The passé composé is known as the past tense in English. It’s a very common tense, used in everyday life by French people. Therefore, mastering the passé composé is essential to become fluent in French.

What is the passé composé? When do we use it?

It’s an action that took place in the past and which is completed. For example in English you would say: “I ate an apple yesterday”, this action happened yesterday, and it didn’t carry on over a period of time (unlike with the imperfect tense).

 

How to form the passé composé?

The passé composé is a compound tense, which means it has two parts after the subject pronoun.

1 – Auxiliary Verb: être, to be, or avoir, to have, in the present tense

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2 – Past Participle of the main verb

 

First, let’s talk about the conjugation of the regular 1st group verbs.

  • 1st group verbs (in “-er”)

Regular verbs are all the verbs ending in “-er” in their infinitive form, like manger, to eat ; penser, to think… There is only one exception: the verb aller, to go, which is in fact a highly irregular verb.

These verbs are easy to conjugate in the passé composé because they all follow the same patterns.

The past participle of a 1st group verb ends in “-é” in its basic form.

Example: donner, to give

You just have to drop the “r” at the end and you add the acute accent on the “e” : donné, super easy right?

If you are not sure what a past participle is in English, it’s when you say “I have given”. You cannot say “I have gave”, because “given” is the past participle of the verb “to give”.

Another thing, remember that the ending of the past participle will depend on the auxiliary verb you use to form the passé composé. The easiest is with the auxiliary “avoir” because the ending is the same regardless of the gender or the number of the subject, so it will always be “-é”:

J’ai donné, I gave – I have given

Tu as donné, You gave – You have given

Il/Elle a donné, He/She gave – He/She has given

Nous avons donné, We gave – We have given

Vous avez donné, You gave – You have given

Ils/Elles ont donné, They gave – They have given

However, some verbs use the auxiliary verb être, to be, to form the passé composé. In this case, you need to consider the gender and number of the subject because it modifies the ending of the past participle.

So how do I know if a verb use avoir or être in the passé composé?

Well, the verbs using être in the passé composé are most of the movement verbs and all the pronominal verbs. Let’s take an example with the verb tomber, to fall, which is a movement verb.

Je suis tombé(e), I fell – I have fallen

Tu es tombé(e), You fell – You have fallen

Il est tombé, He fell – He has fallen

Elle est tombée, She fell – She has fallen

Nous sommes tombé(e)s, We fell – We have fallen

Vous êtes tombé(e)s, You fell – You have fallen

Ils sont tombés, They fell – They have fallen

Elles sont tombées, They fell – They have fallen

I know this is very confusing because in English, you don’t say “I am fallen” (you could, but it would be a completely different sense). But don’t worry if you use the wrong auxiliary (if you say “J’ai tombé” for example), because French people will still understand what you mean.

Of course it will sound wrong to them, but they will probably correct your mistake, and at some point, after repeating the verb several time, you won’t make mistakes anymore.

 

  • 2nd group verbs (“-ir”)

These verbs are the less numerous in French.

Just like the 1st group verbs, they have a regular conjugation. But you must be careful because there are verbs ending in “-ir” which are not 2nd group verbs but belong to the 3rd group.

So how do you know if a verb belongs to the 2nd group or the 3rd group?

Well if, when you conjugate the verb in the present tense, the ending of the 2nd person plural conjugation is “-issez”, it means the verb belongs to the 2nd group.

For example, with the verb choisir, to choose, we say “vous choisissez” , “you choose

Now I know this won’t really help you if you’ve never seen the verb before, so what I recommend is that you learn by heart the most common verbs of the 2nd group because there are not so many of them.

When you have that list, you can conjugate all of them in the same way. You can already start with these 10 verbs (which are more than enough for beginners):

Choisir, to choose

Finir, to finish

Définir, to define

Réunir, to gather, to bring together

Grandir, to grow

Remplir, to fill

Réfléchir, to reflect, to think

Réussir, to succeed

Fournir, to provide

Accomplir, to accomplish, to carry out

 

Let’s go back to the passé composé with the verb choisir. As I said, the 2nd group verbs are regular, so no difficulties.

To form the past participle, you just have to drop the “r” and that’s it: choisi

J’ai choisi, I chose I have chosen

Tu as choisi, You chose You have chosen

Il/Elle a choisi, He/She chose He/She has chosen

Nous avons choisi, We chose We have chosen

Vous avez choisi, You chose You have chosen

Ils/Elles ont choisi, They chose They have chosen

By the way, there are no 2nd group verbs using the auxiliary “être” in the passé composé (unless they are pronominal verbs).

