French/Grammar/Tenses/Present perfect

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The passé composé is a perfect tense, and is therefore composed of an auxiliary verb and a past participle. With most verbs, that auxililary verb is avoir.

Meaning[edit]

In English, verbs conjugated in the passé composé literally means have/has ____ed. While there is a simple past tense in French, it is only used in formal writing, so verbs conjugated in the passé composé can also be used to mean the English simple tense.

  • For example, the passé composé form of parler (to speak), [avoir] parlé, literally means has/have spoken, but also means spoke. In French, the passé composé covers "I ate", "I did eat" and "I have eaten" - J'ai mangé.

When to use[edit]

You use the passé composé when you want to express that:

  1. Something has been completed in the past.
  2. Something was done a certain amount of times in the past. (if the something was ongoing, the imparfait should be used)
  3. A series of somethings was completed in the past.

Formation[edit]

Introduction[edit]

To conjugate a verb in the passé composé, the auxiliary (or helping) verb, usually avoir, is conjugated in the present indicative and the past participle is then added. It is important to remember that there is only *one* verb in the passé composé. While the past participle looks like a verb, it is not - it functions more like an adjective. This is important to remember because when you negate in the passé composé, you negate the only verb, which is the auxiliary verb (ex. "Je n'ai pas mangé"; "I have not eaten"). This works exactly the same way in English - the only verb is the auxiliary verb, which is also the only thing negated in English ("I have not eaten").

Formation Summary[edit]

The compound past is a compound tense- it consists of two verbs, the auxiliary verb ("helper verb") and the past participle of the verb one seeks to use in this tense.

To form the passé composé, you need to take the auxiliary verb - either avoir (or être for irregular verbs), then make it agree with the subject of the sentence, like in the present indicative tense. We then take the past participle of the verb, and stick that on the end. Every verb has one past participle that does not change (there are some exceptions, as one will learn later). To find the past participle, the stem of the infinitive must be determined. To do so, drop the -er, -ir, -oir or -re, as usual.

If we want to make the statement negative, for example if we didn't do something in the past, we must always put the negative structure such as ne ... pas around the auxiliary verb, immediately before the past participle. For example, "Je ne peux pas",.

Also, reflexive or pronomial verbs must be conjugated with être under most circumstances. For example, the verb "se reflechir" is conjugated in the first person singular by "Je me suis reflechi,".

Auxiliary Verb Formation[edit]

  • The auxiliary verb is always either avoir or être.
  • The tense of the verb depends upon the tense that avoir or être is conjugated in.
    • When the auxiliary verb is conjugated in the passé composé, for example, the auxiliary verb is conjugated in the present indicative.
      • J'ai fini. - I have finished.


Auxiliary Verb - Être[edit]

Conjugate être in the present indicative.

je suis nous sommes
tu es vous êtes
il est ils sont

Past Participle Formation[edit]

  • -er verbs - replace -er with é
  • -ir verbs - replace -ir with i
  • -re verbs - replace -re with u
  • irregular verbs - must be memorized
Formation of the Past Participle
Verb Group Infinitive Stem Past Participle
-er verbs jouer jou joué
-ir verbs finir fin fini
-re verbs répondre répond répondu

Avoir + Past Participle[edit]

J'ai joué. I have played Nous avons joué. We have played.
Tu as joué. You have played. Vous avez joué. You have played.
Il/Elle/On a joué. He has played. Ils/Elles ont joué. They have played.


Être + Past Participle[edit]

Je suis allé(e). I went. Nous sommes allé(e)s. we went
Tu es allé(e). You went. Vous êtes allé(e)(s).* you (all) went
Il/On est allé. He went. Ils sont allés. they went
Elle est allée. She went. Elles sont allées. they went
  • Note that for the starred vous form, the S (which is always added for nous and ils/elles) is not added if the vous is simply denoting the singular, formal you.

Past Participle Agreement with Preceding Direct Objects[edit]

The past participle must agree with the direct object of a clause in gender and plurality if the direct object goes before the verb.

  • the direct object is masculine singular - no change
    • J'ai fini le jeu. - I have finished the game.
    • Je l'ai fini. - I have finished it.
  • the direct object is feminine singular - add an e to the past participle
    • J'ai fini la tâche. - I have finished the task.
    • Je l'ai finie. - I have finished it.
  • the direct object is masculine plural - add an s to the past participle.
    • J'ai fini les jeux. - I have finished the games.
    • Je les ai finis. - I have finished them.
  • the direct object is feminine plural - add an es to the past participle.
    • J'ai fini les tâches. - I have finished the tasks.
    • Je les ai finies. - I have finished them.

