Passé composé - French Compound Past Tense

The most common French past tense

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The passé composé is the most common French past tense, often used in conjunction with the imperfect. The passé composé can express any of the following:


I. An Action Completed in the Past

As-tu étudié ce weekend?
Did you study this weekend?

Ils ont déjà mangé.
They have already eaten.

II. An Action Repeated a Number of Times in the Past

Oui, j'ai mangé cinq fois hier.
Yes, I did eat five times yesterday.


Nous avons visité Paris plusieurs fois.
We've visited Paris several times.

III. A Series of Actions Completed in the Past

Quand je suis arrivé, j'ai vu les fleurs.
When I arrived, I saw the flowers.

Samedi, il a vu sa mère, a parlé au médicin et a trouvé un chat.
Saturday he saw his mother, talked to the doctor, and found a cat.

The passé composé has three possible English equivalents. For example, j'ai dansé can mean

  1. I danced   (simple past)
  2. I have danced   (present perfect)
  3. I did dance   (past emphatic)

The passé composé is a compound conjugation, which means it has two parts:

  1. present tense of the auxiliary verb (either avoir or être)
  2. past participle of the main verb


Note: Like all compound conjugations, the passé composé may be subject to grammatical agreement:

  • When the auxiliary verb is être, the past participle must agree with the subject
  • When the auxiliary verb is avoir, the past participle may have to agree with its direct object


    French Passé Composé Conjugations

         
    AIMER (auxiliary verb is avoir)
    j'ai aimé nousavons aimé
    tuas aimé vousavez aimé
    il,
    elle 
    a aimé ils,
    elles 
    ont aimé
         
    DEVENIR (être verb)
    jesuis devenu(e) noussommes devenu(e)s
    tues devenu(e) vousêtes devenu(e)(s)
    ilest devenu ilssont devenus
    elle est devenue ellessont devenues
         
    SE LAVER (pronominal verb)
    jeme suis lavé(e) nousnous sommes lavé(e)s
    tut'es lavé(e) vousvous êtes lavé(e)(s)
    ils'est lavé ilsse sont lavés
    elle s'est lavée ellesse sont lavées
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    Lawless, Laura K. "Passé composé - French Compound Past Tense." ThoughtCo, Sep. 7, 2017, thoughtco.com/passe-compose-french-compound-past-tense-1368891. Lawless, Laura K. (2017, September 7). Passé composé - French Compound Past Tense. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/passe-compose-french-compound-past-tense-1368891 Lawless, Laura K. "Passé composé - French Compound Past Tense." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/passe-compose-french-compound-past-tense-1368891 (accessed January 17, 2018).