Updated: Sep 7
Unlike the present tense, which is made up of one word (e.g: je donne), the perfect tense has two parts to it:
an auxiliary: AVOIR or ÊTRE in the present tense
the past participle of the main verb
The perfect tense in French is like the form: I have watched in English.
It is used to talk about actions that took place and were completed in the past.
Here, we are looking at the perfect tense with AVOIR.
For regular verbs:
The endings of the past participles are as follows:
For regular -ER verbs, the past participle ends in -é
For regular -IR verbs, the past participle ends in -i
For regular -RE verbs, the past participle ends in -u
J'ai regardé un film- I watched a film/ I have watched a film.
Elle a fini ses devoirs- She finished her homework/ she has finished her homework.
Nous avons attendu le bus- We waited for the bus/ We have waited for the bus.
(if you are not sure how to get to these sentences, you can check the perfect tense with AVOIR and regular verbs in more details here)
Note that when AVOIR is used as an auxiliary, the past participle remains unchanged whether the subject is masculine, feminine, singular or plural.
For irregular verbs:
The past participles do not follow the rule above and must be learnt.
Here are the most common past participles for irregular verbs using AVOIR as an auxiliary:
Note: The past participles of comprendre, apprendre, entreprendre and surprendre are: compris, appris, entrepris and surpris; just like the past participle of prendre is: pris.
This is also the case for:
-prédire and dire
-refaire, défaire, parfaire, satisfaire and faire
-permettre, promettre, compromettre, soumettre, remettre, admettre and mettre
-soutenir and tenir
-survivre and vivre
-prévoir and voir
- Nous avons dû partir- We had to leave.
- Vous avez dormi pendant 8 heures- You slept for 8 hours.
- Elles ont vécu en France- They lived in France.
In negative sentences:
When writing negative sentences using the perfect tense: the negation 'ne...pas' goes around the conjugated verb, which is the AUXILIARY.
- Nous n'avons pas dû partir. We did not have to leave.
- Vous n'avez pas dormi pendant 8 heures. You have not slept for 8 hours.
- Elles n'ont pas vécu en France. They have not lived in France.
keep on reading to know something slightly more advanced
Agreement of the past participle with AVOIR
There is one particular case where the past participle must change in the feminine and plural forms.
Most of the time, you will write sentences where the direct object is placed after the past participle.
j'ai mangé la pomme. I ate the apple.
The apple is the direct object and it is placed after the past participle 'mangé'
When the direct object is placed before the past participle, then the past participle must agree with that object.
La pomme que j'ai mangée. The apple that I ate.
The apple is still the direct object but it is placed before 'mangée', which is why it takes an extra 'e'.
It can be trickier to spot this when the direct object has been replaced by a direct object pronoun.
Je l'ai mangée. I ate it (the apple)
Note: this rule DOES NOT apply to indirect objects.
For French A Level students with any exam board:
This workbook is excellent to practise all the grammar you need to know in the first year of your A-level course.
For French GCSE students with any exam board:
The handbook on the left gives you easy to understand descriptions and rules for all the grammar aspects you need to know at GCSE level. The workbook on the right contains a series of activities to help you practise these aspects. Answers are provided at the back so you can check your work.
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