French Language Blog

Le passé composé Posted by on Oct 28, 2010 in Culture, Grammar, Vocabulary

I started studying French in middle school, and by 8th grade, I thought had learned everything. All I needed was a little more vocabulary, and I’d be fluent. Then I came into class one day, and my teacher said, Alors la classe, aujourd’hui on va commencer le passé composé, a form of past tense.

Past tense. Connaissez-vous bien le passé? It turns out you need it, and you all are smarter than me: you recognized that one needs to be able to express things in the past (le passé).

Alors, comme vous l’avez demandé (merci surtout à Claire): past tenses ! Plus spécifiquement, le passé composé v. l’imparfait. Today, le passé composé ; next time, l’imparfait !

I. Le passé composé

A. Le passé composé is used for an action or series of actions completed in the past. It has three possible meanings in English: For example, j’ai dansé can mean “I danced,” “I have danced,” or “I did dance” (with emphasis).

Le passé composé is called the composed past because it is composed of two components:

1.     The present tense of the auxiliary verb, either avoir or être, PLUS

2.     The past participle of the action verb

So: (subject) + (être or avoir, conjugated) + (main verb, in past participle form).

For example: I danced yesterday = J’ai dansé hier, where the main verb, danser, takes avoir (=> J’ai) and the past participle of danser (to dance) is dansé.

B. While irregular verbs have irregular past participles, there is a pattern for regular verbs: -er verbs end in é, while –ir end in i and –re verbs end in –u. Exemples:

Regarder = regardé

Partir = parti

Répondre = répondu

C. The past participle agrees in gender with an indirect object, but does not agree with the subject (so a girl and a boy both say “J’ai regardé” without the girl needing to add an extra ‘e’).

D. To use le passé composé, you need to know the past participle of the verb, and whether to use avoir or être.

The rule is, all verbs take avoir, except reflexive verbs (with se) and DRMRSVANDERTRAMP.

Dr. & Mrs. Van Der Tramp is a mnemonic for the 21 verbs that take être instead of avoir. They are all related to movement.

DRMRSVANDERTRAMP (verbs that take être) stands for:

Devenir : to become
: to return, to come again
: to go up
: to rest, stay
: to exit
: to come
: to go
: to be born
: to go down
: to enter
: to reenter, to return
: to fall
: to return
: to arrive
: to die
: to leave, to depart

L’imparfait is used for repeated, incomplete or ongoing actions. On va l’étudier prochainement. I hope this has helped- leave questions and we’ll examine them next time!



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  1. ronin:

    merci…ca m’aide beaucoup

  2. Beth:

    In high school we were taught “The House of être” and told “anything you can do to/in a house takes être.” This does make some sense, but you can clean or paint or sell a house too….

  3. hina:

    merci,pour l’explication…

  4. patty:

    I’m so glad you guys are talking about passe compose. I’m just now learning it in my French class. Can’t wait to learn the l’imparfait. I get the two confuse quite often. Thanks for posting this.

  5. Sabrina:

    Thanks! That was such a helpfpul refresher!! Merci beaucoup!

  6. simo_philip:

    Merci,Thanks,Gracias Serena .

  7. Claire:

    merci, c’est vraiment clair. et merci pour les histoires droles 😛

  8. Paige:

    Hey, I LOVE this!! SO SO helpful, I’ve just started my first year of languages at University, and now have to deal witht eh fact that I must perfect all y grammar this is very very useful!

    en plus: Dr and Mrs Bree Van De Kamp (Desperate Housewives)