Updated: Sep 7
Before learning about the Perfect tense with ÊTRE, you need to know the perfect tense with AVOIR. Click here to view.
Most verbs form their perfect tense with AVOIR, but there are two main groups of verbs which form their perfect tense with ÊTRE.
a selection of intransitive verbs
Intransitive verbs using ÊTRE as an auxiliary:
Intransitive verbs are usually verbs of being or motion that do not require an object to complete them (e.g: aller). There are 17 verbs to know in this category.
Below are two ways to remember and learn these verbs.
1. DR. MRS. P. VANDERTRAMP
This mnemonic gives you the first letter of each verb using ÊTRE as an auxiliary in the perfect tense.
2. La maison d'être
This mnemonic is more visual and might work better for you.
Below is a table giving you the past participle of these verbs:
Je suis tombé. I fell/ I have fallen.
Il est parti. He left/ he has left.
When a verb takes ÊTRE in the perfect tense, the past participle ALWAYS agrees with the subject. This means that the ending of the past participle changes depending on who is doing the action.
For a feminine subject: add an -e
For a plural subject: add an -s
For a feminine plural subject: add -es
Elle est allée à la plage. She went to the beach.
Nous sommes arrivés tard. We arrived late.
Keep on reading to know something slightly more advanced or skip to reflexive verbs
Agreement when the subject is 'on':
-When the pronoun 'on' is used and refers to people in general, the past participle is left as a masculine singular form.
On est allé trop loin. People went too far.
-When the pronoun 'on' is used and refers to a specific group of people or we, the past participle can agree and changes to the plural feminine or plural masculine form.
On est allées à la piscine (ma sœur et moi). We went to the swimming-pool.
This type of agreement is often used in books, but native speakers might tell you that it is wrong to agree the past participle. To know more about the pronoun 'on', check this post.
Verbs that sometimes use AVOIR and sometimes use ÊTRE:
A few of the 17 verbs seen earlier can be intransitive (which do not require an object to complete the action) or transitive (which requires an object). When these verbs are used as transitive verbs, the auxiliary is AVOIR.
1. Monter and Descendre
Je suis monté rapidement. I quickly went up.
J'ai monté les escaliers rapidement. I climbed the stairs quickly.
In the second sentence, there is an object (the stairs). Therefore, AVOIR is used.
Elle est sortie à 21 heures. She went out at 9pm.
Elle a sorti les poubelles. She took the bin out.
In the second sentence there is an object (the bin). Therefore, AVOIR is used.
When used as an intransitive verb, passer can mean : to come by, to pass by or to go through.
Je suis passé par le marché. I went by the market.
When used as a transitive verb, passer means to pass.
J'ai passé le sel. I passed the salt.
Passer can also mean to spend and will use AVOIR as an auxiliary.
J'ai passé du temps à faire mes devoirs. I spent time doing my homework.
Reflexive verbs in the perfect tense:
All reflexive verbs take ÊTRE in the perfect tense. This means that the past participle will (usually) agree according to the subject.
If you are not sure what a reflexive verb is, you can check this post.
Here is the perfect tense of the verb s'habiller to get dressed:
Note that the reflexive pronoun goes before the conjugated verb (i.e. the auxiliary).
In negative sentences, ne...pas goes around the auxiliary.
Elle ne s'est pas habillée. She did not get dressed.
Keep on reading to know something slightly more advanced about reflexive verbs in the perfect tense.
With reflexive verbs, usually the subject and the object are the same. However, there are a few reflexive verbs that use a different object. When the object is placed after the past participle, then there is no agreement.
Below are the most common ones:
1. Se casser
Elle s'est cassé la jambe. She broke her leg.
2. Se faire
Ils se sont fait des amis. They made some friends.
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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