Avoir ou Être?[edit]

In most circumstances, the auxiliary verb is avoir. However, with certain verbs, the auxiliary verb is être. This occurs under two different circumstances:

1. Reflexive verbs always take être.

This distinguishes them from verbs with preceding objects pronouns.
Reflexive Verbs vs. Verbs with Preceding Object Pronouns
Je me suis parlé. I spoke to myself.
Il m'a parlé. He spoke to me.

2. The House of Être: Most verbs form the passé composé with avoir, however there are a small number of verbs that are always conjugated with être. Seventeen special intransitive verbs take être (four of which can also take avoir, as explained below).

Verbs that take ÊTRE in the Passé Composé
Devenir To become Je suis devenu(e) normalien(ne). I became an Ivy League student.
Revenir To come back Je suis revenu(e) dans cette salle pour chercher mon cahier. I came back to this classroom to find my notebook.
Mourir To die Je suis mort(e) à cause des examens.
Il est mort en 1917.
I died because of my exams.
He died in 1917.
Rentrer To re-enter or go home Je suis rentré(e) de l'école.
Il est rentré tôt de l'école.
I came home from school.
He came back early from school.
Sortir* To go out Je suis sorti(e) avec des amis. I went out with some friends.
Venir To come Je suis venu(e) vous parler.
Je suis venu(e) en France.
I came to speak to you.
I came to France.
Aller To go Je suis allé(e) à la cantine.
Je suis allé(e) au cinéma.
I went to the cafeteria.
I went to the cinema.
Naître To be born (*not* a passive verb in French) Je suis né(e) le 1 janvier.
Je suis né(e) en octobre.
I was born on January 1st.
I was born in October.
Descendre* To go/take down Je suis descendu(e) du vélo.
Il est descendu du train.
I got down from the bike.
He got out of the train.
Entrer To enter Je suis entré(e) par la porte.
Je suis entré(e) dans ma chambre.
I came in by the door.
I entered in my (bed)room.
Retourner To return Je suis retourné(e) au café le lendemain.
Il est retourné au restaurant.
I went back to the café the next day.
He returned to the restaurant.
Tomber To fall Je suis tombé(e) de ma chaise.
Je suis tombé(e) dans la piscine.
I fell out of my seat.
I fell into the pool.
Rester To stay (*not* to rest) Je suis resté(e) chez moi samedi soir.
Je suis resté(e) à la maison.
I stayed home on Saturday night.
I stayed home.
Arriver To arrive Je suis arrivé(e) en cours à l'heure.
Le train est arrivé.
I arrived in class on time.
The train has arrived.
Monter* To mount, to put up, to go up, to get on Je suis monté dans la car de l'école. I got on the school bus.
Passer (par)* To pass (by) Je suis passé par la bibliothèque.
Il est passé devant la maison.
I passed by the library.
It happened in front of the house.
Partir To leave Je suis parti(e) pour étudier en France.
Elle est partie travailler.
I left to go study in France.
She left to go to work.
A useful mnemonic to help you remember these is "DR.MRS.VANDERTRAMPP". Because all of these verbs except mourir, naître and rester are also verbs of movement (but be careful! not all movement verbs take être!), many also find it useful to draw a house with the verbs being acted out ("The House of Être").

2.a. Exceptions Note that there are four verbs above that are followed by a star (sortir, descendre, monter, passer). When a direct object is used with these verbs, the auxiliary verb becomes avoir.

Être Verbs that take Avoir when they are followed by a Direct Object
SORTIR (être) Je suis sorti(e) hier soir. I went out last night.
SORTIR (avoir) J'ai sorti le lit de ma chambre. I took the bed out of my room.
DESCENDRE (être) Je suis descendu(e) dans l'ascenseur. I came down in the elevator.
DESCENDRE (avoir) J'ai descendu le criminel. I brought down the criminal.
DESCENDRE (avoir) J'ai descendu le tableau du mur. I took down the painting from the wall.
MONTER (être) Je suis monté par l'escalier. I came up by the stairs.
MONTER (avoir) Mon chien a monté un autre chien, le cochon.
Je suis monté(e) au sommet.
My dog mounted the other dog, the pig.
I climbed to the top.
PASSER (être) Je suis passé par la Tour Eiffel quand je me baladais dans le parc. I passed by the Eiffel Tower when I was walking in the park.
PASSER (avoir) J'ai passé mon examen de maths. I took my math test. (NB: to pass an exam is réussir; to take an exam, use passer)