Talking about the Past


In this lesson, you learn how to talk about events that happened in the past using the Passé Composé. You'll also learn some more common French verbs.

Flashcards are included at the end of the lesson to help you learn how to use the Passé Composé.

Past Participle

The past participle is the form a verb takes when creating the passé composé. The past participle of a verb usually ends in é, i, or u.

To form the past participle of regular verbs that end in er, replace the er with é. For example the past participle of parler, is parlé. Note that parler and parlé are pronounced the same.

To form the past participle of regular verbs that end in ir, replace the ir with i. For example the past participle of finir, is fini.

To form the past participle of regular verbs that end in re, replace the re with u. For example the past participle of vendre, is vendu.

For irregular verbs, the past participle has to be memorized, as there is no fixed rule. Here are some common irregular verbs and their past participles:

Verb Past Participle
avoir (have) eu
être (be) été
faire (do) fait
prendre (take) pris
voir (see) vu
écrire (write) écrit


Passé Composé

The passé composé is one of the most common ways to talk about the past in French. It is used to describe completed actions or events that happened in the past.

The passé composé is formed by using the present tense of an auxiliary verb (either avoir or être) and the past participle of the main verb. For example J'ai marché means both I walked and I have walked.

Most verbs use avoir as their auxiliary verb. For example:

J'ai parlé. I spoke.
Tu as mangé. You ate.
Il a dormi. He slept.

Some verbs use être as their auxiliary verb. These are usually verbs of motion or state of being, such as aller (to go), venir (to come), naître (to be born), mourir (to die), etc. For example:

Je suis allé I went
Tu es venu You came.
Il est né. He was born

Past Participle Agreement

For verbs that use être as the auxiliary verb for the passé composé, the past participle needs to agree with the subject of the sentence. For verbs that use avoir as the auxillary verb, the past participle needs to agree in gender and number if a direct object precedes the verb.


Il a descendu l'escalier. He went down the stairs.
Il est descendu de l'avion. He got off the plane.
J'ai vu un film hier. I saw a movie yesterday.
Elle a étudié toute la journée. She studied all day.
She went to the store yesterday. Elle est allée au magasin hier.
Les fenêtres que j'ai vues étaient cassées.
(Note that vues agrees with Les fenêtres in this case because it precedes the verb.)
The windows that I saw were broken.
as-tu vu mes clés ? Have you seen my keys?
Je n'ai pas vu tes clés. I haven't seen your keys.
As-tu trouvé tes clés ? Did you find your keys?
Je ne les ai pas trouvés. I didn't find them.
Je suis allé à la boulangerie chercher du pain. I went to the bakery to get some bread.
Nous avons couru le long de la plage. We ran along the beach.
Ils sont allés à Paris. They have been to Paris.


Here are some more very common French verbs.

bâtir build
courir run
détester hate
donner give
fermer close
jouer play
laver wash
manger eat
nager swim
parler talk
passer pass
penser think
porter wear, carry
regarder watch, look at
remplir fill
sembler seem
travailler work
trouver find
visiter visit
voler fly, steal
voir see



Here are some flashcards to help you learn the French verbs included in this lesson.