Passé Composé and Imparfait

When thinking of difference between passé composé and imparfait, I usually imagine passé composé as a dot (or several dots) and imparfait as a line.


To build this tense you should drop the -ons ending from the present indicative nous form of the verb and add the imperfect endings:
je -ais nous -ions
tu -ais vous -iez
il -ait ils -aient

I. Habitual actions or states of being

Quand j'étais petit, nous allions à la plage chaque semaine.
When I was young, we used to go to the beach every week.

II. Physical and emotional descriptions: time, weather, age, feelings

Il était midi et il faisait beau.
It was noon and the weather was nice.

III. Actions or states of an unspecified duration

Je faisais la queue parce que j'avais besoin de billets.
I stood in line because I needed tickets.

IV. Background information in conjunction with the passé composé

Il était à la banque quand il l'a trouvé.
He was at the bank when he found it.

V. Wishes or suggestions

Ah ! Si j'étais riche !
Oh, if only I were rich!

Si nous sortions ce soir ?
How about going out tonight?

VI. Conditions in si clauses

S'il voulait venir, il trouverait le moyen.
If he wanted to come, he would find a way.

VII. The expressions être en train de and venir de in the past

J'étais en train de faire la vaisselle.
I was (in the process of) doing the dishes.

Il venait d'arriver.
He had just arrived.

NB! The verb être is an exception for this tense. It's not formed from nous sommes, but takes the irregular stem ét- and the same endings as others.
AND the vous form is étieZ

Passé Composé

To my mind, this tense is one of the easiest to remember:
The formula for it is:
avoir + participe passé
J'ai déjà mangé.
Il a déjà mangé.
Nous avons déjà mangé.

Être and pronominal verbs:
être + participe passé
Je suis allé.
Il est allé.
Nous sommes allés.

This tense denotes (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.

Être Verbs used with direct object

You may think that être verbs are always used with être (or else why would they have been called like that?) But there is a 'but'. Six of these verbs can take direct object! (It's annoying, isn't it). But to think logically, it's logical! :)
These nasty guys are:

passer (BTW I haven't included this verb into the previous post)

You will understand everything after looking through examples:

Il est descendu. - He went down(stairs).
Il a descendu l'escalier. - He went down the stairs.
Il a descendu la valise. - He took the suitcase down.

Il est monté. - He went up(stairs).
Il a monté la côte. - He went up the hill.
Il a monté les livres. - He took the books up.

Je suis passé devant le parc. - I went by the park.
J'ai passé la porte. - I went through the door.
J'ai passé une heure ici. - I spent an hour here.

Je suis rentré. - I came home.
J'ai rentré les chaises. - I brought the chairs inside.

Elle est retournée en France. - She has returned to France.
Elle a retourné le livre. - She returned the book.

Elle est sortie. - She went out.
Elle a sorti la voiture - She took the car out.

So, when you see that an être verb is used with direct object, feel free to use 'avoir' instead of 'être'. Well, actually, you should do this ;)

Être Verbs

In French, compound tenses are formed with the help of auxiliary 'avoir' or 'être'. So French verbs are classified by which auxiliary verb they take (they are used with one and the same auxiliary in all the compound tenses).
Well, most of the verbs use 'avoir', and the short list of those requiring 'être' is easy to remember:

All the verbs are intransitive (can't take direct object) denoting some kind of movement.

NB! Derivatives of these verbs also use 'être'.

If you find it difficult to remember the verbs, here's a mnemonics for you (Dr and Mrs Vandertramp):

Though it includes some derivatives, the mnemonics is rather helpful, I think. (If you know a better one - please, share :)

And, of course, all pronominal verbs use être (+ 's' in the end (for Pl))

To check your grip on être verbs click here.

L'impératif des verbes pronominaux

Another tricky question is where to put pronoun in a sentence with imperative form of pronominal verbs (verbs with 'se'), such as se laver (wash oneself)

At first recall the conjugation of such verbs:

je me lave nous nous lavons
tu te lave vous vous lavez
il se lave ils se lavent

Je ne me lave pas.

And here are imperative forms:

And here is the list of mostly used pronominal verbs.

Adjectives before a Noun

It's difficult for me to remember that some adverbs in French go before the predicative. But they do.. So I should keep these adverbs in mind:

bien (already) J'ai bien entendu.
mal (bad(ly), poorly) J'ai mal préparé.
beaucoup (a lot) Il'a beaucoup changé.
assez (enough) Elle a assez vu.
peu (little) Ils ont peu fait.
trop (too much) J'ai trop mangé.
rien (nothing) Il n'a rien dit.
jamais (never) Je ne l'ai jamais vu.
encore (as well) Je ai encore visité le Louvre.
déjà (already) J'ai déjà acheté ce journal.


If in the question the noun is used with an indefinite article we can use adverbial pronoun 'en' before the predicate in the answer.

As tu un frère?
Je n'en ai pas.
J'en ai un.

'En' = 'some', 'any' or 'one'.

'En' is used instead of partitive article + noun or de+indefinite article+ noun.

Y-a-t-il beaucoup de pommes?
Il y en a beaucoup.

Avez-vous des allunettes?
J'en ai.

Faut-il acter des pommes?

NB! Partitive article in French has four forms and = 'some', 'any'.
  • du - masculine Sg
  • de la - feminine Sg
  • de l' - m or f in front of a vowel or silent h
  • des - m or f Pl

L'indicatif du Présent (Part1)

Several months of not practicing French and I can't recall how to say "you do" :) So, this table helps me a lot.

(The most stubborn forms that refuse to be kept in my head are marked pink. Probably, you've got problems with them, too..)

In French there are three verbs with unusual forms for the second person- they end on 's'. These three guys are être, faire and dire. The forms for 'you V' are êtes, faites and dites.

Verbs Conjugator

When you've got access to the Internet this site is the quickest way to check a verb conjugation.

And here is a deconjugator :)