Apprendre la Langue Française (Part 50): le passé composé


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:

1. An action completed in the past

As-tu étudié ce weekend? Did you study this weekend?
Ils ont déjà mangé. They have already eaten.

2. 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.

3. 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:
I danced (simple past);
I have danced (present perfect); or
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

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.

Here are the French passé composé conjugations:

AIMER (auxiliary verb is avoir)
j’ ai aimé nous avons aimé
tu as aimé vous avez aimé
il, elle, on a aimé ils, elles ont aimé
DEVENIR (être verb)
j’ suis devenu(e) nous sommes devenu(e)s
tu es devenu(e) vous êtes devenu(e)(s)
il, elle, on est devenu(e) ils, elles devenu(e)(s)
SE LAVER (pronominal verb)
j’ me suis lavé(e) nous nous sommes lavé(e)s
tu t’es lavé(e) vous vous êtes lavé(e)(s)
il, elle, on s’est lavé(e) ils, elles se sont lavé(e)(s)

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