The French past participle, participe passé, has several important roles. It is used in the creation of compound moods and tenses, can be used as an adjective, and is also part of the passive voice. While English past participles usually end in –ed or –en, their French counterparts end in –é, –i, or –u.
Compound verb tenses and moods are composed of a conjugated auxiliary verb (avoir or être) plus the past participle. These include the passé compose (compound past tense), pluperfect (past perfect), and future perfect verb forms. The past participle is also used with être to conjugate the passive voice, similar to how the passive voice takes a be + past participle construction in English. Finally, the past participle may be used as an adjective, either by itself or paired with être. When used in the passive voice or as an adjective, the past participle must agree in gender and number with the word that it modifies. Depending on how it is used, the past participle may or may not need to agree in gender/number when part of a compound tense.
Conjugating the Past Participle
An infinitive becomes a past participle by dropping the infinitive ending of the verb and adding the appropriate past participle ending. Add é to –ER verbs, i to –IR verbs, and u to –RE verbs. We’ve included three examples of each below. Note that most irregular French verbs have irregular past participles as well.
|chanter (to sing)||chanté (sang)|
|fermer (to close)||fermé (closed)|
|parler (to speak)||parlé (spoke)|
|choisir (to choose)||choisi (to chose)|
|finir (to finish)||fini (finished)|
|réussir (to succeed)||réussi (succeeded)|
|descendre (to descend)||descendu (descended)|
|rendre (to return)||rendre (returned)|
|vendre (to sell)||vendu (sold)|