French Passé Composé

French Passé Composé / Passé Composé être, avoir:

Passé Composé: Video

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.

Important: When to use the Passé Composé:

The Passé Composé expresses a past fact finished now, we use it instead of the Passé Simple (a bit old), it is not a tense for past event that lasted a while (like the Imparfait) but just facts!
We sometimes use it like a future tense: J’ai fini dans 5 minutes: I will finished in 5 minutes.

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, we have two auxiliary verbs: 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/Elle/On a chanté
Nous avons chanté
Vous avez chanté
Ils/Elles ont chanté

J’ai dansé
Tu as dansé
Il/Elles/On a dansé
Nous avons dansé
Vous avez dansé
Ils/Elles ont dansé

 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:
 See the graphic below
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 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.

Passe compose Exercise and Quiz:

Image for passé composé

passe compose être
image for Passé Composé être

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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