert is a single, infinitely useful CD-ROM containing the contents of 6 enormous books. Version 2 includes 100,000 words and 325,000 quotations, has an attractive and easy-to-use interface, and can be installed on your computer. (The previous version is half the price, but has a very basic interface and can only be run from the CD-ROM). Each entry includes pronunciation, etymology, historical uses, register, regionalities, and numerous examples, and everything is hypertexted. (French)
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Collins Robert French Unabridged Dictionary
This is the best and most thorough bilingual French English dictionary, with more than 2,000 pages. Entries include slang, regionalisms, and expressions. There's also a useful section on "language in use," with vocabulary and expressions grouped by categories such as suggestions, advice, business correspondence, and much more. In my opinion, this is the only option for fluent speakers and translators.
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Cambridge International Dictionary of English
Some translators can get away with choosing the best dictionary for the English they speak (e.g., American Heritage for the US, Oxford English Dictionary for England, etc.), but others work for many different English-speaking audiences. If you're in the latter group, this international dictionary is your best best - it indicates differences between American, Australian, British, and Canadian English.

Thésaurus Larousse
I think thesauruses (thesauri?) are my favorite reference books, and I couldn't live without this one when I translate or write in French. What I do is look up English words in my bilingual dictionary, and then look up the French words in this thesaurus. Very nicely indexed, includes almost 900 subtopics. A must for translators and writers.
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Roget's International Thesaurus
This thesaurus includes more than 1,000 subtopics, arranged thematically. In addition to synonyms and antonyms, it also includes thematic lists, like types of trees, bones in the human body, etc. It takes me an hour to look anything up, because I always get distracted!

Le Bon Usage
Originally published in 1936, this is the bible of French grammar - the most thorough French grammar book that exists. It has been republished more than a dozen times and is a must for translators. This is the book that native speakers refer to when they want to understand or explain some aspect of French grammar. French only
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English Composition and Grammar: Complete Course
This is, according to many writers, the best English grammar book available. In addition to well-indexed entries on everything from antecedents to word order, it also includes exercises so that you can make sure that you've mastered everything you look up. English only.

Cours d'analyse grammaticale
One common problem for translators is not knowing what a term or phrase at the end of a long, complicated sentences is referring to. For me, the best way to find the correct antecedent is by doing a grammatical analysis of the offending French. This book is arranged logically and is a great tool for native and non-native French speakers alike. French only.
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Bescherelle : La conjugaison pour tous
Subtitled « Dictionnaire de 12 000 verbes, » this is best French verb conjugation reference, bar none. Instead of wasting space with hundreds of identical conjugations, Bescherelle has pared down the conjugations to the bare minimum: one page each for regular -er, -ir, and -re verbs; a page apiece for passive and reflexive conjugations; and then 77 pages of irregular verbs. Once you memorize these 82 patterns, you can conjugate virtually every French verb that exists. French only.
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Stylistique comparée du français et de l'anglais
Although some of the examples are dated, this is an excellent book for budding translators. It explains translation issues between French and English in detail, with many examples. Explanations are in French.

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