le passé composé

The passé composé

There are several forms that can be used to talk about the past in   French. The most common is the passé composé, called in English the compound past or the present perfect. The passé composé is one of the tenses colloquially used in French to talk about past events. It refers to a single action in the past. It is built of two parts: the auxiliary or helping verb, avoir or être, + a past participle.

The past participle of regular verbs

The past participle is formed by adding an ending to the verb stem. Regular past participles take the following endings:
-er verbs take : parler (to speak)
                     parlé (spoken)
-ir verbs take -i: choisir (to choose)
                    choisi (chosen)   
-re verbs take -u: entendre (to hear)
                    entendu (heard)
Note that the passé composé can be translated into English in different ways. Its English equivalent depends on the context.
  Elle a pris une décision
v  She made a decision.
v  She has made a decision.
v  She did make a decision.
In the negative form, ne (n’) is placed in front of avoir or être, and pas after avoir or être.
Il a vendu sa voiture.
He sold his car.
Il n’a pas vendu sa voiture.
He did not sell his car.
Ils ont dîné au restaurant.
They had dinner at the restaurant.
Ils n’ont pas dîné au restaurant.
They did not have dinner at the restaurant.
As in the present tense, there are three ways to make a question.
Rising intonation:
Vous avez aimé la pièce?
Did you like the play?
Avez-vous aimé la pièce?
Did you like the play?
With est-ce que:
Est-ce que vous avez aimé la pièce?

Did you like the play?

The passé composé with avoir

Most verbs in the passé composé are conjugated with avoir. Let’s review the verb avoir:
j’ai I have nous avons we have
tu as you have vous avez you have
il/elle a he/she has ils/elles ont they have
When avoir is used with the passé composé, with a few exceptions, the past participle does
not agree in gender and number with the subject of the verb.
Let’s briefly review the passé composé for -er verbs. It is formed with a conjugated form of
avoir (or être)  the past participle. Drop the infinitive ending (-er) and add the participle ending -é.

voyager to travel j’ai (tu as… ) voyagé I (you . . . ) traveled
marcher to walk j’ai (tu as… ) marché I (you . . . ) walked
demander to ask j’ai (tu as… ) demandé I (you . . . ) asked

Remember that the past participle of regular -ir and -re verbs is formed by dropping the
infinitive endings -ir and -re and adding the appropriate ending -i or -u.

finir -  to finish
fini -  finished
choisir -  to choose
choisi -  chosen
vendre -  to sell
vendu -  sold
perdre -  to lose
perdu -  lost
In the passé composé of verbs conjugated with       avoir, the past participle agrees with the direct object of the verb, but only in sentences where the direct object noun or pronoun precedes the verb.
For example:
Il a pris la bonne décision.
He made the right decision.
Il l’a prise.
He made it.
Elle a compris ses erreurs.
She understood her mistakes.
Elle les a comprises.
She understood them.

Irregular past participles

Many verbs conjugated with avoir in the passé composé have irregular past participles that you simply have to learn by heart.

Il a appris le français à Strasbourg.
He learned French in Strasbourg.
Nous avons compris la situation.
We understood the situation.
Elle m’a dit bonjour.
She said hello to me.
Here is a sample list of irregular past participles:
acquérir -   to acquire
acquis -  acquired
apprendre -   to learn
appris -  learned
avoir -  to have
eu - had
Boire -  to drink
Bu -  drunk
Comprendre -  to understand
Compris -  understood
Conduire -  to drive
Conduit -  driven
Craindre -  to fear
Craint -  feared
Devoir -  must, to have to
Dû -  had to
Dire -  to say
Dit -  said
Écrire -  to write
Écrit -  written
Être -  to be
été  - bean, was
faire -  to do, to make
fait -  done, made
falloir -  to have to
fallu -  had to
lire -  to read
lu -  read
mettre -  to put
mis -  put
mourir -  to die
mort -  dead
naître -  to be born
né -  born
offrir -  to offer
offert - off red
ouvrir -  to open
ouvert -  opened
peindre -  to paint
peint -  painted
plaire -  to please
plu -  pleased
pleuvoir -  to rain
plu -  rained
pouvoir -  can, to be able to
pu -  could
prendre -  to take
pris -  taken
recevoir -  to receive
reçu -  received
rire -  to laugh
ri -  laughed
savoir -  to know
su -  known
suivre -  to follow
suivi  - followed
vivre -  to live
vécu  - lived
voir -  to see
vu -  seen
vouloir -  to want
voulu -  wanted

