French Verbs That Take 'Être' as Their Auxiliary Verb

Verbs That Use 'Être' to Help Form Compound Tenses

Beach in Dubrovnik at night
The French word. Photography taken by Mario Gutiérrez. / Getty Images

An auxiliary verb, or helping verb, is a conjugated verb used in front of another verb in compound tenses in order to indicate the mood and tense of the verb.

In French, the auxiliary verb is either avoir or être. All French verbs are classified by which auxiliary verb they take, and they use the same auxiliary verb in all compound tenses. Most French verbs use avoir, fewer use être. The following is a list of verbs (and their derivatives) that require être:

  • aller > to go
  • arriver > to arrive
  • descendre > to descend / go downstairs 
    redescendre > to descend again
  • entrer > to enter 
    rentrer > to re-enter
  • monter > to climb 
    remonter > to climb again
  • mourir > to die
  • naître > to be born
    renaître > to be reborn, born again)
  • partir > to leave
    repartir > to leave again
  • passer > to pass
  • rester > to stay
  • retourner > to return
  • sortir > to go out
    ressortir > to go out again
  • tomber > to fall
    retomber > to fall again
  • venir > to come
    devenir > to become
    parvenir > to reach, achieve
    revenir > to come again, come back

These are all intransitive verbs that communicate a certain kind of movement. You do get used to these verbs over time and one day you'll be able to sense whether to use être or avoir without even having to think about it. 

1. In addition to the above, all pronominal verbs use être as the auxiliary verb:

    Je me suis levé. > I got up.
    Il s'est rasé. > He shaved.

2. For all verbs conjugated with être, the past participle has to agree with the subject in gender and number in all of the compound tenses ( learn more):

    Il est allé. > He went.

    Elle est allée. > She went.
    Ils sont allés. > They went.    Elles sont allées. > They went.

3. Verbs are conjugated with être because they are intransitive (have no direct object). However, six of these verbs can be used transitively (with a direct object), and when this happens, they need avoir as the auxiliary verb.

Mnemonic Devices for Learning Être Verbs: Dr and Mrs Vandertramp

There are certain French verbs which require être as the auxiliary verb in the passé composé and other compound tenses, and students sometimes have a hard time remembering them. There are 14 common verbs plus numerous derivatives which take être, and their derivatives usually do too. For example, entrer is an être verb, as is its derivative rentrer. Generally speaking, all of the verbs indicate a particular kind of movement, either literal or figurative - lesson on être verbs.
 

Intransitive verbs

One very important thing to remember is that verbs only use être when they are intransitive (do not have a direct object):

  • Je suis passé à huit heures vs J'ai passé la maison.

    Je suis monté avant lui vs J'ai monté la valise.

I can promise you that eventually you will instinctively know which verbs take être, but in the meantime, you might want to try one of these mnemonic devices.
 

La Maison d'être

The French teach être verbs with a visual: La Maison d'être. Draw a house with a door, stairs, windows, etc. and then label it with the être verbs. For example, put someone on the stairs going up ( monter) and another going down ( descendre).


There are three acronyms that are commonly used to remember être verbs. Strangely, none of them includes passer, which is an être verb when used intransively.
 

DR & MRS VANDERTRAMP

This is perhaps the most popular mnemonic device for être verbs in the United States. Personally, I find DR & MRS VANDERTRAMP redundant since it includes some derivatives, but if it works for you, go for it.

  • Devenir
  • Revenir
  • &
  • Monter
  • Rester
  • Sortir

 

  • Venir
  • Aller
  • Naître
  • Descendre
  • Entrer
  • Rentrer
  • Tomber
  • Retourner
  • Arriver
  • Mourir
  • Partir

ADVENT

Each letter in ADVENT stands for one of the verbs and its opposite, plus one extra verb, for a total of thirteen.

  • Arriver - Partir
  • Descendre - Monter
  • Venir - Aller
  • Entrer - Sortir
  • Naître - Mourir
  • Tomber - Rester
  • Retourner
     

DRAPERS VAN MMT13

Each letter in DRAPERS VAN MMT stands for one of the 13 verbs.

  • Descendre
  • Rester
  • Aller
  • Partir
  • Entrer
  • Retourner
  • Sortir

 

  • Venir
  • Arriver
  • Naître

 

  • Mourir
  • Monter
  • Tomber

---------
13 total verbs

Tips From Teachers

On the Profs de français forum, some teachers stated that acronyms don't work - their students remember the letters, but not the verb each one signifies. So they use music or poetry to help students learn and remember être verbs:

1. I have the students sing the past participles of the verbs to the tune of "Ten Little Indians." It's a good way to remember which verbs take être, plus it helps them remember the irregular past participles:

allé, arrivé, venu, revenu,
entré, rentré, descendu, devenu,
sorti, parti, resté, retourné,
monté, tombé, né et mort.

2. I have my students memorize the verbs in a specific order: the 8 -er verbs, which they can learn in about 2 minutes in class. Next is descendre, because it's the opposite of monter. Then the -ir verbs, the venir family, and the beginning and end of life. Passer par brings up the grand finale. Most classes can learn them all in less than 5 minutes. And then I put it all together into a little poem:

Aller, arriver, entrer, rentrer, rester, retourner, tomber, monter,
descendre,
partir, sortir,
venir, devenir, revenir,
naître, mourir, et passer par.
Ces dix-sept verbes sont conjugués avec le verbe être au passé composé. Yé !

