Past Participle Agreement with the Verb Avoir Posted by Elizabeth Schmermund on Sep 14, 2015 in Grammar
Today we are going to look at the verbs avoir and être — the most common verbs in French, which are used to form the simple past tense.
As you know, different verbs in the past tense take either avoir or être. While most past participles take the verb avoir, there are some very common verbs that take être. You may have learned the past participles that take the verb être as the mnemonic device Dr & Mrs. Vandertramp, as shown below:
D — devenir (to become)
R — revenir (to come back)
M — monter (to climb, to go up)
R — rentrer (re-enter)
S — sortir (to go out)
V — venir (to come)
A — arriver (to arrive)
N — nâitre (to be born)
D — descendre (to descend, to go down)
E — entrer (to enter)
R — retourner (to return)
T — tomber (to fall)
R — rester (to stay)
A — aller (to go)
M — mourir (to die)
P — partir (to leave)
If you want to say “I left at nine o’clock,” for example, you would say: “je suis parti(e) à 9h.” Whether or not you add the final “e” depends on whether the person speaking is male or female. But past participles that follow the verb être must show agreement with the pronoun. Thus, if you are talking about a group of people, you would need to make the past participle plural; for example, “We went to get ice cream,” becomes in French: “Nous sommes allés chercher de la glace.”
Normally, we learn that past participles that use the verb avoir DO NOT need to show agreement. For example, if a woman says: “j’ai parlé avec lui” (I spoke with him), you should NOT put an extra “e” (denoting the female speaker) at the end of parlé.
However, like many grammatical rules in French, there are exceptions to this agreement rule with past participles following avoir. This is the rule: If the direct object comes before past participle, the past participle should agree with that direct object.
Here’s an example:
J’ai vu une souris dans la rue hier soir (I saw a mouse in the street last night). Here, vu does not take on any agreement with the subject of the sentence and will remain vu no matter the gender of the speaker.
Tu as vu cette grosse souris? Je l’ai vue dans la rue hier soir! In this example, the past participle agrees not with the subject of the sentence, but with the direct object because the direct object precedes the past participle. Because the noun souris is feminine, it is grammatically correct to add an “e” at the end of vu so that it becomes vue.
This rule of agreement with past participles using avoir is pretty tricky, but it’s important to know in order to be completely grammatically correct (especially when writing, since most of the time, you wouldn’t hear any difference when spoken!). Leave me a comment below with any questions or examples where you would use past participle agreement.
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Great post! Thanks. I’ve never seen the Dr & Mrs vandertramp before. I’ve always remembered that we use the verb ‘etre’ with verbs to do with movement, but this is certainly a good tip!