 

  • 3rd group verbs (all the other ones)

Okay, here comes the big boss, or should I say the big bosses

In fact, like the 2nd group verbs, the 3rd group verbs are not so numerous, but they are much more frequently used. To give you an idea, the top 10 most frequently used verbs in French belong to this group. But it’s the same in English you know? The only difference with French is that our conjugation is a bit more complicated, but… that’s what makes the beauty of the language, right?

Anyway, it’s extremely important for you to know these verbs in the passé composé, because as I said, the passé composé is the most frequent past tense used in French, and the 3rd group verbs are the most frequently used verbs.

So we’re not gonna go through the conjugation of every single 3rd group verbs because that would take ages. But I’m going to show you the conjugation of 30 main 3rd group verbs in the passé composé.

What you need to know is that though you have the verb in its infinitive form, when you conjugate it in the passé composé, its past participle changes drastically for some of them. So you understand that what you have to learn is in fact their past participle.

 

Most of them use the auxiliary “avoir”:

Être, to be:

J’ai été, I wasI have been

Nous avons été, We wereWe have been

Avoir, to have:

J’ai eu, I hadI have had

Nous avons eu, We hadWe have had

Faire, to do:

J’ai fait, I didI have done

Nous avons fait, We didWe have done

Dire, to say:

J’ai dit, I saidI have said

Nous avons dit, We saidWe have said

Pouvoir, to be able to (can):

J’ai pu, I was able toI have been able to

Nous avons pu, We were able toWe have been able to

Voir, to see:

J’ai vu, I sawI have seen

Nous avons vu, We sawWe have seen

Savoir, to know:

J’ai su, I knewI have known

Nous avons su, We knewWe have known

Vouloir, to want:

J’ai voulu, I wantedI have wanted

Nous avons voulu, We wantedWe have wanted

Devoir, to have to (must):

J’ai dû, I had toI have had to

Nous avons dû, We had toWe have had to

Croire, to believe/think:

J’ai cru, I believed/thoughtI have believed/thought

Nous avons cru, We believed/thoughtWe have believed/thought

Prendre, to take:

J’ai pris, I tookI have taken

Nous avons pris, We tookWe have taken

Mettre, to put:

J’ai mis, I putI have put

Nous avons mis, We putWe have put

Tenir, to hold:

J’ai tenu, I heldI have held

Nous avons tenu, We heldWe have held

Entendre, to hear:

J’ai entendu, I heardI have heard

Nous avons entendu, We heardWe have heard

Répondre, to answer/reply:

J’ai répondu, I answered/repliedI have answered/replied

Nous avons répondu, We answered/repliedWe have answered/replied

Rendre, to make/drive (sbdy crazy, happy…), to give back/render:

J’ai rendu, I madeI have made

Nous avons rendu, We madeWe have made

Connaître, to know:

J’ai connu, I knewI have known

Nous avons connu, We knewWe have known

Sentir, to feel/smell:

J’ai senti, I felt – I have felt

Nous avons senti, We feltWe have felt

Attendre, to wait:

J’ai attendu, I waitedI have waited

Nous avons attendu, We waitedWe have waited

Vivre, to live:

J’ai vécu, I livedI have lived

Nous avons vécu, We livedWe have lived

Comprendre, to understand:

J’ai compris, I understoodI have understood

Nous avons compris, We understoodWe have understood

Écrire, to write:

J’ai écrit, I wroteI have written

Nous avons écrit, We wroteWe have written

Lire, to read:

J’ai lu, I readI have read

Nous avons lu, We readWe have read

Suivre, to follow:

J’ai suivi, I followedI have followed

Nous avons suivi, We followedWe have followed

 

These ones use the auxiliary “être”:

Aller, to go:

Je suis allé(e), I wentI have gone

Nous sommes allé(e)s, We wentWe have gone

Venir, to come:

Je suis venu(e), I cameI have come

Nous sommes venu(e)s, We cameWe have come

Devenir, to become:

Je suis devenu(e), I becameI have become

Nous sommes devenu(e)s, We becameWe have become

Naître, to be born:

Je suis né(e), I was born

Nous sommes né(e)s, We were born

Partir, to leave:

Je suis parti(e), I leftI have left

Nous sommes venu(e)s, We leftWe have left

Mourir, to die:

Je suis mort(e), I diedI have died

Nous sommes mort(e)s, We diedWe have died