The passé composé with être

Some verbs use être instead of avoir in the passé composé. It is very important to memorize the (finite) list of verbs conjugated with être. Many of these are intransitive verbs of movement (aller,
venir, monter…). In addition, all pronominal (reflexive) verbs (see Chapter 6) are conjugated with être in the passé composé.
The past participle of verbs conjugated with être agrees in gender and number with the subject.
Il est arrivé en retard.
He arrived late.
Elle est arrivée en retard.
She arrived late.
Ils sont nés en Belgique.
They (m.) were born in Belgium.
Elles sont nées en Belgique.
They (f.) were born in Belgium.
Here are the verbs conjugated with être in the passé composé:
Aller -  to go
Arriver -  to arrive
Descendre -  to go down
Devenir -  to become
Entrer -  to enter
Monter -  to go up, to climb
Mourir -  to die
Naître -  to be born
Partir -  to leave
Rentrer -  to return
Rester -  to stay
Retourner -  to return, to go back
Revenir -  to return
Sortir -  to go out
Tomber -  to fall
venir  - to come, to arrive

Pronominal verbs in the passé composé

As we mentioned earlier, all pronominal verbs are conjugated with être. The reflexive pronouns precede the auxiliary verb (être). In most cases, the past participle agrees in gender and number with the subject of the pronominal verb.
  se réveiller -  to wake up
je me suis réveillé(e) -  I woke up nous
tu t’es réveillé(e) -  you woke up
il/elle s’est réveillé(e) -  he/she woke up
nous sommes réveillé(e)s -  we woke up
vous vous êtes réveillé(e)(s) -  you woke up
ils/elles se sont réveillé(e)s -  they woke up
Elle s’est promenée sur la plage.
She walked on the beach.
Ils se sont ennuyés à la réception.
They were (got) bored at the reception.
Il s’est évanoui à cause de la chaleur.
He fainted because of the heat.
In the negative, the negation is placed around the auxiliary verb être.
Ils ne se sont pas couchés de bonne heure.
They did not get up early.
Elle ne s’est pas promenée le long du canal.
She did not take a walk along the canal.
In the interrogative form, the reflexive pronoun is placed before être.
S’est-il rendu compte de son erreur?
Did he realize his mistake?
Vous êtes-vous bien amusés à la fête?
Did you have a good time at the party?
Note that the past participle does not agree with the subject of the pronominal verb when the verb is followed by a direct object or by another verb.
Elle s’est offert une nouvelle moto.
She treated herself to a new motorbike.
Elle s’est coupé les ongles.
She trimmed her nails.
Elle s’est fait arracher une dent.
She had a tooth pulled.
When reciprocal verbs take a direct object, the past participle agrees with the subject.
Ils se sont rencontrés à Venise.
They met in Venice.
Ils se sont embrassés.
They kissed each other.
Ils se sont mariés en mars.
They got married in March.
When reciprocal verbs take an indirect object in French, the past participle does not agree.
Ils se sont téléphoné.
They called each other.
Vous vous êtes parlé au téléphone.
You talked to each other on the phone.
Ils se sont écrit de longues lettres.
They wrote each other long letters.

Verbs conjugated with avoir or être

Six verbs among those conjugated with être in the passé composé (sortir, rentrer, monter, descendre, passer, retourner) are conjugated with avoir and follow the avoir agreement when a direct object follows the verb. In these cases, the meaning of the verb has changed.

Ils sont montés en haut de la Tour Eiffel.
They went to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
Ils ont monté les malles au grenier.
They took the trunks up to the attic.
Note above that les malles is the direct object of monter, thus it is conjugated with avoir.
Elle est descendue au rez-de-chaussée.
She went down to the ground floor.
Elle a descendu les poubelles.
She took down the garbage cans.
Elle est sortie avec des amis.
She went out with some friends.
Elle a sorti la voiture du garage.
She took the car out of the garage.
Elle est rentrée de vacances hier.
She came back from vacation yesterday.
Elle a rentrer les géraniums dans le salon.
She brought the geraniums into the living room
Je suis passée devant les Galeries Lafayette.
I passed by the Galeries Lafayette.
J’ai passé trois semaines à Tokyo.
I spent three weeks in Tokyo.
Je suis retournée à Venise pour la troisième fois.
I went back to Venice for the third time.
Elle a retourner l’omelette.

She turned over the omelette.