Sometimes I do it in a sing-song voice or rap it. I've been known to put on a pair of shades; it seems to make an impression and get them all into it. My students seem to be able to remember this order with no difficulty whatsoever, and I see them scanning their quizzes, silently reciting the order of verbs, marking an asterisk next to the ones that need être, and being quite successful.

When I have had those students in more advanced classes through the years, they have remembered my formula. If they slip, all it takes is a gentle reminder: Aller, arriver... and to have them all join in to reinforce the verbs. I've run into students many years later who could still recall them all and wanted to recite them for me.

Être Verbs Used Transitively

Verbs that require être in the passé composé and other compound tenses are intransitive - that is, they have no direct object. But some of them can be used transitively (with a direct object), and when this happens, these verbs need avoir as the helping verb. In addition, there is a slight change in meaning.

descendre

  • Il est descendu. - He went down(stairs).
  • Il a descendu l'escalier. - He went down the stairs.
  • Il a descendu la valise. - He took the suitcase down.

monter

  • Il est monté. - He went up(stairs).
  • Il a monté la côte. - He went up the hill.
  • Il a monté les livres. - He took the books up.

passer

  • Je suis passé devant le parc. - I went by the park.
  • J'ai passé la porte. - I went through the door.
  • J'ai passé une heure ici. - I spent an hour here.

rentrer

  • Je suis rentré. - I came home.
  • J'ai rentré les chaises. - I brought the chairs inside.

retourner

  • Elle est retournée en France. - She has returned to France.
  • Elle a retourné la lettre. - She returned / sent back the letter.

sortir

  • Elle est sortie. - She went out.
  • Elle a sorti la voiture - She took the car out.

Repeating French Auxiliary Verbs - Avoir and Être

When using more than one verb in the passé composé or another compound tense, you can - but do not always have to - repeat the auxiliary verb in front of each past participle.

Whether you have to repeat the auxiliary depends on whether the main verbs take the same auxiliary verb. If they are all avoir verbs, all être verbs, or all pronominal verbs, you don't need to include the auxiliary in front of each one.

Verbs With the Same Auxiliary

When you want to say "I ate and drank," you need to consider the auxiliary verb that manger and boire require. Since they both take avoir, you can leave off the auxiliary from the second verb:

  • J'ai mangé et bu

Or you can repeat the auxiliary, with or without the subject pronoun:    

  • J'ai mangé et ai bu or
  • J'ai mangé et j'ai bu

To say "I left at noon and got home at midnight," you need être for both verbs, so you don't need to repeat the auxiliary:

  • Je suis parti à midi et rentré à minuit

But you can also say:

  • Je suis parti à midi et suis rentré à minuit or    
  • Je suis parti à midi et je suis rentré à minuit

The same basic rule applies when you're using only pronominal verbs, as in "I got up and got dressed":    

  • Je me suis levé et habillé.

However, if you want to repeat the auxiliary of pronominal verbs, you must also repeat the reflexive pronoun:

  • Je me suis levé et me suis habillé
  • Je me suis levé et je me suis habillé
  • xxx "Je me suis levé et suis habillé" xxx

Verbs With Different Auxiliaries

When you have a sentence with verbs that need different auxiliaries, or with a mix of pronominal and non-pronominal verbs, you are required use the various auxiliaries in front of each verb. You may also repeat the subject pronoun:

 I worked and went to the bank.

  • J'ai travaillé et suis allé à la banque
  • J'ai travaillé et je suis allé à la banque

I got up and went downstairs.

  • Je me suis levé et suis descendu
  • Je me suis levé et je suis descendu

He ate, left, and went to bed early.

  • Il a mangé, est parti et s'est couché tôt
  • Il a mangé, il est parti et il s'est couché tôt​

Verbs With Some of the Same Auxiliaries

If you have some verbs with one auxiliary and some verbs with another, you can still drop the shared auxiliaries when they are alone in the clause (that is, when the clause has only avoir verbs, être verbs, or pronominal verbs):

On a dansé et chanté, et puis (on) est allé à une autre boîte

  • We danced and sang, and then went to another club    

As-tu fait ton lit et nettoyé ta chambre, ou t'es-tu douché et habillé ?

  • Did you make your bed and clean your room, or did you take a shower and get dressed? 

When in doubt...

Remember that it's never wrong to repeat the auxiliary verb (though overdoing it can make your French sound a bit stilted). But it is wrong not to use the different auxiliaries if you have different types of verbs.

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ThoughtCo. "French Verbs That Take 'Être' as Their Auxiliary Verb." ThoughtCo, Feb. 26, 2018, thoughtco.com/etre-verbs-french-auxiliary-verbs-1368843. ThoughtCo. (2018, February 26). French Verbs That Take 'Être' as Their Auxiliary Verb. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/etre-verbs-french-auxiliary-verbs-1368843 ThoughtCo. "French Verbs That Take 'Être' as Their Auxiliary Verb." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/etre-verbs-french-auxiliary-verbs-1368843 (accessed April 23, 2018).