Passé composé

Diagram showing which verbs (apart from les verbes pronominaux) are conjugated with être; below each verb in infinitive form is the past participle.

Passé composé (French pronunciation: [pase kɔ̃poze], compound past) is the most commonly used past tense in the modern French language. It is used to express an action that has been completed at the time of speech, or at some (possibly unknown) time in the past. Passé composé originally corresponded in function to the English present perfect, and is still used as such or as past simple. Passé composé is formed using an auxiliary verb and the past participle of a verb.


The passé composé is formed by the auxiliary verb, usually the avoir auxiliary, followed by the past participle. The construction is parallel to that of the present perfect (there is no difference in French between perfect and non-perfect forms). When the passé composé is formed by the auxiliary verb être, the form (and meaning) is that of a passive form.

The passé composé is usually translated into English as a simple past tense, "I saw", or as a present perfect, "I have seen". It could also be translated as emphatic past tense, "I did see".

The auxiliary may actually be used similarly in any tense, leading to the French "compound tenses".

Auxiliary "avoir"

The auxiliary verb is typically avoir ("to have"), but is sometimes être ("to be") (see below).

This is the conjugation of avoir, with a past participle:

j'ai vu (I have seen)                   nous avons  vu   (we have seen)
tu as vu (you have seen)                vous avez  vu    (you have seen)
il/elle/on a vu  (he/she/it has seen)   ils/elles ont vu (they have seen)

Auxiliary "être"

The verbs that use être as an auxiliary verb are intransitive verbs that usually indicate motion or change of state.

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; e.g.

This is the conjugation of être, with a past participle:

je suis mort(e) (I am dead)                   nous sommes mort(e)s (we are dead)
tu es  mort(e)   (you are dead)               vous êtes mort(e)s   (you are dead)
il/elle/on est mort(e) (he/she/it is dead)    ils/elles sont mort(e)s    (they are dead)

The following is a list of verbs that use être (for intransitive usage) as their auxiliary verbs in passé composé:

The above are commonly remembered using the acronym DR and MRS VANDERTRAMP. In addition to these, at least one other verb is conjugated with être:

Reflexive forms

In addition to the above verbs, all reflexive/pronominal verbs use être as their auxiliary verb. A reflexive verb is a verb that relates back to the speaker, either as an object e.g. Je me suis trompé (= *j'ai trompé moi-même, I mistook myself), or as a dative form e.g. Je me suis donné du temps (= * j'ai donné du temps à moi-même, I gave some time to myself).

Formation of French past participles

To form the past participle for first-group verbs (-ER verbs) and aller too, drop the -er and add .

parler (to speak)    - er + é = parlé (spoken)
arriver (to arrive)  - er + é = arrivé (arrived)
manger (to eat)      - er + é = mangé (eaten)

To form the past participle for second-group verbs (-IR verbs with -ISSANT gerund), drop the -ir and add -i.

finir (to finish)    - ir + i = fini (finished)
choisir (to choose)  - ir + i = choisi (chosen)
grandir (to grow up) - ir + i = grandi (grown up)

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

pendre (to hang)     - re + u = pendu (hung or sometimes hanged)
vendre (to sell)     - re + u = vendu (sold)
entendre (to hear)   - re + u = entendu (heard)
acquérir:    acquis      (acquired)
apprendre:   appris      (learnt/learned)
atteindre:   atteint     (attained)
attendre:    attendu     (waited)
avoir:       eu          (had)
boire:       bu          (drunk/drunken)
comprendre:  compris     (understood)
conduire:    conduit     (driven)
connaître:   connu       (known)
construire:  construit   (constructed)
courir:      couru       (run)
couvrir:     couvert     (covered)
craindre:    craint      (feared)
croire:      cru         (believed)
décevoir:    déçu        (disappointed)
découvrir:   découvert   (discovered)
devoir:                (had to)
dire:        dit         (said)
écrire:      écrit       (written)
être:        été         (been)
faire:       fait        (done)
instruire:   instruit    (prepared)
joindre:     joint       (joined)
lire:        lu          (read)
mettre:      mis         (put, placed)
offrir:      offert      (offered)
ouvrir:      ouvert      (opened)
paraître:    paru        (come out)
peindre:     peint       (painted)
pouvoir:     pu          (been able to)
prendre:     pris        (taken)
produire:    produit     (produced)
recevoir:    reçu        (received)
savoir:      su          (known)
souffrir:    souffert    (hurt)
surprendre:  surpris     (surprised)
suivre:      suivi       (followed)
tenir:       tenu        (held, holden)
venir:       venu        (come)
vivre:       vécu        (lived)
voir:        vu          (seen)
vouloir:     voulu       (wanted)

Agreement between participle and object

The use of the past participle in compound tenses in French is complicated by occasional "agreement" with the object of the action. In French, agreement is accomplished by adding an -e to the end of the past participle if the grammatical gender of the subject or direct object in question is feminine and an -s if it is plural. (Note that for verbs of the first and second group, the past participle ends with a vowel, thus the masculine and feminine, singular and plural forms are all pronounced the same. Within the third-group verbs, one can find past participles ending with a mute consonant, such as mis and fait, and those do change pronunciation.)

Examples :

For more information, see French verbs, and see Accord du participe passé en français for complete details (This last reference is in French.)

See also


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