French The Past Tense with avoir

Beginner French - Level A2

Overview

The French irregular verb avoir, which means "to have", is one of the most frequently used of all French verbs. Avoir is also an auxiliary verb, which means it's used to form compound tenses, such as the passé composé. 

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French The Past Tense with avoir

The past tense is one of the most useful grammar tools for everyday conversations. To talk about what you did yesterday, over the weekend, last summer, or just a couple minutes ago requires knowledge of the passé composé in French. The passé composé literally means the “compound tense,” or the past tense that is made up of two components.

To conjugate a verb in the passé composé, you should follow the formula below:

Subject            +          Auxiliary Verb            +          Past Participle             +          Agreement

Now, what does this formula mean?

Subject = Who or what the sentence is talking about. As we know, the subject can be any noun, person’s name, or subject pronoun (Je, Tu, Il, etc…)

Auxiliary Verb = In English, the auxiliary verb is called the “helping verb.” The helping verbs we use in French are either avoir or être. Most often, avoir is used. The auxiliary verb is conjugated for the subject. Review how to conjugate avoir in A1.1 Module 4.

Past Participle = The past participle is a component of the compound past tense that shows an action has been done in the past. In English, common past participles end in -ed. Some examples include “baked,” “smiled,” or “kicked.” In French, there are regular and irregular past participles. Regular past participles come with regular verbs, which we learned throughout the modules in A1.1 and A1.2. The ending of each of the regular verbs is removed and then replaced.

Regular Past Participles

-er verbs → -é

 

parler → parlé

étudier → étudié

habiter → habité

-ir verbs → -i

 

choisir → choisi

finir → fini

réussir → réussi

-re verbs-u

 

attendre → attendu

perdre → perdu

répondre → répondu

  

Irregular Past Participles

 

Verb

Past participle

English

avoir

eu

had

boire

bu

drunk

comprendre

compris

understood

connaître

connu

known

croire

cru

believed

devoir

had to

dire

dit

said

écrire

écrit

written

être

été

been

faire

fait

done/made

lire

lu

read

mettre

mis

put

ouvrir

ouvert

opened

pouvoir

pu

been able to

prendre

pris

taken

savoir

su

known

voir

vu

seen

vouloir

voulu

wanted

 

Agreement: Agreeing the past participle with the gender and number of the subject is done by adding -e, -s, or -es. However, this is most often done only when être is used as the auxiliary verb. You will learn about when to use être (as opposed to avoir) in the following Module. For this lesson, we can disregard the “Agreement” part of the formula.

Examples: The following sentences are conjugated in the passé composé and labeled by color according to the formula.

Jai regardé un film hier.                                            I watched a movie yesterday.

Tu as fini ton repas.                                                    You finished your meal.

Elle a attendu le train.                                                 She waited for the train.

Nous avons fait une promenade.                                We took a walk.

Vous avez lu le journal.                                              You read the newspaper.

Ils ont ouvert la porte.                                                 They opened the door.

Negation:

As we know, when you want to negate a sentence in the French, you need to place the “ne” and “pas” around the verb. In the past tense, the “ne” and “pas” sandwich the auxiliary verb, as it is the conjugated verb in the sentence. A common mistake among beginners is placing the “ne” and “pas” around the past participle. The past participle is no longer the conjugated verb of the sentence. In this lesson, the “ne” and “pas” sandwich avoir.

Je n’ai pas regardé un film hier.                                             I didn’t watch a movie yesterday.

Nous n’avons pas fait une promenade.                                   We did not take a walk.

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Directions: Write the past participle for each of the following regular verbs

 

  • donner (to give)
  • sortir (to go out)
  • entendre (to hear)

 

Directions: Complete each sentence with passé composé. First, conjugate avoir correctly in the first blank of each sentence. Then, choose which past participle in the parenthesis makes the most sense with the context of each sentence by using the charts above.

 

  • J’ ____   _____ du café lundi matin. (répondu, bu)
  • Thibaut ____ ______ avec ses amis. (parlé, fait)
  • Moi et mes sœurs, nous _____ ______ notre père au magasin. (vu, fini)
  • Vous n’_____ pas ________ le match. On a gagné! (lu, perdu)

 

Answers and Translation:

 

  • donné
  • sorti
  • entendu
  • J’ai bu / I drank some coffee Monday morning.
  • Thibaut a parlé / Thibaut talked with his friends.
  • nous avons vu / Me and my sisters, we talked with our friends.
  • Vous navez pas perdu / You didn’t lose the game. You won!

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