The French Passé Composé Explained
Rumoured to be one of the frequently used past tense, passé composé is an important concept in French grammar. So, what do we mean by passé composé? Maybe something crazy happened that led to a series of events or something you were doing in the past, finished. It could even be moments that completed their existence or situations that happened in likely events. All of these can be shadowed under passé composé.
In English, we commonly know this as ‘Simple Past’ or ‘Present Perfect’.
22 November 2019
French Grammar French Lessons
The French `Passé Composé` Explained
Conjugation Formula: Pronoun + auxiliary verb + past participle
* The pronouns used are: Je (I), Tu (You), Il/Elle/On/A (He/She/One/It), Nous (We), Vous (You, Formal/Plural), Ils/Elles (They)
* There are two auxiliary verbs: être or avoir
Marriage of Être and DR MRS VANDERTRAMPP
We can either remember that most of the verbs that take être for formation in this tense have to do with some kind of movement. However, a guaranteed way of learning is by remembering the acronym and memorizing the simple table below.
|D||Devenir (to become)|
|R||Revenir (to return)|
|M||Mourir (to die)|
|R||Retourner (to return)|
|S||Sortir (to go out)|
|V||Venir (to come)|
|A||Arriver (to arrive)|
|N||Naitre (to born)|
|D||Descendre (to descend)|
|E||Entrer (to enter)|
|R||Rentrer (to return)|
|T||Tomber (to fall)|
|R||Rester (to rest)|
|A||Aller (to go)|
|M||Monter (to ascend)|
|P||Partir (to leave)|
|P||Passer (to pass)|
Other verbs that take on être are the reflexive verbs or the ones which begin with ‘se’ like se laver (to wash yourself).
The Maid of Honour Avoir
If the award for the most helping verb had to be given, it would be definitely be for avoir. All the rest of the verbs which don’t fall in the category above pair with it.
Step 1: Know Your Present Tense
Now that we are aware of the basics and which auxiliary verb to deploy where, the first instruction is to remember the present tense conjugation of both être and avoir. The table below will help jog your memory.
|Être Present Tense Conjugation||Avoir Present Tense Conjugation|
|Je||suis||(I am)||Je||(j)’ai||(I have)|
|Tu||es||(You are)||Tu||a||(You have)|
|Il/Elle/On||est||(He/She/One is)||Il/Elle/On||a||(He/She/One has)|
|Nous||sommes||(We are)||Nous||avons||(We have)|
|Vous||êtes||(You are)||Vous||avez||(You have)|
|Ils/Elles||sont||(They are)||Ils/Elles||ont||(They have)|
Step 2: Figure Out the Past Participle
If you go back and see the formula, after the auxiliary verb comes the past participle. With your helper verb in hand, these endings will be the perfect close to forming most of your passé composé tense.
- All French regular verbs ending in ‘er’ take ‘é’
Example: parler (to speak)
- All French regular verbs ending in ‘ir’ take ‘i’
Example: venir (to come)
- All French regular verbs ending in ‘er’ take ‘u’
Example: attendre (to wait)
In order for you to understand the whole formula, let’s conjugate the verb attendre in avoir.
|J’ai attendu||(I had waited)|
|Tu as attendu||(You had waited)|
|Il a attendu||(He had waited)|
|Nous avons attendu||(We had waited)|
|Vous avons attendu||(You have waited, Formal/Plural)|
|Ils ont attendu||(They had waited)|
We are well aware that irregular verbs walk their own destinies in French. Some common patterns are like ‘ire’ endings take ‘it’, ‘enir’ endings take ‘enu’ and so on. The only way around it is practice and memory. Let’s look at an example for your comfort.
|Irregular Verb Aller (to go) in Verb Être|
|Je||suis allé (I went)|
|Tu||es allé (You went)|
|Il/Elle/On||est allé(e) (He/She/One went)|
|Nous||sommes allé(e)s (We went)|
|Vous||êtes allé(e)s (You went)|
|Ils/Elles||sont allé(e)s (They went)|
Step 3: The Loyal Agreement of Gender and Number
No matter which one of the two verbs you conjugate with, always remember that male, female and plural play a huge role in determining the language.
The Curious Case of Avoir
If there is a direct object before the verb then and only then the passé composé will agree in gender and plural. The trick to knowing which word to decide with is by asking the question ‘what?’.
J’ai regardé la femme (I watched the woman) – this doesn’t need agreement
Je l’ai regardé (I watched her)
*In the last statement, ‘what’ was watched would give you the direct object as ‘femme’ and since it is before the verb, the gender agreement is used.
The Simple Case of Être
The past participle must always agree in gender and number following the rules in the table.
Toutes les femmes sont allées à Berlin (All the women went to Berlin)
* Here the ‘es’ at the end marks that it is feminine plural usage.
No matter the number of women in plural, if there is even one man the masculine plural is employed.
Just by following these simple steps and knowing the mantra, you’ll have the world of passé composé within your grasp. Why tell your adventures in just English when you can woo your audience with some classy French? You can also take the help of our French tutors for further help. See you next chapter, mon ami!