Translation:These are the last words he wrote.
How does one know when the past participle must agree with the object and when it does not. In this sentence, we use ecrits instead of ecrit because mots is plural. In other sentences, the participle does not seem to need to agree with the gender or number.
When the verb form is avoir, then the past participle agrees with the direct object but only if the direct object is in front of the verb.
Il a is an avoir form. The direct object is plural mots which in this case is in front of the verb. Thus plural past participle. Apparently this is not a concern in ordinary conversation but only in writing and perhaps a formal presentation when speaking.
Direct object placed in front of avoir form obliges agreement between past participle and object. If the direct object is not so placed or is absent, then usually the past participle doesn't need to agree with anything.
Hope this helps.
Yes it does. This last/latest distinction is a common minor hurdle for native speakers of french learning English, actually. Many times, the context makes it clear which is meant (as in, why would bother even mentioning someone's latest breath), and when it is not there are common ways to stress what you mean:
- "son dernier livre en date" > to be understood as 'to this day', so his latest book
- use of non present tense "ce seront ses derniers mots" or "c'étaient ses derniers mots" tend to push to a 'definitive' meaning, therefore "his last words"
In the sentence here, 'latest' is acceptable on principle because you could imagine a context where, etc. But it sounds much more likely that 'last' is meant, i'll definitively give you that.
Glad it helps. Watch out for that 'en date' though, it's not that common and would often be odd if you just used it as the english "to this day". I'm actually tempted to say you'll see it only used with 'dernier', exactly the way i showed.
'to this day' on its own would become 'au jour d'aujourd'hui', which is not exactly light nor elegant, but actually used.
Agreement with direct object - see northernguy's explanation above or read here: