How To Form The Passé Composé: The Essential Guide in 2021

how to form the passé composé

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In this French grammar lesson we will learn about how to form the passé composé.

In this lesson you will learn about:

  • the structure of the passé composé
  • how to form the passé composé
  • how to know if you should choose Avoir or Être
  • how to find the past participle
  • how to make the verb agree in gender and in number with the subject
  • how the passé composé is used in sentences
  • how you can quiz yourself on how to form the passé composé,
  • how to practice with flashcards on how to form the passé composé
  • how and why you should use the courses of Language Atlas to learn French

Please refer to the French A2 Curriculum to get a better overview of French grammar if you are curious about how to form the passé composé fits in French A2 grammar.

By the end of the lesson you will know all about how to form the passé composé.

Table of Contents

The Structure of the Passé Composé

1. Pronoun 2. Avoir/Être 3. Past Participle

The Passé Composé consists out of three parts

  1. A Pronoun
  2. Avoir or Être in the Present Tense
  3. A Past Participle

Of these three elements, only the third is new. The first two you should already know.

Here’s a recap of the pronouns, and the conjugations of Avoir and Être as a refresher.

PronounsAvoirÊtre
Je/J’aisuis
Tuases
Il/Elle/Onaest
Nousavonssommes
Vousavezêtes
Ils/Ellesontsont

Please take a moment to reflect on this. You will need to know them well to form the passé composé.

Are you ready?

If so, then let’s go to how to form the passé composé!

How to Form the Passé Composé

1. Pronoun2. Avoir/Être3. Past Participle

In order to form the Passé Composé one must:

  1. Choose the Pronoun that is applicable in a situation.
  2. Conjugate Avoir or Être in the Present Tense.
  3. Add the Past Participle.

Imagine that I wish to say “I spoke”.

How would I do this?

  1. je

The pronoun for I in French is je.

  1. ai

Conjugating avoir in the I form will lead to ai.

  1. parlé

The past participle of parler is parlé.

So when you wish to say “I spoke” in French you get:

J’ai parlé

But there are 2 questions that you are probably wondering about.

  1. How do I know when to use avoir or être?
  2. How do I know what the right past participle of a verb is?

These are important questions if we want to know how to form the passé composé.

We are going to find them out in the following chapters!

How to Know if You Should Choose Avoir or Être

Almost all verbs in French take avoir in the passé composé.

In fact, if you memorise which verbs take être then you can always know which one to use.

So which verbs take être?

There are just two cases that you need to know.

  1. There’s a special mnemonic called: Dr Mrs Vandertramp. Each letter in that phrase respresent the beginning of a verb which needs être in the passé composé
  1. All reflexive verbs. These are verbs that take ‘se’ in front of them.

Here are some examples of reflexive verbs:

  • se lever
  • s’amuser
  • s’habiller
  • se coucher
  • se sentir

Now that you know whether to use avoir or être, we can focus on finding the past participle!

How to find the Past Participle

When we want to form the passé composé we need to use the correct past participle.

But, how do we find the past participle?

There are three main groups in French for past participles, and one group of exceptions.

  1. Verbs with an é ending
  2. Verbs with a u ending
  3. Verbs with an i ending
  4. Exceptions

Verbs with an é ending

Almost all regular -er verbs have an é ending as a past participle

er -> é

parler -> parlé

manger -> mangé

regarder -> regardé

Verbs with a u ending

Almost all regular -re verbs have an u ending as a past participle

re -> u

vendre -> vendu

attendre -> attendu

repondre -> repondu

However, there are also some other important irregular verbs which also take an u as a past participle.

Verbs with an i ending

Almost all regular -ir verbs have an i ending as a past participle.

ir -> i

choisir -> choisi

finir -> fini

grandir -> grandi

However, there are also some other important irregular verbs which also take an i as a past participle.

Exceptions

There are a few important verbs which are an exception.

The most notable ones are the first three.

Now that you know how to find the past participle, we will move on to the last topic on how to form the passé composé.

How to Make the Verb Agree in Gender and Number

When you use the passé composé with verbs that require être, you need to make the verb agree in gender and in number with the subject.

However, what does it mean to make the verb agree in gender and in number?

Please take a look at the following 4 sentences.

Il est allé à Paris.

