The Recent Past in French


We use le passé récent (the recent past) to talk about completed actions that happened shortly before the moment of speaking. In English, we use the construction have just + past participle, while in French we use the conjugated form of the verb venir. The passé récent is used to speak about a completed action that took place shortly before the moment of speaking. We can compare the recent past with the English structure have just + past participle. Create a verb in the recent past, or passé récent, by combining the present tense of venir ("to come") with the preposition de and the action verb's infinitive, a single word that is the basic, unconjugated form of the verb.

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The recent past, also called the immediate past, describes exactly what it sounds like. It is used to express something that “has just happened” in the recent or immediate past. To form the recent past, or le passé récent, you use the newly learned conjugation of venir. What the recent past literally translates to is “has come to do something.” The complete formula looks like this:

Subject + conjugated form of venir in the present tense + de + infinitive of the action verb

Take a look at these examples:

Je viens de payer. → I just paid. (I’ve come to pay)

Il vient de finir son travail. → He just finished his work. (He has come to finish his work)

Nous venons de rendre visite à notre grand-mère. → We just saw our grandmother. (We have come to see our grandmother)

To review the conjugations of venir, see Module 10. The Quizlet set in this module also practices a variety of sentences in le passé récent with verb infinitives that you can learn and review (several of which we will be learning in the following module).

In the past tense, or to say something “had just happened” (notice the difference between “has” and “had” from the original explanation in the first paragraph), we would use the imperfect tense of venir in the formula. This is a tense that you will learn in A2.2, so we will revisit le passé récent with the imperfect tense in a later module.

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:
Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
Specific Capabilities at this Level
I can write short, simple notes and messages relating to matters in areas of immediate needs. I can write a very simple personal letter, for example thanking someone for something.
Spoken Production:
I can use a series of phrases and sentences to describe in simple terms my family and other people, living conditions, my educational background and my present or most recent job.
Spoken Interaction:
I can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar topics and activities. I can handle very short social exchanges, even though I can’t usually understand enough to keep the conversation going myself.
I can read very short, simple texts. I can find specific, predictable information in simple everyday material such as advertisements, prospectuses, menus and timetables and I can understand short simple personal letters.
I can understand phrases and the highest frequency vocabulary related to areas of most immediate personal relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local area, employment). I can catch the main point in short, clear, simple messages and announcements.