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


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”:

1) Être, to be:

J’ai été, I wasI have been
Nous avons été, We wereWe have been

2) Avoir, to have:

J’ai eu, I hadI have had
Nous avons eu, We hadWe have had

3) Faire, to do:

J’ai fait, I didI have done
Nous avons fait, We didWe have done

4) Dire, to say:

J’ai dit, I saidI have said
Nous avons dit, We saidWe have said

5) 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

6) Voir, to see:

J’ai vu, I sawI have seen
Nous avons vu, We sawWe have seen

7) Savoir, to know:

J’ai su, I knewI have known
Nous avons su, We knewWe have known

8) Vouloir, to want:

J’ai voulu, I wantedI have wanted
Nous avons voulu, We wantedWe have wanted

9) Devoir, to have to (must):

J’ai dû, I had toI have had to
Nous avons dû, We had toWe have had to

10) Croire, to believe/think:

J’ai cru, I believed/thoughtI have believed/thought
Nous avons cru, We believed/thoughtWe have believed/thought

11) Prendre, to take:

J’ai pris, I tookI have taken
Nous avons pris, We tookWe have taken

12) Mettre, to put:

J’ai mis, I putI have put
Nous avons mis, We putWe have put

13) Tenir, to hold:

J’ai tenu, I heldI have held
Nous avons tenu, We heldWe have held

14) Entendre, to hear:

J’ai entendu, I heardI have heard
Nous avons entendu, We heardWe have heard

15) Répondre, to answer/reply:

J’ai répondu, I answered/repliedI have answered/replied
Nous avons répondu, We answered/repliedWe have answered/replied

16) 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

17) Connaître, to know:

J’ai connu, I knewI have known
Nous avons connu, We knewWe have known

18) Sentir, to feel/smell:

J’ai senti, I feltI have felt
Nous avons senti, We feltWe have felt

19) Attendre, to wait:

J’ai attendu, I waitedI have waited
Nous avons attendu, We waitedWe have waited

20) Vivre, to live:

J’ai vécu, I livedI have lived
Nous avons vécu, We livedWe have lived

21) Comprendre, to understand:

J’ai compris, I understoodI have understood
Nous avons compris, We understoodWe have understood

22) Écrire, to write:

J’ai écrit, I wroteI have written
Nous avons écrit, We wroteWe have written

23) Lire, to read:

J’ai lu, I readI have read
Nous avons lu, We readWe have read

24) Suivre, to follow:

J’ai suivi, I followedI have followed
Nous avons suivi, We followedWe have followed

These ones use the auxiliary “être”:

25) Aller, to go:

Je suis allé(e), I wentI have gone
Nous sommes allé(e)s, We wentWe have gone

26) Venir, to come:

Je suis venu(e), I cameI have come
Nous sommes venu(e)s, We cameWe have come

27) Devenir, to become:

Je suis devenu(e), I becameI have become
Nous sommes devenu(e)s, We becameWe have become

28) Naître, to be born:

Je suis né(e), I was born
Nous sommes né(e)s, We were born

29) Partir, to leave:

Je suis parti(e), I leftI have left
Nous sommes venu(e)s, We leftWe have left

30) Mourir, to die:

Je suis mort(e), I diedI have died
Nous sommes mort(e)s, We diedWe have died

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