The “passé composé” – the French past tense

French Tutorial

The "passé composé" - the French past tense


The passé composé is the second tense you will likely learn in French; it is immensely common and important.

So what is the passé composé? It is used to indicate that an action happened in the past and corresponds to the English “-ed” form of the verb. For example, the past tense of the English verb “love” is “loved“; adding that “-ed” onto the end puts it in the past tense. While English has two past tenses (“I loved” vs. “I have loved”), French manages perfectly fine with just this one (there is another, the “passé simple“, but we will save that for later). The French past tense is more like this second past tense in English in that it requires another verb; here, English uses “have”: “I have loved” , “I have cleaned myself”, “I have gone”, etc.

Whereas English adds an “-ed” (in most cases) to the end of the verb to make what is called the “past participle”, French has several forms and options, depending on whether the verb is regular or irregular (more to come on those) and whether it ends in “-er” , “-re” , or “-ir”.

The simplest and most common verbs are the “-er” verbs. You can form the passé composé by removing this “-er” and adding “-é”. Next are the “-re” verbs who form their past tense by removing the “-re” and replacing it with “-u”. Lastly, the “-ir” verbs simply replace their “-ir” with “-i”.

Sample Problem

Are you ready to give it a shot?

Let’s take the verb we have been using as an example: “to love” in French is “aimer”. Can you guess what the passé composé, or past tense, of this verb would be?

Before moving onto the solutions section, try to do the same thing with these common verbs (don’t look in the dictionary or online!):





Did you guess it?

That’s right! It is “aimé“.
Pronunciation tip: the endings of past tense “-er” verbs are pronounced exactly the same as the form you will find in the dictionary; “aimer” & “aimé” are the spoken the same way!

Now for the rest, with their translations in English:

aller, “to go” -> allé
parler, “to talk” -> parlé
regarder, “to watch” -> regardé

rendre, “to give back” -> rendu
attendre, “to wait” -> attendu

finir, “to finish” -> fini
punir, “to punish” -> puni

I hope this tutorial has been helpful. I look forward to writing more and will see you later.

Bonne chance et au revoir! Good luck and until next time!

About The Author

Grammar Is Fun!
I have a Bachelor's degree in the French language and lived in France on two occasions. Part of my time there was spend tutoring French students in English. I love reading and writing and actually have fun (for real) spotting and fixing grammar mistakes. If you want to improve your reading and ...
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