He went to Paris.

In this sentence the past participle (allé) is how one would except it. There’s no special ending to it. That is because the subject is masculine and singular

Elle est allée à Paris.

She went to Paris.

In this sentence the past participle (alléé) is different to how one would expect it. There is an extra é added. This is because the subject is feminine and singular.

Ils sont allés à Paris.

They went to Paris.

In this sentence the past participle (allés) is different to how one would expect it. There is an extra s added. This is because the subject is masculine and plural.

Elles sont allées à Paris.

They [all women] went to Paris.

In this sentence the past participle (allées) is different to how one would expect it. There is an extra es added. This is because the subject is feminine and plural.

Here’s a useful table which will help you to remember the endings.

MasculineFeminine
Singulare
Pluralses

There may be some confusion when using the pronoun vous as it can mean

  • singular formal you
  • plural you

So, how do you use vous in the passé composé?

Here are 4 examples for you that will make this clear.

M. Martin, vous êtes arrivé ici hier.

Mr. Martin, you arrived here yesterday.

In this example the subject is masculine and singular. Nothing special happens to the past participle (arrivé)

Mme Caron, vous êtes arrivée ici hier.

Ms Caron, you arrived here yesterday.

In this example the subject is is feminine and singular, so an e is added.

Jean et toi, Alexandra, vous êtes arrivés ici hier.

Jean and you, Alexandra, you arrived here yesterday.

In this example the subject is masculine and plural. It doesn’t matter if there is one man or a million. As long as there is at least one man then the gender will always be masculine. So an s is added.

Bridgette et toi, Alexandra, vous êtes arrivées ici hier.

Bridgette and you, Alexandra, you arrived here yesterday.

In this example the subject is feminine and plural. So an es is added.

If it is the singular version then please look at the singular row to determine the ending, and then to whether the subject is singular or plural.

If it is plural then please look at the plural row to determine the ending, and then to whether the subject is masculine or feminine.

Example Sentences with the Passé Composé

The final section of this lesson on how to form the passé composé is about seeing the passé composé in action.

This is valuable because you can improve your understanding on how to form the passé composé through examples.

Parler

J’ai parlé.

I spoke.

Manger

Qu’as-tu mangé hier ?

What did you eat yesterday?

Aller

Il est allé à Paris.

He went to Paris.

Aller

Elle est allée à Paris.

She went to Paris.

Aller

Ils sont allés à Paris.

They went to Paris.

Aller

Elles sont allées à Paris.

They [all women] went to Paris.

Arriver

M. Martin, vous êtes arrivé ici hier.

Mr. Martin, you arrived here yesterday.

Arriver

Mme Caron, vous êtes arrivée ici hier.

Ms Caron, you arrived here yesterday.

Arriver

Jean et toi, Alexandra, vous êtes arrivés ici hier.

Jean and you, Alexandra, you arrived here yesterday.

Arriver

Bridgette et toi, Alexandra, vous êtes arrivées ici hier.

Bridgette and you, Alexandra, you arrived here yesterday.

Quiz Yourself Knowledge on How to Form the Passé Composé

At the end of every lesson you can do a small quiz.

You will see the sentences of the previous chapter.

You will either need to fill in the blanks, choose the correct multiple choice option, or both.

It is up to you to give the correct answer.

Once you are done the correct answer will be shown.

You can redo the quiz as many times as you want!

How to Practice With Flashcards for This Lesson

Using flashcards is an absolute necessity when it comes to learning a language!

It is the best way to memorize what you learn, you can personalize your progression because it adapts to your actions, and all flashcards have audio to improve your hearing and pronunciation.

Please read our article on how to learn a new language for more information on flashcards and the best way to learn a new language.

There are two ways to practice with Flashcards for this lesson.

  1. Anki
  2. The Flashcards in our Courses

Anki is a free software with which you can create and practice flashcards.

After you have downloaded Anki, you can get our French A2 Anki Deck.

This Anki Deck contains 3,816 flashcards with which you can practice absolutely everything for French A2.

All the flashcards have text, images, explanations, and audio.

You can also use our courses that have flashcards integrated alongside lessons with audio, quizzes and much more!

However, I am sure you are wondering, what are your courses, and why should I take them?

The Courses of Language Atlas

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