French Passé Composé

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French Passé Composé / Passé Composé être, avoir, aller:

Passé Composé:
You certainly agree that the main difficulty with the past tenses in French is that they do not match any specific tense in English.
Here, we will see the “passé compose”, this tense is for an action or a state that started and ended in the past (ex: yesterday, I went…) but also recent past, for this reason you can use the present perfect or the preterit to translate it in English.

How to build the “passé compose”

Let’s take an example in English first:
I have danced, “have” is the auxiliary verb and “danced” the past participle, the same in French, we need an auxiliary verb and a past participle. In English, the past participle can be regular (danced, looked…) or irregular (run, eaten, gone…), in French we have the same problem.

However, there is a big difference, the auxiliary verb is to have or to be!

Passé compose with “to have” (avoir) as the auxiliary verb.

In French there are 3 groups of verbs, the first one is for regular verbs ended in “er” like “chanter”, the past participle is also regular in “é”:
Chanter becomes chanté, Danser becomes dansé, so the passé compose is:
J’ai chanté
Tu as chanté
Il a chanté
Nous avons chanté
Vous avez chanté
Ils ont chanté

2nd group of verbs ended in « ir » like « finir » (to finish, to end, the past participle is also regular in “i”; Finir becomes “fini”, so the passé compose:
J’ai fini
Tu as fini
Il a fini
Nous avons fini
Vous avez fini
Ils ont fini
More verbs: vieillir, nourrir, divertir, obéir, réfléchir
3rd group. Irregular verbs, the past participle is also irregular , you need to learn them :
To run= courir: j’ai couru (courir is not part of the 2nd group)
To drink= boire: tu as bu
To see= voit: il a vu
To take= prendre: nous avons pris
To be= être: vous avez été
To have= avoir : Ils ont eu

Passé Composé with « to be » (être) as the auxiliary verb:
Some verbs need “to be” instead of “to have”, most of these verbs are related to a move:
To go= aller: je suis allé
To arrive= arriver : tu es arrivé
To come in : entrer : il est entré
To stay= rester : elle est restée
To come= venir : nous sommes venus, on est venus
To leave= partir : vous êtes partis
To fall= tomber : ils sont tombés
To go upstairs = monter : elles sont montées

As you can see, with the verb « to be », the past participle agrees exactly with the subject :
She stayed: elle est restée, the subject is “elle” feminine so resté needs an additional “e”
They went upstairs: ells sont montées, the subject is “elle” feminine plural, so monté needs “es”.

Pay attention to the subject “on”, it is build with a singular verb but express more than 1 person, so the past participle need plural: on est venus or on est venues.

Quiz here: Click!


to be

Make a question:

J’ai fini: ai-je fini? or est-ce que j’ai fini?
Tu as fini: as-tu fini? or est-ce que tu as fini?
Il a mangé: a-t’il mangé? or est-ce qu’il a mangé?
Nous avons chanté: avons-nous chanté? or est-ce que nous avons chanté?
Vous êtes partis: êtes-vous partis? or est-ce que vous êtes partis?
Elles sont arrivées: sont-elles arrivées? or est-ce qu’elles sont arrivées?

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37 thoughts on “French Passé Composé

  1. Pingback: Resources for Chapter 3 « French Lesson Plans

  2. have a test soon

    i thought this was great as i have a test soon and dont understand when my teacher explains because she talks in french the whole time so this has helped me. please go on and explain further.. thanks :L

  3. Regina Kariuki

    this is great.  I didn’t understand it well when my french teacher taught me.  Kudos for the Great work.  I am impressed.

  4. julianne

    Thanks for the help. I’m doing french after not having touched it for about three years, and I needed a refresher to jog my memory. This was great.

  5. Susan

    Regarding the verbs that take être, my old French teacher taught us a tip which I have never heard anyone else ever mention – he had a mnemonic for the initial letters – DRAPERS VAN MTM 13 – there are 13 main verbs, plus their compounds (e.g. from venir, we have devenir and revenir) and all reflexive verbs:
    Descendre, Rester, Aller, Partir, Entrer, Retourner, Sortir, Venir, Arriver, Naître, Mourir, Tomber, Monter.
    I’ve just looked at Wikipedia has a similar mnemonic and also mentions 2 other verbs, Passer (as in to pass by) and Déceder (to decease, so similar to mourir).

  6. vivek

    thanks a lot for these great videos.
    they really help to revise, especially the night before the exam. 
    keep up the good work :)

    @susan- another good mnemonic is DR. & MRS. P. VANDERTRAMP
    devenir revenir monter rester sortir passer venir aller naitre descendre entrer rentrer tomber retourner arriver mourir partir. 

  7. Mary

    Once again it is your explanation that has alleviated my frustration with this tense.  Thank you so very much.  You are awesome!!

  8. Tom

    I have another way instead of using those mnemonic devices: Mrs Vandertramp or Drapers Van etc.
    These are the verbs with actions that move your body from one place to another: go, come, enter, re-enter, arrive, leave, go out, return, to come back, to become, to pass, go up, go down, fall, die, be born, to stay.
    The 17 verbs in French are, aller, venir, entrer, rentrer, arriver, partir, sortir, retourner, revenir, devenir, passer, monter, descendre, tomber, mourir, naitre, rester.

  9. Pingback: French Passé Composé « Lear...

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