The perfect tense is one of the past tenses in French.
In English it is equivalent to the situation where in English we say “have –ed” or simply “–ed” for example, “I have talked” as well as “I talked”, etc. This one past tense in French is often therefore used to cover what is two past tenses in English. (There is however also the imperfect tense, which we will be covering shortly).
How to form the perfect tense in French
The first stage:-
During the first stage you form the perfect tense is by using the appropriate form of “avoir” (to have) or “être” (to be) as follows:
- J’ai = I have
- Tu as = You have (informal & singular)
- Il/elle a = He/She has
- Nous avons = We have
- Vous avez = You have (formal &/or plural)
- Ils/Elles ont = They have
- Je suis = I am
- Tu es = You are (informal & singular)
- Il/elle est = He/She is
- Nous sommes = We are
- Vous êtes = You are (formal &/or plural)
- Ils/Elles sont = They are
Should I use avoir (to have) or être (to be)?
Generally (but not always!) movement verbs require you to use “être” and non-movement verbs require you to use “avoir”. In addition reflexive verbs require you to use “être” when forming this past tense.
The second stage: During the second stage you work out what the “past participle” is. With regular verbs you do this as follows:-
- “er” ending verbs replace the “er” with “é” (e.g. jouer becomes joué)
- “ir” ending verbs replace the “ir” with “i” (e.g. partir becomes parti)
- “re” ending verbs replace the “re” with “u” (e.g. vendre becomes vendu)
The third stage: During the third stage you put the appropriate part of “avoir” (for non-movement verbs) or “être” (for movement verbs). This is followed by the appropriate past participle. Examples:
- Jouer = To play
- J’ai joué = I have played/I played
- Tu as joué = You have played/You played
- (Note: jouer – to play is a non-movement verb, so uses “avoir”)
- Aller = To go
- Je suis allé = I have gone/I went
- Tu es allé = You have gone/You went
- (Note: aller – to go is a movement verb, so uses “être”)
BE CAREFUL WITH “ÊTRE” VERBS!
Why? The “past participle” must agree with the gender and number of the people being referred to when you use an ‘être’ verb.
- Je suis allé = I have gone/I went (“I” is one male)
- Je suis allée = I have gone/I went (“I” is one female)
- Nous sommes allés = We have gone/We went (“We” are males or a mix of males & females)
- Nous sommes allées = We have gone/We went (“We” are all females)
Irregular past participles
Unfortunately there are some irregular past participles which need to be learned. (Just like in English our past participles do not always end in –ed).
These are some of the main irregular “avoir” past participles:-
- apprendre (to learn) – appris (learnt)
- avoir (to have) – eu (had)
- boire (to drink) – bu (drunk)
- conduire (to drive) – conduit (driven)
- connaître (to recognise/to know) – connu (recognised/knew)
- courir (to run) – couru (ran)
- devoir (to have to) – dû (had to)
- dire (to say/to tell) – dit (said/told)
- écrire (to write) – écrit (written)
- être (to be) – été (been)
- faire (to do/to make) – fait (done/made)
- inclure (to include/to enclose) – inclus (included/enclosed)
- lire (to read) – lu (read)
- mettre (to put) – mis (put)
- ouvrir (to open) – ouvert (opened)
- pouvoir (to be able to) – pu (been able)
- prendre (to take) – pris (taken)
- recevoir (to receive) – reçu (received)
- rire (to laugh) – ri (laughed)
- savoir (to know) – su (known)
- tenir (to hold) – tenu (held)
- voir (to see) – vu (seen)
- vouloir (to want) – voulu (wanted)
- vivre (to live) – vécu (lived)
These are some the main irregular “être” past participles:-
- devenir (to become) – devenu (became)
- mourir (to die) – mort (died)
- naître (to be born) – né (born)
- venir (to come) – venu (came)
I hope the above post has given you a good understanding of how to form the Perfect Tense in French. Please share this post using the Social Media links towards the bottom of this page.
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