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How to Conjugate French Verbs to Passé Composé

Updated on September 26, 2015

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower | Source

The Passé Composé

The tense ¨passé composé¨ in French is equivalent to the past simple tense in English. In French, the ¨Passé Composé¨ is used to describe an activity that occurred in the past. Two verbs are utilized to form the ¨Passé Composé¨ in French. These verbs are ¨avoir¨ and ¨être.¨ Most verbs in French are conjugated with the verb ¨avoir¨ to form the passé composé, and only a few verbs are conjugated with the verb être to form the passé composé.

In French, the tense ¨passé composé¨ is used to describe activities in the past in the same way that past activities are described using the simple past tense in English. Although the French have a simple past tense ¨passé simple,¨ this tense is most often used in writing.

The passé composé could be associated with the present perfect tense in English if translated; however, the passé composé is only used to describe actions and situations that occurred in the past.

The ¨passé composé ¨ is generally formed by conjugating the verbs ¨avoir¨ (to have) and ¨être¨ (to be) with any personal pronoun followed by the past participle of another verb. For example, the conjugation of the verb appeler in the passé composé, which means to call, is the following:

Passé Composé With Avoir

Passé Composé With Avoir
Passé Composé With Avoir | Source

Passé Composé With Être

Most French verbs in the passé composé are conjugated with the verb ¨avoir;¨ however, there is a number of about seventeen verbs which are conjugated with the verb être. Most of these verbs show movement as in the following example.

Passé Composé With Être
Passé Composé With Être | Source

List of verbs that are conjugated with ¨ être¨ to form the passé compose.

List of verbs that are conjugated with ¨être¨ to form the passé compose.
List of verbs that are conjugated with ¨être¨ to form the passé compose. | Source

For most of these verbs être is used when there is not a direct object in the sentence. If the sentence has a direct object, then, avoir is used as in the example:

Passé Composé
Passé Composé | Source

The verbs that are conjugated with the verb être must show agreement in gender and number with the subject. If the verb is conjugated and used to describe a feminine subject, it must include an ¨e¨ at the end, and if the verb is conjugated with a plural noun, it must include an ¨s.¨ If it is describing a plural feminine subject, it must include an ¨e¨ and an ¨s¨ as in the following example:

Agreement in Gender and Number with the Subject
Agreement in Gender and Number with the Subject | Source

Reflexive or Reciprocal Verbs form the Passé Composé With Être

The reflexive or reciprocal verbs form the passé composé with être and they must also show agreement with the noun they modify as in the following example:

Reflexive or Reciprocal Verbs
Reflexive or Reciprocal Verbs | Source

Summary

The basic idea to remember is that the passé composé is the tense that the French use to describe actions that occurred in the past in the same way that the simple past is used in English to describe past activities. Another point to remember is the passé composé in French is formed by using the verbs avoir and être plus the past participle of another verb and that most of these verbs use avoir as its auxiliary and only a number of verbs are used with the verb être as its auxiliary.

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