Français II

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Course #1: Français I
Course #2: Français II
Course #3: Français III
Course #4: Français IV


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Français II

Lessons in Français II

Allons!


Bienvenu(e)! Having given yourself a substantial grounding in grammar during Francais I, you are now ready to tackle more complex issues surrounding the French language.

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.

Prior Learning

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.

  • A noun assigns a name to something. Dog, book, fish, happiness, deoxyribonucleic acid.
  • A verb tells us what nouns are doing to themselves and each other. Create, make, draw, hope, design.
  • An adjective tells us what the noun is like. Blue, spherical, unpleasant, frustrated, politically right-wing.

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.

  • An auxiliary which will be conjugated in the present tense and
  • The past participle, which comes from the infinitive form of the verb and will remain unchanged.

In French, there are two auxiliaries:

  • The verb avoir which means 'to have' when not used as an auxiliary.
  • The verb être which means 'to be' when not used as an auxiliary.

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:

  être avoir
je/j' suis ai
tu es as
il/elle est a
nous sommes avons
vous êtes avez
ils/elles sont ont


To form the perfect, we need to revisit our three 'verb families'. For the sake of clarity, the author intends to employ the same three verbs throughout to demonstrate grammatical points. They are:

  • jouer, a regular, first-conjugation verb, meaning 'to play'
  • finir, a regular, second-conjugation verb, meaning 'to finish'
  • vendre, a regular, third conjugation verb, meaning 'to sell'.

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.

  singular plural
first person je(I)= ai (stem)+é nous(we)= avons (stem)+é
second person informal tu(you)= as (stem)+é vous(you all)= avez (stem)+é
formal vous(you)= avez (stem)+é
third person masculine il(he)= a (stem)+é ils(they)= ont (stem)+é
feminine elle(she)= a (stem)+é elles(they)= ont (stem)+é

So, then, consider,

  • j'ai joué, I played, I have played
  • tu as joué, you played, you have played (when talking informally, to someone you know well, or a child)
  • il/elle/on a joué, he/she/one played, has played
  • nous avons joué, we played, we have played
  • vous avez joué, you played, you have played (when talking formally, to an 'elder or better', or to a group
  • ils ont joué, they (group of males, or a mixed crowd) played, they have played
  • elles ont joué, they (a group comprising solely of females) played, they have played.

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.


  singular plural
first person je(I)= ai (stem)+i nous(we)= avons (stem)+i
second person informal tu(you)= as (stem)+i vous(you all)= avez (stem)+i
formal vous(you)= avez (stem)+i
third person masculine il(he)= a (stem)+i ils(they)= ont (stem)+i
feminine elle(she)= a (stem)+i elles(they)= ont (stem)+i

So, then, consider,

  • j'ai fini, I finished, I have finished.
  • tu as fini, you finished, you have finished (when talking informally, to someone you know well, or a child)
  • il/elle/on a fini, he/she/one finished, has finished
  • nous avons fini, we finished, we have finished
  • vous avez fini, you finished, you have finished (when talking formally, to an 'elder or better', or to a group
  • ils ont fini, they (group of males, or a mixed crowd) finished, they have finished
  • elles ont fini, they (a group comprising solely of females) finished, they have finished.


Verbs ending in -re.

Stem-time again. But this time we add -u.

  singular plural
first person je(I)= ai (stem)+u nous(we)= avons (stem)+u
second person informal tu(you)= as (stem)+u vous(you all)= avez (stem)+u
formal vous(you)= avez (stem)+u
third person masculine il(he)= a (stem)+u ils(they)= ont (stem)+u
feminine elle(she)= a (stem)+u elles(they)= ont (stem)+u

So, then, consider,

  • j'ai vendu, I sold, I have sold.
  • tu as vendu, you sold, you have sold (when talking informally, to someone you know well, or a child)
  • il/elle/on a vendu, he/she/one sold, has sold
  • nous avons vendu, we sold, we have sold
  • vous avez vendu, you sold, you have sold (when talking formally, to an 'elder or better', or to a group
  • ils ont vendu, they (group of males, or a mixed crowd) sold, they have sold
  • elles ont vendu, they (a group comprising solely of females) sold, they have sold.

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.

  • naître (né) to be born
  • mourir (mort) to die
  • venir (venu) to come
  • aller (allé) to go
  • tomber (tombé) to fall
  • rester (resté) to stay
  • partir (parti) to leave
  • arriver (arrivé) to arrive
  • descendre (descendu) to go down
  • monter (monté) to go up
  • entrer (entré) to enter
  • all the reflexive verbs, see lesson 3


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.

  • chanter, to sing
  • aller, to go
  • aimer, to love
  • regarder, to look at
  • habiter, to live in
  • piquer, to poke
  • caresser, to stroke
  • faillir, to nearly have done. Use with another infinitive.
  • rougir, to blush
  • réussir, to succeed
  • partir, to leave
  • rendre, to surrender
  • descendre, to go down
  • 1. I sang
  • 2. We sang
  • 3. You (group) sang
  • 4. They loved (all female)
  • 5. One looked at
  • 6. He lived in
  • 7. He left the house (clue = the French verb will be followed by de to indicate provenance)
  • 8. They lived in (two females and two males)
  • 9. You poked (one person)
  • 10. We stroked (stop sniggering!)
  • 11. I went to school (clue = the French verb will be followed by à to indicate destination)
  • 12. I nearly died (clue: mourir = to die)
  • 13. I blushed
  • 14. You went down to the cellar (clue: la cave = the cellar)
  • 15. They succeeded (all males)
  • 16. You surrendered (talking to a child)

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.

  masculine feminine
je suis allé suis allée
tu es allé es allée
il/elle est allé est allée
nous sommes allés sommes allées
vous êtes allés êtes allées
ils/elles sont allés sont allées

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:

  • J'ai regardé le chien (masculine) Je l'ai regardé. Nothing changes.

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.

  • J'ai regardé la maison but Je l'ai regardée
  • J'ai regardé les maisons becomes Je les ai regardées


Now that you have some theory, some practice is needed.


Exercise

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.

  1. I looked at the house
  2. I looked at her
  3. I went to school (clue = you are speaking so I takes your gender)
  4. We sang (one man and ten women)
  5. We left the house (all men)
  6. You fell (plural, all women)
  7. They stroke them (clue = them refers to cats + they refers to women only)
  8. She entered
  9. You succeeded (singular, woman)
  10. She went down


Results: 1. J'ai regardé la maison 2. Je l'ai regardée 3. Je suis allé à l'école or Je suis allée à l'école 4. Nous avons chanté 5. Nous sommes partis de la maison 6. Vous êtes tombées 7. Elles les ont caressés 8. Elle est entrée 9. Tu as réussi 10. Elle est descendue