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    The French Passé Composé Explained

    Known to be one of the frequently used past tense, Passé Composé is an important concept in French grammar. But what does passé composé imply? Maybe something unbelievable 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 or unlikely events. All of these can be categorized under passé composé.

    In English, we commonly know this as ‘Simple Past’ or ‘Present Perfect’.

    The French `Passé Composé` Explained
    By Michelle
    3 months ago
    Spice Your Past with Some Passé Composé

    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  

Combination of Être and DR MRS VANDERTRAMPP

We can 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.

LetterVerbs
DDevenir (to become)
RRevenir (to return)
MMourir (to die)
RRetourner (to return)
SSortir (to go out)
VVenir (to come)
AArriver (to arrive)
NNaitre (to born)
DDescendre (to descend)
EEntrer (to enter)
RRentrer (to return)
TTomber (to fall)
RRester (to rest)
AAller (to go)
MMonter (to ascend)
PPartir (to leave)
PPasser (to pass)

Furthermore, other verbs that take on être are the reflexive verbs or the ones which begin with ‘se’ like se laver (to wash yourself).

Combining with Avoir

The most helping verb in French would definitely be avoir. In this case, all the rest of the verbs which don’t fall in the category of être pair with avoir.

Step 1: Know Your Present Tense

Now that we are aware of the basics and which auxiliary verb to use 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 ConjugationAvoir Present Tense Conjugation
PronounInfinitiveTranslationPronoun InfinitiveTranslation
Jesuis(I am)Je(j)’ai(I have)
Tues (You are)Tua(You have)
Il/Elle/Onest (He/She/One is)Il/Elle/Ona(He/She/One has)
Noussommes(We are)Nousavons(We have)
Vousêtes(You are)Vousavez(You have)
Ils/Ellessont(They are)Ils/Ellesont(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.

ConjugationEnglish Translation
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 have their own rules 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 below:

Irregular Verb Aller (to go) in Verb Être
PronounConjugation
Jesuis allé (I went)
Tues allé (You went)
Il/Elle/Onest allé(e) (He/She/One went)
Noussommes allé(e)s (We went)
Vousêtes allé(e)s (You went)
Ils/Ellessont allé(e)s (They went)

Step 3: The 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 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?’.

Example:
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 Case of Être

The past participle must always agree in gender and number following the rules in the table.

MasculineFeminine
Singular-e
Plural-s-es

Example:
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 the 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!

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