Passé composé (compound past) is the most commonly-used past tense verb form in French. Often used in combination with the imperfect, the passé compose can express an action completed in the past, an action repeated in the past, or a series of actions completed in the past. A passé compose verb has three possible English equivalents depending on its exact usage: simple past, past perfect, and past emphatic.
Passé Composé Conjuctations
The passé compose is a compound conjugation, meaning that it has two parts. It consists of the present tense of the auxiliary verb (avoir or être) and the past participle of the main verb. French compound verbs are sometimes subject to grammatical agreement. What part of speech the passé compose must agree with depends on the auxiliary verb used. When the auxiliary verb is être, the past participle must agree with the subject. The past participle may or may not have to agree with its direct object when the auxiliary verb is avoir, Remember that avoir and être are irregular verbs. Their conjugations don’t follow the regular ER/IR/RE rules and must be memorized. The past participle is conjugated the same way as the stand-alone past participles that we covered in the previous lesson.
Examples of Passé Composé Conjugations
AIDER – to help (Auxiliary verb is avoir)
|Je||ai aidé||Nous||avons aidé|
|Tu||as aidé||Vous||avez aidé|
|Il||a aidé||Ils||ont aidé|
DEVOIR – to owe (auxillary = avoir)
|Je||ai dû||Nous||avons dû|
|Tu||as dû||Vous||avez dû|
|Il||a dû||Ils||ont dû|
DESCENDRE – to descend (auxiliary = être)
|Je||suis descendu||Nous||sommes descend|
|Tu||es descendu||Vous||êtes descendu|
|Il||est descendu||Ils||sont descendu|
SE LAVER – to wash (pronominal verb*)
|Je||me suis lavé(e)||Nous||nous sommes lavé(e)s|
|Tu||t’es lavé(e)||Vous||vous êtes lavé(e)(s)|
|Il||s’est lavé||Ils||se sont lavés|
|Elle||s’est lavée||Elles||se sont lavées|
*A pronominal verb requires a reflexive pronoun in addition to a subject pronoun because the subject performing the action and object receiving the action are the same. We’ll cover pronominal verbs in a future lesson, but for now note that their passé compose forms incorporate the appropriate reflexive pronouns.