The Perfect Tense or Passé Composé
Passé composé with ‘avoir’
Le Passé Composé is referred to as the Perfect tense in English and is used to describe finished actions in the past. It is a compound tense, which means that it has an auxiliary verb (avoir or être) and a past participle. Regular verbs form their past participle by changing the infinitive ending as shown in the table below:
|PASSÉ COMPOSÉ of REGULAR VERBS using AVOIR|
PARLER (‘-er’ verb)
Change the ‘-er’ to ‘-é’ = parlé
|FINIR (‘-ir’ verb)
Change the ‘-ir’ to ‘-i’ = fini
ATTENDRE (‘-re’ verb)
change the ‘-re’ to ‘-u’ = attendu
|J’ai parlé||J’ai fini||J’ai attendu|
|Tu as parlé||Tu as fini||Tu as attendu|
|Il / Elle / On a parlé||Il / Elle / on a fini||Il / Elle /On a attendu|
|Nous avons parlé||Nous avons fini||Nous avons attendu|
|Vous avez parlé||Vous avez fini||Vous avez attendu|
|Ils / Elles ont parlé||Ils / Elles ont fini||Ils / Elles ont attendu|
Note: For example, ‘Il a attendu’ can mean ‘He waited’, ‘He has waited’ or ‘He did wait’. Note how the past participle does not change to agree with the subject of the verb. In other words, it makes no difference if a masculine or a feminine, singular or plural subject is performing the action!
Next is a table with the conjugation of irregular verbs using “avoir”. It is the past participles that are irregular – learn these off by heart as they are extremely important.
|PASSÉ COMPOSÉ of IRREGULAR VERBS using AVOIR|
|Être – to be||Avoir – to have||Faire – to make/do||Dire – to say|
|Écrire – to write||Boire – to drink||Pouvoir – to be able||Vouloir – to wish|
|Savoir – to know||Voir – to see||– to put||– to take|
|Comprendre – to understand||Apprendre – to learn||Croire – to believe||– to open|
|Offrir – to offer||Connaître – to know||Sourire – to smile||Lire – to read|
|Tenir – to read||Recevoir – to get/receive||Pleuvoir – to rain|
There are numerous examples of ‘avoir’ verbs in chapter 4 of Didier’s adventures.
The first ones are all regular verbs:
J’ai trouvé un joli petit camping
J’ai choisi un emplacement
Try and find all the other ones, a total of 18!
Now Try and find some irregular past participles in the story – there are plenty of them!
Passé Composé with “être”
Verbs that cannot take a direct object (intransitive verbs) are conjugated with ‘être’ in the Passé Composé. There are also a number of verbs of motion that fall into this category. In the case of ‘aller’, for example, it is obvious that you cannot ‘go’ someone in the way that you can ‘see’, ‘touch’, ‘notice’ them. This is what is meant by an intransitive verb.
La maison du verbe être (House of ‘Être’)
Note that certain verbs can be conjugated with ‘avoir’ or ‘être’ depending on the context: see verbs with * in the table.
- Je suis descendu du train = I got out of the train (indirect object)
- Nous avons descendu la rue = We went down the street (direct object)
The following is the list of verbs conjugated with ‘être’ in the passé composé:
|Passé composé with ‘être’ – Dr & Mrs Vandertramp|
|Devenir – to become||*Monter – to go up||Venir – to come|
|Revenir – to become||Rester – to stay||Aller – to be|
|*Sortir – to go out||Naître – to be born|
|Descendre – to go/come down|
|Entrer – to enter|
|Rentrer – to come home|
|Tomber – to fall|
|Retourner – to go back|
|Arriver – to arrive|
|Mourir – to die|
|Partir – to leave|
You can see that the past participle agrees in number and gender with the subject. So, if a woman is performing the act, you add an ‘e’
- Elle est venue me voir – She came to see me
The verbs with asterisks before them can also be conjugated with ‘avoir’ Exemples:
- Sophie est sortie hier soir = Sophie went out yesterday evening La femme a sorti un mouchoir de sa poche = The woman took a handkerchief out of her pocket (direct object)
- Il est rentré tard = He came home late Il a rentré la voiture dans le garage = He put the car back in the garage (direct object)
Can you locate ‘être’ verbs in the Passé Composé in chapter 4 of Didier’s story in this exercise? Here is one: Je suis parti.
Now for something more challenging, write out a short account of what you did during the summer holidays last year. Use as many verbs as you can in the Passé Composé.
Negative form of the passé composé
Be careful of the sequence in a negative sentence. The “ne” and the “pas” are wrapped around the auxiliary verb “avoir” or “être”.
- Je n’ai pas parlé – I have not spoken/I did not speak
- Les filles n’ont pas vendu leur maison – The girls did not sell/have not sold their house
- Vous n’avez pas arrêté le criminel – You didn’t arrest/have not arrested the criminal
Try out this exercise to practice the negative form of the passé composé
Interrogative form of the passé composé
In the interrogative form, to ask a question, you invert the auxiliary verb in the following manner:
- As-tu écouté la radio? – Did you listen/have you listened to the radio ?
- Ont-ils réparé la voiture? – Have they repaired/Did they repair the car?
- A-t-elle rempli la bouteille? – Did she fill/Has she filled the bottle ?
Note that in the last example and for the third person singular in the interrogative, you insert ‘t’ because two vowels are coming together. The ‘t’ is used to help run together the two words that start with a vowel.
In order to be specific in designating an object (to say ‘this’ or ‘that’), the French employ the following demonstrative adjectives: Ce (masculine singular), cet (masculine singular, beginning with a vowel or silent ‘h’), cette (feminine singular), ces (plural). Examples
- Ce monsieur travaille dur – This man works hard
- Cet ami est intelligent – This friend is intelligent
- Il a bien aimé cette fille – He really loved this girl
- Nous allons ramasser ces pommes – We are going to pick these apples.
In chapter 4 of the story, we come across 4 examples of demonstrative articles. Can you find them?
Indirect Object Pronouns
In Unit 2, we saw Direct Object Pronouns.
It is important to note now that pronouns can be direct or indirect.
Indirect object pronouns are:
The following is a list of the most commonly used personal pronouns.
When one or more pronouns occur in a sentence, this is the order that is followed:
|ALL OBJECT PRONOUNS|
Note that ‘me’ can mean ‘me’ or ‘to me’. The same is true of all the pronouns in the first column.
In the Passé Composé of verbs conjugated with ‘avoir’, the Past Participle agrees in number and gender with a preceding direct object.
- Tu as rencontré Marie ? Oui, je l’ai rencontrée en ville. (Direct object)
- Tu as parlé à tes copains ? Oui, je leur ai parlé dans la discothèque.(Indirect object)
Certain verbs take direct objects in French when they are indirect in English:
- Il a regardé la television – He looked at the television (direct in French).
- Je l’ai regardée toute la soirée – I watched it all night.
Note: écouter (to listen to), chercher (to look for) similarly take direct objects in French:
- J’écoute la radio……
- Marie-Thérèse cherche sa mère.
Once more, there are plenty of direct and indirect object pronouns in chapter 4 of Didier’s story.
- J’ai pu en profiter – I was able to take advantage of it (indirect object).
- Ils m’ont dit – They said to me (indirect object).
- Je suis impatient de les voir passer – I am impatient to see them pass by.
Try this game and find other examples in the text.
Now take this short test on this unit!
LEARNING APPS – find the indirect pronouns / direct pronouns