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Passé Composé

Passé Composé

The French passé composé is a past tense formed by combining the present tense of avoir (to have) or être (to be) as an auxiliary verb with a past participle. For example, j’ai parlé français (I spoke French) or je suis allé en France (I went to France).

passé composé

What is the French passé composé?

The passé composé is used to describe specific past actions that occurred at precise times and are completed.

On this page we’ll learn how to form the passé composé for regular as well as irregular verbs.

We’ll also look at how to form the passé composé the 17 verbs of movement which take the auxiliary verb être.

The other major French past tense is called the imperfect (l’imparfait). On this page we covered the French imperfect tense in detail.

On this page we covered the passé composé for reflexive verbs.

Passé composé conjugation

To form the passé composé, combine an auxiliary or helping verb (verbe auxiliaire) with the past participle of the verb.

The following is the passé composé of the verb parler (to speak).

The past participle parlé is the same for every person and the auxiliary verb avoir (to have) changes in accordance with each subject.

In French, every verb has one single past particle. This makes learning the passé composé much easier than the present tense.

Passé composé of parler

Negation rule for the passé composé

To negate the passé composé, wrap ne…pas around the helping (auxiliary) verb. Here are few example sentences. We have bolded the ne…pas. This page on our site covers French negation rules in detail.

  • Nous n‘avons pas mangé. We have not eaten.
  • Ils n‘ont pas dansé. They didn’t dance.
  • Vous n‘avez pas voyagé. You have not traveled.
French passé composé negation rule exaplained.

Passé composé for regular verbs

Regular -er verbs

To form the past participle for regular -er verbs, remove the -er on the infinitive (to form) of the verb and replace it with é. Hence:

parler -> parler -> parlé

Here are the regular -er verbs manger (to eat), travailler (to work) and habiter (to live) in the passé composé.

manger
j'ai mangé
tu as mangé
il, elle, on a mangé
nous avons mangé
vous avez mangé
ils, elles ont mangé
travailler
j'ai travaillé
tu as travaillé
il, elle, on a travaillé
nous avons travaillé
vous avez travaillé
ils, elles ont travaillé
habiter
j'ai habité
tu as habité
il, elle, on a habité
nous avons habité
vous avez habité
ils, elles ont habité

Regular -ir verbs

To form the past participle with regular -ir verbs, drop the -ir on the infinitive and replace it with -i.

finir (to finish) -> finir -> fini

Here are the regular -ir verbs choisir (to choose), réussir (to succeed) and obéir (to obey) in the passé composé:

choisir
j'ai choisi
tu as choisi
il, elle, on a choisi
nous avons choisi
vous avez choisi
ils, elles ont choisi
réussir
j'ai réussi
tu as réussi
il, elle, on a réussi
nous avons réussi
vous avez réussi
ils, elles ont réussi
obéir
j'ai obéi
tu as obéi
il, elle, on a obéi
nous avons obéi
vous avez obéi
ils, elles ont obéi

Regular -re verbs

To form the past participle for for regular -re verbs, drop the -re and replace it with -u.

vendre (to sell) -> vendre -> vendu

Here are some examples of regular -re verbs attendre (to wait), entendre (to hear), répondre (to reply, answer) in the passé composé .

attendre
j'ai attendu
tu as attendu
il, elle, on a attendu
nous avons attendu
vous avez attendu
ils, elles ont attendu
entendre
j'ai entendu
tu as entendu
il, elle, on a entendu
nous avons entendu
vous avez entendu
ils, elles ont entendu
répondre
j'ai répondu
tu as répondu
il, elle, on a répondu
nous avons répondu
vous avez répondu
ils, elles ont répondu

Here are some example sentences with regular verbs in the passé composé.

  • Nous avons mangé la pizza. We at the pizza.
  • Marie a fini son repas. Marie finished her meal.
  • Georges a vendu la voiture. Georges sold the car.
How to form the passé composé for regular verbs in French

Irregular verbs in the passé composé

Irregular verbs have irregular past participles in the passé composé. The following is a list of commonly used irregular verbs and with their past participles.

Irregular past participles

French irregular verbs in the passé composé

The following example sentences are formed with irregular verbs in the passé composé.

  • J’ai lu le livre. I read the book.
  • Pierre a fait un gâteau. Pierre made a cake.
  • Martin a bu le café. Martin drank the coffee.
  • Nous avons vu un film. We saw a movie.

Groups of irregular verbs in the passé composé

Groups of related irregular verbs share related past participles. For every irregular “base” verb in the following table you will find the past participles of related verbs.

