Past Tense in French : Le Passé Composé

Le Passé Composé is one of the most important topics in French Grammar to learn. The application Le Passé Composé can be easy if you understand the topic well. Yes, easier said than done. I feel that all the learners reading this are rolling their eyes right now. 

Well, today is your day. I will do my best to make this topic easier to learn. So easy that you start to apply it correctly when speaking.

The definition :

Le Passé Composé is a tense formed from the auxiliary of the verb avoir or être in the present tense followed by the past participle of the conjugated verb.

Le Passé Composé is the tense used to denote actions performed in the past.

Let’s talk about the use of Le Passé Composé with avoir:

  1. J’ai mangé des frites.
  2.  Nous avons parlé à Paul
  3. Il a entendu un bruit.
  4. Vous avez rempli le verre.

This tense is called Le Passé Composé because it is made up of two elements: the present tense of an auxiliary verb avoir or être followed by a past participle:

The past tense = present of the auxiliary + past participle

Note that in most cases the auxiliary verb is avoir but some verbs require être as an auxiliary.

The conjugation :

  • For regular verbs with an ending -er infinitive, the past participle is formed by replacing the final -er of the infinitive with.

For example, the past participle of parler is parlé

  1. Il a rencontré son amie au théâtre.
  • The past participle of regular verbs with an infinitive ending in -ir is formed by removing the final -r from the infinitive.

For example, the past participle of remplir est rempli.

  1. J’ai fini mon travail. 
  • The past participle of regular verbs with an infinitive ending in -re is formed by replacing the final -re of the infinitive with -u.

For example, the past participle of vendre is vendu

  1. Il a perdu son sac

Note that many verbs, however, have irregular past participles. The past participles of many common irregular verbs that have avoir as an auxiliary are listed below.

Le verbeLe participe passé
ComprendreCompris
PrendrePris
VouloirVoulu
DireDit
OuvrirOuvert
OffrirOffert
MettreMis
PrendrePris
ComprendreCompris
VoirVu
SavoirSu
Connaîtreconnu
PouvoirPu
AvoirEu
ÊtreÉté

Negative sentence construction:

The negation of Le Passé Composé is formed by placing ne…pas between the conjugated auxiliary verb and the past participle.

  1. Elle n’a pas vu ton sac.
  2.  Je n’ai pas compris le roman de Sartre.

Let’s look at the verbs that will take être as an auxiliary verb.

Many intransitive verbs that are not followed by a direct object take être in the past tense. Many of these verbs also indicate movement. 

Verbs of movement are: Aller, Venir, Descendre, Montrer, Entrer, Rentrer, Retourner, Sortir, Partir

A few of these verbs of movement are monter, descendre, sortir, passer, revenir can sometimes take a direct object, thus becoming transitive. When they do, the auxiliary used is avoir instead of être.

  1. J’ai sorti la poubelle.
  2.  Il a descendu son sac.

It is important to note that many intransitive verbs of movement, such as courrir and marcher do not use être but use avoir.

Agreement of the past participle :

The past participle of a verb that takes to be agreed in gender and number with the subject;

This means that an -e is added to the past participle to match a feminine subject and an -s is added for a plural subject. If the subject is feminine plural, -es is added.

  1.  Elles sont venues à la fête.
  2. Ils sont partis de la maison
  3.  Elle est allée au cinéma.
  4. Nous sommes retournés de l’Inde.