French Grammar: Passé Composé with ÊTRE

FRNGrammarPasseComposeEtre

French Grammar: Passé Composé with ÊTRE
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French Grammar: Passé Composé with ÊTRE
la grammaire française: le passé compose avec ÊTRE

When speaking about the past in English, you choose which past tense to use depending on the context and the meaning you wish to convey. In French sentences, you choose which past tense you use depending only on the meaning you wish to convey.

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When speaking about the past in English, you choose which past tense to use depending on the context and the meaning you wish to convey. In French sentences, you choose which past tense you use depending only on the meaning you wish to convey.

The Passé Composé (Past Tense) is the most common past tense in French.  It is used to express an action or event (or a series of actions or events) completed in the past.  The Passé Composé (Past Tense) is used in the following instances:

1. With completed actions in the past:

J’ai déjà étudié la leçon.
I already studied the lesson.

2. With a series of events or actions completed in the past:

La semaine passée, je suis allé en Floride, j’ai nagé dans l’océan et j’ai beaucoup dormi.
Last week I went to Florida, I swam in the ocean, and I slept a lot.

3. With key words associated with past time (hier, avant-hier, hier soir, une fois, tout à coup, etc…)

Hier soir j’ai dansé avec mon mari.
Last night, I danced with my husband.

The literal translation of “Passé Composé is “compound past”, and it is called this because the verb form is composed of two parts: (1) the present tense of the auxiliary (or “helper”) verb, and (2) the past participle of the main verb (i.e., the verb that conveys the true meaning).   The past participle is the form of the verb that is equivalent to  -ed  in English.  (For example: played, finished, waited)

For the majority of French verbs, the Passé Composé is formed with the auxiliary (“helper”) verb AVOIR. (See the lessons on Passé Composé with AVOIR to learn more about French verbs that form the Passé Composé with the auxiliary (“helper”) verb avoir.)

All French reflexive verbs form the Passé Composé with the auxiliary (“helper”) verb ÊTRE.  For a detailed explanation of this, refer to the LEAF French Grammar document on Reflexive Verbs.

A handful of non-reflexive French verbs also form the Passé Composé with the auxiliary (“helper”) verb ÊTRE.  The majority of these verbs express motion or a change of place, state, or condition.  In alphabetical order, these verbs include:

ALLER : to go

ARRIVER : to arrive

DESCENDRE : to descend / to go down

DEVENIR : to become

ENTRER : to enter

MONTER : to climb / to go up / to come up

MOURIR : to die

NAÎTRE : to be born

PARTIR : to leave / to go away / to depart

RENTRER : to return / to go in again / to go home

RESTER : to stay / to remain

RETOURNER : to go back / to return

REVENIR : to come back

SORTIR : to leave / to go out / to exit

TOMBER : to fall

VENIR : to come

NOTE:  The verb PASSER also forms the Passé Composé with être when it expresses movement (e.g., someone passed something) rather than the passing (or spending) of time.

There are several different tricks for remembering which verbs form the Passé Composé with être.  These include (a) the mnemonic device “DR. & MRS. VANDERTRAMP” and (b) the visual depiction of “La Maison d’ÊTRE (The House of ÊTRE)”.  Here’s how to use them:

(a)  DR.  &  MRSVANDERTRAMP :

Devenir
Revenir
&
Monter
Rester
Sortir

Venir
Aller
Naître
Descendre
Entrer
Rentrer
Tomber
Retourner
Arriver
Mourir
Partir

(b)  La Maison d’ÊTRE :

This is the way that French-speaking children are taught which verbs form the Passé Composé with être.  This device involves the visual of a cross-section of a house with someone arriving at the front door (arriver), entering the house (entrer), going up the stairs (monter), coming down the stairs (descendre), etc.

To form the past participle of the French –ER verbs in the preceding list (aller, arriver, entrer, monter, rentrer, rester, retourner, tomber), we have to drop the infinitive –ER ending and replace it with –É :

arriver -> arrivé
to arrive -> arrived

To form the past participle of the French –IR verbs partir and sortir, we have to drop the infinitive –IR ending and replace it with –I :

partir -> parti
to leave -> departed

To form the past participle of the French –RE verb descendre, we have to drop the infinitive –RE ending and replace it with –U :

descendre -> descendu
to descend -> descended

To form the past participle of the verbs devenir, revenir, and venir, we have to drop the infinitive –IR ending and replace it with –U :

devenir -> devenu
to become -> became (this one’s irregular in English, too!)