Base VerbPast ParticiplesRelated Verbs
mettre = to putj'ai miscomprendre (to understand) -> j'ai compris
apprendre (to learn) -> j'ai appris
surprendre (to surprise) -> j'ai surpris
entreprendre (to undertake) -> j'ai entrepris
conduire = to drivej'ai conduitproduire (to produce) -> j'ai produit
construire (to build) -> j'ai construit
détruire (to destroy) -> j'ai détruit
connaître = to knowj'ai connureconnaitre (to recognize) -> j'ai reconnu
paraître (to seem, appear) -> j'ai parru
apparaître (to appear) -> j'ai apparu
mettre = to putj'ai mispromettre (to promise) -> j'ai promis
permettre (to allow) -> j'ai permis
commetre (to commit) -> j'ai comis
craindre = to fear
peidnre = to paint
j'ai craint
j'ai peint
plaindre (to pity) -> j'ai plaint
feindre (to pretend) -> j'ai feint
teindre (to dye) -> j'ai teint

To form the past pariciples for verbs ending in -rir, remove the -rir from the infintive and replace with -ert. For example:

  • Ouvrir (to open) -> j’ai ouvert I opened
  • Couvrir (to cover) -> j’ai couvert I covered
  • Découvrir (to discover) -> j’ai découvert I discovered
  • Souffrir (to suffer) -> j’ai souffert I suffered

Être verbs in the passé composé

In French, there is a list of seventeen verbs which take the auxiliary verb être (to be) in the passé composé. These tend to be verbs of movement.

In the previous section, all of there verbs which took the auxiliary verb avoir were transitive.

This means that the action of a verb is carried out onto an object. For example, “I eat pizza” becomes “I ate the the pizza” (j’ai mangé la pizza).

However, the following être verbs are intransitive, meaning that the action of the verb is not carried out onto any particular object. In essence, the subject and object are the same.

Detailed explanation:

I’m staying home. -> I’m not carrying out the action of staying onto anything else. I am both the subject and the object. I’m not doing anything to anything else.

Hence, Je reste chez moi (I stay home) becomes Je suis resté chez moi (I stayed home).

The following is aller (to go) in the passé composé.

The past participle of a a verb that uses être as an auxiliary verb in the passé composé must agree in gender and number with the subject.

There is an extra -e or -s is added to the past participle if the subject is feminine or plural.

Aller conjugated in the passé composé in French. This is an example of verb that uses être as an auxiliary verb.

Dr. & Mrs. Vandertramp

A fun mnemonic device for memorizing the group of French verbs that are conjugated with être in the passé composé is called Dr. & Mrs. Vandertramp. These letters are the first letters of the list of verbs.

Dr. & Mrs. Vandertramp: Mnemonic device for memorizing verbs which use être as their auxiliary verb in the passé composé.

The following example sentences are verbs which require être as an auxiliary verb in the passé composé.

  • Je suis rentré chez moi à 11h00. I returned home at 11 o’clock.
  • Il est devenu tres riche. He became very rich.
  • Martin est monté la montagne. Martin climbed up the mountain.

Verbs which can take auxiliary verbs être and avoir

Some verbs take both être and avoir as auxiliary verbs. The difference is whether the verb is transitive (has a direct object and takes avoir) or intransitive (doesn’t have a direct object an thus takes être).

Passer = to pass by, spend time

  • Je suis passé par la poste. I went by the post office.
  • J’ai passé trois ans en France. I spent three years in France.

Sortir = to leave, to take out

  • Je suis sorti de la maison. I left the house.
  • J’ai sorti la poubelle. I took the trash out.

Monter = to climb, to take up

  • Je suis monté la montagne. I climbed the mountain.
  • Je suis monté la boite dans le grenier. I brought the box up to the attic.

Descendre = to go down, take down

  • Je suis descendu dans la cave. I went down to the basement.
  • J’ai descendu la boîte dans la cave. I brought the box down to the basement.

My good friend, Camille, at Frenchtoday.com also provides an excellent post on the passé composé. In her post, Camille, provides crystal-clear grammatical explanations with lots super helpful example sentences.

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David Issokson
David Issokson is a lifelong language learner and speaks over seven languages. Of all the languages he speaks, he's the most passionate about French! David has helped hundreds of students to improve their French in his private lessons. When not teaching or writing his French Word of the Day lessons, David enjoys his time skiing, hiking and mountain biking in Victor, Idaho.

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David Issokson

David Issokson is a lifelong language learner and speaks over seven languages. Of all the languages he speaks, he's the most passionate about French! David has helped hundreds of students to improve their French in his private lessons. When not teaching or writing his French Word of the Day lessons, David enjoys his time skiing, hiking and mountain biking in Victor, Idaho.

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