How To Form And Use The French Passé Composé

What is the passé composé?

The “passé composé” (pronounced pass-ay com-poh-zay) is a French past tense, corresponding with the English simple past and present perfect. French verbs in the passé composé are used to represent completed past actions. This tense is formed by combining an auxiliary verb (avoir or être) with the verb’s past participle (le participe passé).

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.

How to form French verbs in the passé composé

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 changes in accordance with each subject.

J’ai parlé. I spoke
Tu as parlé. You spoke
Il, elle on a parlé. He, she, one spoke
Nous avons parlé. We spoke
Vous avez parlé. You spoke
Ils, elles ont parlé. They spoke

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

Negation rule for the passé composé

To negate the passé composé, wrap ne…pas around the past participle.

  • Je n’ai pas parlé. I did not speak
  • Tu n’as pas parlé. You didn’t speak
  • Il, elle n’a pas parlé. He, she didn’t speak
  • Nous n’avosn pas parlé. We didn’t speak
  • Vous n’avez pas parlé. You didn’t speak
  • Ils, elles n’ont pas parlé. They didn’t speak

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) or 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.

j'ai mangé
tu as mangé
il, elle, on a mangé
nous avons mangé
vous avez mangé
ils, elles ont mangé
j'ai travaillé
tu as travaillé
il, elle, on a travaillé
nous avons travaillé
vous avez travaillé
ils, elles ont travaillé
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: .

j'ai choisi
tu as choisi
il, elle, on a choisi
nous avons choisi
vous avez choisi
ils, elles ont choisi
j'ai réussi
tu as réussi
il, elle, on a réussi
nous avons réussi
vous avez réussi
ils, elles ont réussi
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 .

j'ai attendu
tu as attendu
il, elle, on a attendu
nous avons attendu
vous avez attendu
ils, elles ont attendu
j'ai entendu
tu as entendu
il, elle, on a entendu
nous avons entendu
vous avez entendu
ils, elles ont entendu
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.
  • Tu as travaillé hier. You worked yesterday.
  • Thomas et Sylvie on dansé ensemble. Thomas and Sylvie danced together.
  • Vous avez voyagé en France. You traveled to France.
  • Il a travaillé hier. He worked yesterday.
  • Eric a choisi le filet mignon. Eric chose the filet mignon.
  • Elle a regardé un film. She watched a movie.

Irregular verbs in the passé composé

Irregular verbs have irregular past participles in the passé composé. This following is a list of commonly used irregular verbs with corresponding past past participles, require memorization.

Irregular past participles

  • Avoir (to have) -> j’ai eu
  • Boire (to drink) -> j’ai bu
  • Courir (to run) -> j’ai couru
  • Croire (to believe) j’ai cru
  • Devoir (must, have to) -> j’ai dû
  • Dire (to say) -> j’ai dit
  • Écrite (to write) -> j’ai écrit
  • Être (to be) -> J’ai été
  • Faire (to make, do) -> J’ai fait
  • Falloir (to be necessary) -> il a fallu
  • Lire (to read) -> j’ai lu
  • Pouvoir (to be able) -> j’ai pu
  • Pleuvoir (to rain) -> il a plu
  • Recevoir (to receive) j’ai reçu
  • Rire (to laugh) -> j’ai ri
  • Savoir (to know, find out) -> j’ai su
  • Suivre (to follow) -> j’ai suivi
  • Voir (to see) -> j’ai vu
  • Vouloir (to want) -> j’ai voulu

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
  • Couvrir (to cover) -> j’ai couvert
  • Découvrir (to discover) -> j’ai découvert
  • Souffrir (to suffer) -> j’ai souffert

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

Suggested Audio Course For All Levels

We have known Camille from for a long time and strongly suggest her audio courses for all levels. She does a great job teaching the "trouble" areas such as pronunciation and verb conjugations. Click here to learn more!

  • 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.
  • Tu as lu le journal. You read the newspaper.
  • Elle a dit la vérité. She said the truth.
  • Vous avez écrit la lettre. You wrote the letter.
  • Jean a su les resultats. Jean found out the results.
  • Ils ont dû partir. They had to leave.

Être verbs in the passé composé

In French, there is a list of seventeen verbs which take the auxiliary verb être 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.

je suis allé(e)
tu es allé(e)
il, elle, on est allé(e)
nous sommes allé(e)s
vous êtes allé(e)(s)
ils sont allé(e)s

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.

Devenir (to become) -> je suis devenu(e)(s)
Revenir (to come back) -> je suis revenu(e)
Monter (to go up, climb) -> je suis mont(é)
Rentrer (to come back, home) – je suis rentré(e)
Sortir (to go out) -> je suis sorti(e)
Venir (to come) -> je suis venu(e)
Arriver (to arrive) -> je suis arrivé(e)
Naître (to be born) -> il/elle est né(e)
Descendre (to go down) -> je suis descendu(e)
Entrer (to enter) -> je suis entré(e)
Retourner (to return) -> Je suis retourné(e)
Tomber (to fall) -> je suis tombé(e)
Rester (to stay) -> je suis resté(e)
Aller (to go) -> je suis allé(e)
Mourir (to die) -> il/elle est mort(e)
Partir (to leave) -> je suis parti(e)

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.
  • Elle est née a Paris. She was born in Paris.
  • Nous sommes allés en France. We went to France.
  • Sylvie est sortie avec Paul. Sylvie went out with Paul.
  • Ils sont paris hier. They left yesterday.
  • Jean est descendu du bus. Jean got off the bus.

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).

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

Related lessons:

More resources:

Sign Up For A FREE Trial French Lesson On Skype And Get Instant Access To My French Pronunciation Crash Course.

Get the French Pronunciation Crash Course!