Lessons in Français II
French grammar is a beast, but one that can be tamed. The productive student of French will approach grammar with an open and enquiring mind. There are terms that will dazzle and bamboozle, but the aim of this course is to simplify the over-complicated, and sooth the fevered brow of the budding linguist.
It is useful to consider what you already know, before it is built upon. You now know what a noun, adjective, and verb are, and have seen examples in both English and French.
You've also been introduced to the three main french verb families, or conjugations. They have infinitives ending in either -ER, -IR, or -RE. You can conjugate all three families in the Present Indicative tense.
However, unfortunately we all have a past. Therefore, we need to express this linguistically. Student, meet the Perfect Tense.
The French Perfect Tense
First, some basics. The French Perfect Tense, or passé composé, is one of the language's past tenses. It tells us that an action occured in the past, and is now completed.
The 'Perfect' aspect means that the action has been completed and is finished. This is not the tense to use if the action is still occuring in the present day.
Hence, 'j'ai joué au foot' is 'I played football' (but I am no longer).
The Perfect cannot be used for 'I was _____ing' constructions. This nuance of meaning demands another French tense, The Imperfect, which will be covered in subsequent sections.
Normally, the English tenses which will be translated as passé composé are present perfect and preterit. To be totally honest, the preterit should be translated by the passé simple tense but this tense is nowadays almost only used in written French so for now, we will only consider the passé composé tense.
The construction of the French Perfect Tense
The French Perfect combines two elements.
In French, there are two auxiliaries:
Note that the choice of the auxiliary depends on the verb. Some verbs are used with the avoir auxiliary and some others are used with the être auxiliary. However, avoir is the most common used auxiliary. être auxiliary is generally used when the verb expresses a movement or a transformation. A small list of verbs using the être auxiliary is shown at the end of this lesson.
To be sure that those two verbs are mastered, the present conjugation is recalled here:
Note that all those verbs use the avoir auxiliary, but the construction won't differ for verbs using être auxiliary.
The past participle is formed by the stem or root of the verb which consists of the infinitive with the last two letters removed. At the end of the stem, an ending will be added depending on the group of the verb, this is what will be seen in the following section.
The endings of the French Perfect Tense
Verbs ending in -er.
The ending of the past participle for the first group verbs is 'e acute', or -é. If we take the verb jouer, we remove the last two letters, which gives us jou- and then add the ending corresponding of the past participle: jou-é.
So, then, consider,
Please note the use of ils or elles. The French language demands that, even if there were a room full of ten thousand females and just one (lucky) male, the masculine ils would be demanded.
Verbs ending in -ir.
Again, take your stem. But with -ir verbs, we simply add an -i.
So, then, consider,
Verbs ending in -re.
Stem-time again. But this time we add -u.
So, then, consider,
Once you have mastered this pattern, you can decline any regular french verb in the perfect tense.
A list of verbs using the être auxiliary
Note that those verbs are not all regular.
Activities surrounding the Perfect Tense
There follows a list of infinitives from all three families of French verb. Use them to translate the English phrases that follow into French.
You should have got something like:
1. J'ai chanté 2. Nous avons chanté 3. Vous avez chanté 4. Elles ont aimé 5. On a regardé 6. Il a habité 7. Il est parti de la maison 8. Ils ont habité 9. Tu as piqué 10. Nous avons caressé 11. je suis allé à l'école 12. J'ai failli mourir 13. J'ai rougi 14. Tu es descendu à la cave 15. Ils ont réussi 16. Tu as rendu
The agreement of the past participle
Caution: This part may be complicated, so you can skip it if you don't feel comfortable and come back later.
In French, the past participle agrees with the subject or the object depending on the auxiliary.
With the être auxiliary
The agreement of the participle when using the être participle is the easiest case.
In this case, the past participle agrees with the subject of the sentence. If the subject is feminine, the past participle will take the mark of the feminine, generally a e. If the subject is plural, the past participle will take the plural mark, generally a s. See section The French Adjective in lesson Simple Grammar Rules for more information.
Let's see a complete example with the verb aller to go.
Remember that the feminine mark is given only if all the subject is comprised of only feminine gender subject. If there is only one masculine gender the past participle will agree with the masculine gender.
With the avoir auxiliary
The case of the avoir auxiliary is a little bit more complicated. In this case, the past participle does not agree with the subject. It agrees with the object but only if it is situated before the verb.
Please, read the following lesson about the French pronoun to understand how an object can be situated before the verb.
Let's see some examples:
But if this time we want to say that we looked at the house, la maison being feminine, the feminine mark will appear if the object is placed before the verb.
In this exercise, you will translate in French the following English phrases. You will need first to choose the appropriate auxiliary and if needed agree the past participle.