Learn about the Compound Tense in French
What is the Compound Tense?
The Compound Tense in French, is a formation of an auxillary verb and a past participle of another verb. All of the following examples utilize the compound tense:
- ‘I have been,’
- ‘I was running,’
- ‘I had run,’
A common tense, used most extensively in spoken situations, the compound tense in French is based largely on the conjugation of the verbs avoir or être.. The beauty of the compound tense is that if you can, for instance, conjugate ‘avoir’ – I have, you have, we have, etc., then all that remains is to add the past participle of the second verb and voilà, you have the past tense which is most commonly used in conversation.
So "I ate", or "I have eaten" is formed with the French ‘I have’ and ‘eaten’. The verb avoir is conjugated into ‘I have’, j’ai, where the verb ‘to eat’, manger, turns into its past participle, ‘eaten’, which in French, is mangé.
j'ai mangé = I have eaten
There you have the French Compound Tense!
The other beauty of the French compound tense is that the past participle sounds like the infinitive of the 'er' verbs.
In other words, mangé sounds like manger, which is the infinitive. They are spelt differently but sound the same.
So with this structure you can easily work out the past tenses of hundreds of regular French verbs.
The French verb avoir conjugated is:
|Avoir to form the Compound Tense in French|
|j'ai|| I have||nous avons ||we have|
|tu as|| you have ||vous avez ||you have |
|il a|| he has||ils ont ||they have|
Être and Avoir
As mentioned before,compound tenses such as:
- ‘I have stolen,’
- ‘I was stealing,’
- ‘I had stolen,’
are made by using the conjugations of the verbs avoir or être.
Compound Tense and 'Avoir'
Most verbs form their compound tense with avoir
as the auxiliary verb.
Compound Tense and 'Être'
However, two groups form these tenses with être
- être with Reflexive Verbs.
- être with Verbs of Motion.
The French Verb être conjugated. 'to be' in French
|être to form the Compound Tense in French|
|je suis|| I am||nous sommes ||we are|
|tu es|| you are||vous êtes ||you are|
|il est|| he is||ils sont ||they are|
Être with Reflexive Verbs (se lever, se demander…)
Je me suis levé tôt.
I got up early.
Elle s’est cassée la jambe.
She broke her leg.
Ils se sont couchés tard.
They went to bed late.
Être with motion verbs (expressing some kind of motion or change of state, used without a direct object)
|Examples of the Compound Tense in French|
|Arriver, to arrive||Elle est arrivée|
|Partir, to leave||Elle est partie|
|Entrer, to enter ||Elle est entrée|
|Sortir, to go out||Elle est sortie|
|Aller, to go||Elle est allée||Venir, to come||Elle est venue
|Monter, to go up||Elle est montée|
|Descendre, to go down||Elle est descendue||Mourir, to die||Elle est morte
|Naître, to be born||Elle est née|
|Rester, to stay||Elle est restée|
|Tomber, to fall||Elle est tombée|
|Retourner, to return||Elle est retournée|
Avoir with verbs used transitively
Il est descendu.
He went down.
Il a descendu les escaliers.
He went down the stairs
Il est sorti.
He went out.
Il a sorti la poubelle.
He took the bin out.
Il est retourné à Paris.
He returned to Paris.
Il a retourné sa feuille.
He turned his sheet upside down.
Avoir with verbs of motion or change of state other than those listed above used transitively or intransitively.
Tu as déménagé.
Tu as déménagé les meubles.
You moved the furniture.
Tu as déménagé à Bordeaux.
You moved to Bordeaux.
Now you've learned how to form the
compound tense in French. Care to try some other lessons?
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Compound Tense in French
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