French Grammar: Passé Composé in Negative and Interrogative Phrases

FRNGrammarPasseComposeNegativeInterrogative

French Grammar: Passé Composé in Negative and Interrogative Phrases
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French Grammar: Passé Composé in Negative and Interrogative Phrases
la grammaire française: le passé compose dans les phrases négatives et interrogatives

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 étudié la leçon déjà.
I studied the lesson already.

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…)

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).

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 avoir.

All reflexive verbs and a handful of commonly used verbs form the Passé Composé with the auxiliary (“helper”) verb ÊTRE.  See the lessons on Passé Composé with ÊTRE to learn more about non-reflexive French verbs that form the Passé Composé with the auxiliary (“helper”) verb être.

The past participle is the form of the verb that is equivalent to  -ed  in English.  (For example: played, finished, waited)

To form the past participle of regular French –ER verbs, we have to drop the infinitive –ER ending and replace it with –É :

jouer -> joué
to play -> played

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

finir -> fini
to finish -> finished

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

attendre -> attendu
to wait -> waited

The Passé Composé has three possible English translations. For example, j’ai joué can mean:

I played (simple past)

I have played (present perfect)

I did play (past emphatic)

NEGATIVE PHRASES:

In a negative sentence in the passé composé, the word ne (or n’) comes before the auxiliary (“helper”) verb and the remainder of the negative expression (pas, jamais, pas encore, rien, etc.) comes after the auxiliary (“helper”) verb.  See the lesson Basic Negation (Saying No!) for more information about negative expressions.  This format is the same whether the auxiliary (“helper”) verb is avoir or être.

Je nai pas entendu la question.
I did not hear the question.

Elle na rien dit.
She did not say anything.

Nous ne sommes jamais allés à la plage.
We (masculine) never went to the beach.

INTERROGATIVE PHRASES:

Questions in the passé composé can be asked using intonation (i.e., voice inflection) alone, or it can be formed by beginning the question with Est-ce que (Est-ce qu’).

INTONATION:

Il a travaillé hier?
Did he work yesterday?

Vous êtes rentrés tard?
Did you (masculine plural) return home late?

WITH EST-CE QUE (or EST-CE QU’):

Est-ce qu’il a travaillé hier?
Did he work yesterday?

Est-ce que vous êtes rentrés tard?
Did you (masculine plural) return home late?

Questions in the passé composé can also be asked by using inversion – that is, by reversing the order of the subject pronoun and the auxiliary (“helper”) verb.  Note that inversion is normally not used with je.

INVERSION:

A-t-il travaillé hier?
Did he work yesterday?

Êtes-vous rentrés tard?
Did you (masculine plural) return home late?

NEGATIVE INTERROGATIVE PHRASES:

A negative interrogative question in the passé composé can be formed by using either intonation alone, by beginning the question with Est-ce que (or Est-ce qu’), or by using inversion.  When using inversion, ne (or n’) comes before the inverted auxiliary (“helper”) verb, and the remainder of the negative expression (pas, jamais, pas encore, rien, etc.) comes after the subject pronoun.

INTONATION:

Il n’a pas travaillé hier?
Didn’t he work yesterday?

Vous n’êtes pas rentrés tard?
Didn’t you (masculine plural) return home late?

WITH EST-CE QUE (or EST-CE QU’):

Est-ce qu’il n’a pas travaillé hier?
Didn’t he work yesterday?

Est-ce que vous n’êtes pas rentrés tard?
Didn’t you (masculine plural) return home late?

INVERSION:

N’a-t-il pas travaillé hier?
Didn’t he work yesterday?

N’êtes-vous pas rentrés tard?
Didn’t you (masculine plural) return home late?

Adapt:

As-tu lu le journal aujourd’hui?
Have you read the newspaper today?

Non, je n’ai pas encore lu le journal aujourd’hui.
No, I have not yet read the newspaper today.

Sont-ils arrivés à l’heure?
Did they (masculine) arrive on time?

Non, ils ne sont pas arrivés à l’heure.  Ils sont arrivés en retard.
No, they (masculine) did not arrive on time.  They (masculine) arrived late.

N’a-t-elle pas pris le métro ce matin?
Didn’t she take the subway this morning?

Non, elle n’a pas pris le métro.  Elle a pris le bus.
No, she did not take the subway.  She took the bus.

Avez-vous parlé avec le professeur hier?
Did you (formal) speak with the professor yesterday?

Non, je n’ai pas parlé avec le professeur hier.
No, I did not speak with the professor yesterday.

Ils ont fini leurs devoirs?
Did they (masculine or mixed group) finish their homework?

Non, ils n’ont pas encore fini leurs devoirs.
No, they (masculine or mixed group) have not yet finished their homework.

As-tu entendu le téléphone sonner?
Did you hear the phone ring?

Non, je n’ai pas entendu le téléphone sonner.
No, I did not hear the phone ring.

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