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French Grammar from RapideFrench.com

Verbs - Past Tense – The Perfect Tense (Discrete/Finished Events)

The perfect tense is used to say that you did something in the past. In particular it is used for a discrete event that has finished for example you have eaten something, or have watched a film. There are other tenses such as the imperfect which is used for something that isn’t a discrete event (e.g. it rained) or for routine events (e.g. every day I had lunch at noon), the pluperfect which is for two related things that happened in the past where one occurred before the other, and the simple past which is used in children’s fairy tales.

The perfect tense is often used with time phrases such as hier (yesterday), hier soir (yesterday evening), le week-end dernier (last weekend), lundi dernier (last Monday), la semaine dernière (last week), le mois dernier (last month), and l'année dernière (last year)

The perfect tense is a compound tense (it uses two verbs) which works the same was as when we say I have eaten my dinner . To put it more technically, you use two parts to form the perfect tense: (1) avoir or être, (2) the past particle of the main verb. Être is used with a specific 14 verbs, and avoir with everything else.

1. Using être with the perfect tense

Use the present form of être:

  • je suis…
  • tu es…
  • il/elle/on est…
  • nous sommes…
  • vous êtes…
  • ils/elles sont…

2. Être Past Participles

Use être with the past participle of these 16 verbs (grouped to help you remember them) and also with all reflexive verbs:

  • né (naître): to be born
  • mort (mourir): to die

  • monté (monter): to go up
  • descendu (descendre): to go down/to get off
  • tombé (tomber): to fall

  • venu (venir): to come
  • devenu (devenir): to become
  • revenu (revenir): to come back

  • entré (entrer): to enter
  • sorti (sortir): to go out
  • rentré (rentrer): to go back in

  • arrivé (arriver): to arrive
  • resté (rester): to stay
  • allé (aller): to go

  • retourné (retourner): to return
  • parti (partir): to leave

3. Être Verbs Follow the Subject

When you use être add an e on if it is feminine and add an s if it is plural (or both if feminine and plural). For example:

  • il est parti - he has left
  • elle est partie - she has left
  • ils sont partis - they (male or mixed group) have left
  • elles sont parties - they (female group) have left

4. Using avoir with the perfect tense

Use the present form of avoir:

  • j’ai…
  • tu as…
  • il/elle/on a…
  • nous avons…
  • vous avez…
  • ils/elles ont…

5. Avoir Past Participles – Regular Verbs

The past participle of regular verbs:

  1. verbs ending in –er: take off -er and add –é. E.g. parler (to speak) → parlé
  2. verbs ending in -ir, take off -ir and add –i. e.g. choisir (to choose) → choisi
  3. verbs ending -re, take off -re and add –u. e.g. vendre (to sell) → vendu

6. Avoir Past Participles – Irregular Verbs

The past participle of irregular verbs (grouped by ending):

  1. être (been) été

  2. avoir (had) eu
  3. boire (drunk) bu
  4. connaître (known) connu
  5. croire (believed) cru
  6. devoir (had to)
  7. lire (read) lu
  8. pleuvoir (rained) plu
  9. pouvoir (been able to) pu
  10. recevoir (received) reçu
  11. savoir (known) su
  12. voir (seen) vu
  13. vouloir (wanted) voulu

  14. comprendre (understood) compris
  15. mettre (put) mis
  16. prendre (taken) pris

  17. conduire (driven/drove) conduit
  18. dire (said) dit
  19. écrire (written) écrit
  20. faire (done/made) fait

  21. offrir (offered) offert
  22. ouvrir (opened) ouvert