The verbs mourir and naître are totally irregular.  Here’s what happens to the two verbs to form the past participle :

mourir -> mort
to die -> died

naître -> né
to be born -> was born

The Passé Composé has three possible English translations. For example, je suis arrivé can mean:

I arrived (simple past)
I have arrived (present perfect)
I did arrive (past emphatic)

The Passé Composé for each of the verbs in the preceding list consists of three parts:

SUBJECT + PRESENT TENSE OF AUXILIARY VERB “ÊTRE” + PAST PARTICIPLE OF MAIN VERB

-ER verb ARRIVER :

Il + est + arrivé -> Il est arrivé
He arrived
He has arrived
He did arrive

-IR verb PARTIR :

Il + est + parti -> Il est parti
He departed
He has departed
He did depart

-RE verb DESCENDRE :

Il + est + descendu ->Il est descendu
He descended
He has descended
He did descend

IMPORTANT!!! : The past participle of each verb conjugated with être in the Passé Composé MUST agree with the subject in number (singular or plural) AND gender (masculine or feminine).

Because the subject pronouns je, tu, nous, and vous can be either masculine or feminine, and because vous can be either singular or plural, the past participle forms used with these subject pronouns varies.

Here is an example with the verb ARRIVER :

MASCULINE SUBJECTS (note that the subject pronoun “on” is always treated as masculine singular) :

je suis arrivé
tu es arriv
é
il est arriv
é
on est arriv
é
nous sommes arriv
és
vous êtes arriv
é(s)
ils sont arriv
és

FEMININE SUBJECTS :

je suis arrivée
tu es arriv
ée
elle est arriv
ée
nous sommes arriv
ées
vous êtes arriv
ée(s)
elles sont arriv
ées

NOTE:  When the subject is both masculine and feminine, the past participle takes the masculine plural form :

Les hommes et les femmes sont entrés.
The men and the women entered.

Here are the full conjugations for verbs conjugated with ÊTRE in the Passé Composé (Past Tense) :

–ER VERBS
(ALLER, ARRIVER, ENTRER, MONTER, RENTRER, RESTER, RETOURNER, TOMBER)

SUBJECT Auxiliary VERB “ÊTRE PAST PARTICIPLE
je suis -é(e)
tu es -é(e)
il/elle/on est -é / -ée / -é
nous sommes -é(e)s
vous

êtes

-é(e)(s)
ils/elles sont -és / -ées

–IR VERBS
(PARTIR, SORTIR)

SUBJECT Auxiliary VERB “ÊTRE PAST PARTICIPLE
je suis -i(e)
tu es -i(e)
il/elle/on
est -i / -ie / -i
nous sommes -i(e)s
vous

êtes

-i(e)(s)
ils/elles sont -is / -ies

VERBS WITH PAST PARTICIPLE ENDING IN –U
(DESCENDRE, DEVENIR, REVENIR, VENIR)

SUBJECT Auxiliary VERB “ÊTRE PAST PARTICIPLE
je suis -u(e)
tu es -u(e)
il/elle/on
est -u / -ue / -u
nous sommes -u(e)s
vous

êtes

-u(e)(s)
ils/elles sont -us / -ues

THE VERB MOURIR

SUBJECT Auxiliary VERB “ÊTRE PAST PARTICIPLE
je suis mort(e)
tu es mort(e)
il/elle/on
est mort / morte / mort
nous sommes mort(e)s
vous

êtes

mort(e)(s)
ils/elles sont morts / mortes

THE VERB NAÎTRE

SUBJECT Auxiliary VERB “ÊTRE PAST PARTICIPLE
je suis né(e)
tu es né(e)
il/elle/on
est né / née / né
nous sommes né(e)s
vous

êtes

né(e)(s)
ils/elles sont nés / nées

Adapt:

Marie, à quelle heure est-ce que tu es arrivée hier?
Marie, at what time did you (familiar and feminine) arrive yesterday?

Je suis arrivée hier à midi.
I (feminine) arrived yesterday at noon.

Vous êtes allés au cinéma le week-end passé?
Did you all (masculine or mixed group) go to the movies last weekend?

Oui, nous sommes allés au cinema le week-end passé.
Yes, we (masculine or mixed group) went to the movies last weekend.

Est-ce qu’elles sont allées en France?
Did they (feminine) go to France?

Oui, mais elles sont déjà retournées.
Yes, but they (feminine) have already returned.

Alain et Geneviève sont sortis hier soir?
Did Alain and Geneviève go out last night?

Alain est sorti mais Geneviève est restée à la maison.
Alain went out but Geneviève stayed home.

Quand est-ce que ses grand-parents sont morts?
When did his grandparents die?

Son grand-père est mort en 1998 et sa grand-mère est morte en 2005.
His grandfather died in 1998 and his grandmother died in 2005.

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