How French Agreement With Compound Verbs Works

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If you're familiar with the passé composé, you know that certain French verbs have to agree with their subjects. In addition, you may know that this is true for all compound verb tenses and moods. What you may not be aware of is that some verbs require agreement not with the subject of the sentence, but with the direct object. This issue of agreement can be rather tricky, so here is a thorough but (hopefully) accessible explanation. You can also practice to improve your skills.

When dealing with French compound verb constructions, there are three kinds of agreement.

A. Agreement with Subject
1. Être verbs
When conjugating être verbs (aller, venir, tomber, etc.) in the passé composé or another compound verb form, the past participle must agree in gender and number with the subject of the sentence.
Elle est allée. She went.
Nous étions arrivés. We had arrived.
Elles sont venues. They came.
Ils seront retournés. They will have returned.
2. Passive voice
Likewise, verbs conjugated in the passive voice must agree in gender and number with their subject - not their agent.
Les voitures sont lavées par mon fils. The cars are washed by my son.
Ma mère est aimée de tous mes amis. My mother is loved by all my friends.
Les livres sont lus par les étudiants. The books are read by the students.
B. Agreement with direct object
Avoir verbs: The majority of French verbs are conjugated with avoir in the compound tenses and do not agree with their subjects. However, avoir verbs require agreement with their direct objects or direct object pronouns when these precede the verb. (There is no agreement when the direct object follows the verb or with an indirect object.)
Il a vu Marie. / Il l'a vue. He saw Marie. / He saw her.
Elle a acheté des livres. / Elle les a achetés. She bought some books. / She bought them.
As-tu lu les livres que j'ai achetés? Have you read the books I bought.
Tu avais perdu les clés. / Tu les avais perdues. You had lost the keys. / You had lost them.
J'ai trouvé les clés que tu avais perdues. I found the keys that you had lost.
Voici les livres qu'il m'a donnés. Here are the books he gave me.
Exceptions: There is no direct object agreement with the causative or with verbs of perception.
Il les a fait travailler. He made them work.
L'histoire que j'ai entendu lire The story that I heard read.
C. Agreement with direct object/subject
Pronominal verbs: Pronominal verbs are a combination of all of the above. All pronominal verbs take être in the compound tenses, but the past participles do not necessarily agree with their subjects. When the reflexive pronoun is the direct object of the sentence, the past participle must agree with it (the direct object and subject are one and the same).
Elle s'est couchée à minuit. She went to bed at midnight.
Ils se sont arrêtés à la banque. They stopped at the bank.
Ana, tu t'es lavée ? Ana, did you wash (yourself)?
However, when the reflexive pronoun is the indirect object, the past participle does not agree: Agreement with pronominal verbs.
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Team, ThoughtCo. "How French Agreement With Compound Verbs Works." ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, Team, ThoughtCo. (2021, December 6). How French Agreement With Compound Verbs Works. Retrieved from Team, ThoughtCo. "How French Agreement With Compound Verbs Works." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).

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