The perfect tense (what you did)

When to use the passé composé (perfect tense)

The passé composé (perfect tense) is used to talk about things that happened in the ‎past. It is often used with past time phrases:‎

  • J’ai joué au foot hier - I played football yesterday.‎
  • Tu as mangé un sandwich à midi? - Did you eat a sandwich for lunch?‎
  • Elle a regardé un film le week-end dernier - She watched a film last weekend.‎

Here are some useful past time phrases:‎

FrenchEnglish
hieryesterday
hier soiryesterday evening / last night
lundi dernierlast Monday
la semaine dernièrelast week
le mois dernierlast month
l’année dernièrelast year

How to form the passé composé

To form the passé composé, you need three parts:‎
‎1. A noun or pronoun such as je (I), tu (you), or il/elle (he/she).‎
2. An auxiliary verb - this is either avoir (to have) or être (to be).‎
‎3. A past participle such as joué (played) or regardé (watched).‎

The auxiliary verb avoir needs to change according to who did the action (I, you, ‎he, she, etc) but the past participle stays the same.‎

Forming past participles with regular verbs

Regular -ER verbs

Most verbs in French end with -er. To form the past participle of an -ER verb, you need ‎to remove the -er from the infinitive and add :‎

  • jouer (to play) - j’ai joué - I played.
  • manger (to eat) - il a mangé - He ate.
  • habiter (to live) - tu as habité où? - Where did you live?‎
  • regarder (to watch) - j’ai regardé - I watched.

Regular -IR verbs

To make the past participle of a regular -IR verb, you need to remove the -ir from the ‎infinitive and add -i:‎

  • finir (to finish) - j’ai fini - I finished.‎
  • choisir (to choose) - tu as choisi? - Did you choose?

Regular -RE verbs

To form the past participle of regular -RE verbs, you remove the -re from the infinitive ‎and add -u:‎

  • vendre (to sell) - j’ai vendu - I sold.
  • entendre (to hear) - elle a entendu - she heard.

‎ Irregular past participles in the passé composé

Some common verbs have irregular past participles in the passé composé. This means ‎that they don’t follow the same rules as regular verbs.

Here are some useful irregular verbs and their past participles with examples:‎

Englishfrench infinitivepast participleExample
to haveavoireuJ’ai eu un accident‎ - I had an accident.‎
to beêtreétéTu as été malade? - Have you been ill?‎
to dofairefaitIl a fait ses devoirs - He did his homework.‎
to drinkboirebuElle a bu du jus d’orange - She drank orange juice.‎
to takeprendreprisJ’ai pris une photo - ‎I took a photo. ‎

Forming the passé composé with être

Some verbs (usually verbs of movement) use être in the perfect tense. Aller is an example of this:

  • Je suis allé au supermarché - I went to the supermarket.‎
  • Tu es allé à Nottingham? - Did you go to Nottingham?‎
  • Il est allé au parc - He went to the park.‎

If you are talking to or about a female person, the past participle needs to agree with the ‎person as an adjective would. An ‘e’ is added to the end of the past participle.‎ This is only when the auxiliary verb is être.‎

For more than one person you must add an 's'.

  • Je suis allée à Nice - I (female) went to Nice.‎
  • Tu es allée en Espagne? - Did you (female) go to Spain?‎
  • Elle est allée au centre sportif - She went to the sports centre.‎
A list of verbs that take être
document

Quiz

Find out how much you know about the perfect tense in French with this short quiz.