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Passé composé

[pah-sey kawn-poh-zey]

Passé Composé is the most commonly used past tense in the modern French language. It is used to express that an action has been completed at the time of speech, or at some (possibly unknown) time in the past. Passé Composé was originally a present perfect, and is still occasionally used as such (ex: Ça y est, j'ai fini = I am finished), while its main use is as a past tense. It is commonly used as a "narration tense" for oral and written narration. Narration tense is a feature of roman languages, which divide events in a story between timeline events, which appear successively in the narration in the same order they happened in real life (or "fictional real life"), and background events, which do not follow such a strict order of appearance and are to be situated relatively to timeline events (anterior, simultaneous, posterior). Narration tense is used for timeline events only, so string of successive events are frequently expressed with Passé Composé. Passé Composé is formed using an auxiliary verb and the past participle of a verb.

The auxiliary verb is typically avoir ("to have") but sometimes être ("to be")

This is the conjugation of avoir:

jai  (I have)    nous avons' (we have)
tu as (you have)  vous avez  (you have)
il a  (he has)    ils ont    (they have)

This is the conjugation of être:

je suis  (I am)     nous sommes (we are)
tu es    (you are)  vous êtes   (you are)
il est   (he is)    ils sont    (they are)

The following is a list of verbs which use être as their auxiliary verbs in Passé Composé:

  1. devenir – to become – devenu
  2. revenir – to come back – revenu
  3. monter – to climb – monté
  4. rester – to stay – resté
  5. sortir – to exit – sorti
  6. venir – to come – venu
  7. aller – to go – allé
  8. naître – to be born – né
  9. demeurer – to abide – demeuré
  10. descendre – to descend – descendu
  11. entrer – to enter – entré
  12. retourner – to return – retourné
  13. tomber – to fall – tombé
  14. rentrer- to re-enter- rentré
  15. arriver – to arrive – arrivé
  16. mourir – to die – mort
  17. partir – to leave – parti
  18. passer – to pass by (this case only) – passé
  19. décéder - to decease

The verbs that use être as an auxiliary verb are intransitive verbs that usually indicate motion or change of state, and can be summarized as in an acrostic "Dr. and Mrs. Vandertramp" or "Mrs. D.R. Vandertramp". Since some of these verbs can be used as a transitive verb as well, they will instead take avoir as an auxiliary in those instances Eg. Il faisait chaud, ils ont tombé la veste.

In addition to the above verbs, all reflexive/pronominal verbs use être as their auxiliary verb.

To form the past participle for -ER verbs, drop the -er and add .

parler (to speak)   - er + é = parlé (spoken)
aller (to go)       - er + é = allé (gone)
arriver (to arrive) - er + é = arrivé (arrived)

To form the past participle for -IR verbs, drop the -ir and add -i.

finir (to finish) - ir   + i   = fini (finished)
choisir (to choose) - ir   + i   = choisi (chosen)
sortir (to go out)  - ir   + i   = sorti (gone out)

To form the past participle for -RE verbs, drop the -re and add -u.

vendre (to sell)    - re   + u   = vendu (sold)
fondre (to melt)   - re   + u   = fondu (melted)
descendre (to descend)  -re  + u = descendu (descended)

  • Several irregular past participles must be memorized separately:

acquérir:    acquis      (acquired)
apprendre:   appris  (learnt/learned)
atteindre:   atteint     (attended)
avoir:       eu          (had)
boire:       bu          (drunken)
comprendre:  compris     (understood)
conduire:    conduit     (driven)
connaître:   connu       (known)
construire:  construit   (constructed)
courir:      couru       (ran)
couvrir:     couvert     (covered)
craindre:    craint      (feared)
croire:      cru         (believed)
décevoir:    déçu        (disappointed)
découvrir:   découvert   (discovered)
devoir:                (must)
dire:        dit         (said)
écrire:      écrit       (written)
être:        été         (been)
faire:       fait        (done, made)
instruire:   instruit    (prepared)
joindre:     joint       (joined)
lire:        lu          (read)
mettre:      mis         (put, placed)
mourir:      mort        (died)
offrir:      offert      (offered)
ouvrir:      ouvert      (opened)
naître:                (was born)
paraître:    paru        (came out)
peindre:     peint       (painted)
pouvoir:     pu          (been able to)
prendre:     pris        (taken)
produire:    produit     (produced)
recevoir:    reçu        (received)
savoir:      su          (known)
surprendre:  surpris     (surprised)
souffrir:    souffert    (hurt)
suivre:      suivi       (followed)
tenir:       tenu        (held)
venir:       venu        (came)
vivre:       vécu        (lived)
voir:        vu          (seen)
vouloir:     voulu       (wanted)

To form the complete Passé Composé simply use the following layout:

Subject + Auxiliary Verb + Past Participle

J'ai vu (I have seen)

Tu as parlé (You have spoken)

Il est sorti (He has gone out)

  • In addition to "have/has verbed", Passé Composé can be translated as "did verb" or simply "verbed". For instance, J'ai vu can be translated as 'I have seen' or 'I saw.'
  • The Past Participle must agree with the subject when the auxiliary verb is être. When the auxiliary verb is avoir, the past participle must agree with the direct object if the direct object precedes the past participle in the sentence. Recall that in French, agreement is accomplished by adding an -e to the end of the past participle if the subject/direct object in question is feminine and an -s if it is plural.

Les hommes sont arrivés (The men have arrived.)

Les filles sont venues (The girls have come.)

Nous nous sommes levé(e)s. (We got up, extra e required if nous refers to a group of females.)

J'ai vu la voiture. (I saw the car) Je l'ai vue. (I saw it-referring to the car)

Les voitures que j'ai vues étaient rouges. (The cars that I saw were red.)

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