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The past participle agreement

You may have noticed that past participles used with "être" have to agree with the subject.

For example:

Je suis parti - a man or a boy is speaking

Je suis partie - a woman or a girl is speaking

Nous sommes partis - some men or men and women are speaking

Nous sommes parties - some women are speaking

Unlike this, the participles used with "avoir" don't have to agree with the subject: Il a écrit une lettre, Nous avons écrit une lettre, etc.

But here comes a curious thing. If the direct object (like "une lettre" in the previous example) is substituted with a pronoun (la), it has to go before the past participle. And in that case, the participle has to agree with the direct object.


J'ai écrit une lettre. Je l'ai écrite. ("Une lettre" is feminine → "la" (though contracted to "l' ") → écrite.)

J'ai vu mes parents. Je les ai vus. ("Les parents" is plural → les → vus.)

J'ai lavé les chaussettes. Je les ai lavées. ("Les chaussettes" is feminine plural → les → "e" for feminine and "s" for plural → lavees.)

Il m'a vue - I am a girl, so "me" (m') here refers to the feminine direct object, thus it is "vue", not "vu". Similar: Il nous a vus - vus for masculine or mixed plural, vues for feminine plural.

Here is an example from a Duolingo lesson: Cette femme, je l'ai connue pendant deux ans. ("Connue" for "la" for "femme".)

This is not only with pronouns, but with nouns as well.

La viande qu'il a cuisinée est dans le four. - "La viande" is feminine and comes before the participle, thus it is "cuisinée".

To put it short:

The past participle used with "être" has to agree with the subject.

The past participle used with "avoir" and coming after the direct object has to agree with the direct object.

August 12, 2012



@gualberrto: Thanks :) One of my French friends has explained this to me very clearly. So I felt like sharing it, because there are no grammar guides here on Duo.


Just to add one more subtlety: in some cases, the "verbes pronominaux" (called "reflexive verbs" in English I believe) -- which always form their "passé composé" with être -- have not the agreement of the "participe passé"...
See (in French): http://www.etudes-litteraires.com/verbes-pronominaux-participe-passe.php.

Well just for you to know, but don't worry French people have already difficulties with the avoir-rule so with this one, we do even more mistakes... :)


You know Olimo. I think you are becoming a good teacher. The explanation is very clear.


@mjtjob: yes, it is.

Je suis parti - a man or a boy is speaking

This is not a translation, it is an explanation. A man would say "Je suis parti", but a woman would say "Je suis partie". OK?


I saw your complaint about how Pronouns 2 was an "incredibly hard unit" and indeed it did require a bit of wrestling with that one. But I made it. Interesting how you said that Compound Past was easier by comparison. I really seem to have hit the wall on that one! Try as I might, but I keep on making early mistakes, then cancelling the lessons, then retrying then, then making more early mistakes, then cancelling. Rinse, repeat. No progress. My policy: I have to get at least seven answers out of 20 correct initially in order to even proceed. Otherwise, I know shit's gonna hit the fan and failure is imminent. It's like there are rules for forming the compound past that I'm not at all familiar with and it may require me weeks, rather than hours of hard work to even learn them by rote. Which is pretty ❤❤❤❤❤❤❤ discouraging now that I think of it. I'd like to hope that after a certain point, everything will come easier. But I guess this is the worst of the uphill struggles. Or maybe I'm just different (read: much less talent for foreign languages than anyone who becomes a polyglot without too much strain, or perhaps not having the necessary parts in the brain developed that a language learner needs the most).


Compound Past was easier for me because I had learned the principles of it before starting this skill on Duolingo. What rules are you having troubles with? Do you use any external grammar resources?

I hate to discourage you, but there are still very hard units in store... Subjunctive was a real nightmare.


Well, for one, I can't figure out the use of s'est or se sont (insert verb here). I can't recall it for now, but I think one of the sentences included s'est-il (insert a verb here). And in a more general sense I also have to admit: articles are a bitch! Even in English I sometimes ❤❤❤❤ it up with the articles and in French it's worse. Peut-etre il faut utiliser les exterieurs resources de la grammaire.


"S'est" and "se sont" appear with reflexive verbs. Let's take the verb "se coucher" (to go to bed). Watch the present and the past compound tenses:

  • je me couche - je me suis couché(e)

  • tu te couches - tu t'es couché(e)

  • il se couche - il s'est couché

  • elle se couche - elle s'est couchée

  • on se couche - on s'est couché

  • nous nous couchons - nous nous sommes couché(e)s

  • vous vous couchez - vous vous êtes couché(e)(s)

  • ils se couchent - ils se sont couchés

  • elles se couchent - elles se sont couchées

As you can see, "s'est" is used with 3rd person singular and "se sont" with 3rd person plural.

See also:

I find the entire resource http://www.laits.utexas.edu/tex/gr/index.html very helpful.


Thanks. It does look like reflexive verbs are very common in Romance languages. I have no idea how have some of these languages evolved to have so many hard rules, but it makes sense that part of the problem is struggling with the unfamiliar territory.

Another problem: I have a hard time making out the heard words precisely. I'm constantly using the slower audio and even then I can miss the exact words. How can I even hope to understand spoken French if at this stage, everything sounds like a high-speed sputter to my ears?


In fact, it is English that evolved to less rules concerning conjugations, cases and articles ;-)

Your other problem is only solved by practice. You may also want to add some podcasts in French to your learning, they are a great help to boost your listening comprehension. I recommend http://learnfrenchbypodcast.com/ (more fluent) or http://coffeebreakfrench.com/ (more slow).


Just did lessons three and four of this unit. Gad, they're much easier, it was mostly lesson two that gave me trouble. And part of the problem was about all these crazy reflexive verbs. So, if I got an English sentence, how do I recognise it calls for a French reflexive verb?


See my first link: http://www.laits.utexas.edu/tex/gr/vpr1.html. There are some explanations on reflexive verbs. And of course you have just to learn the words sometimes.


@Olimo: your example "Il m'a donnée un livre - I am a girl, so "me" (m') here refers to the feminine direct object, thus it is "donnée", not "donné". Similar: Il nous a donnés un livre - donnés for masculine or mixed plural, données for feminine plural." is wrong, unfortunately. Correct forms are : "Il m'a donné un livre" (livre is the object and placed after the verb) - m' stands for "à moi" (indirect object - not to agree witih the verb). Same applies to : "il nous a donné un livre". I know, this is a nightmare for French people as well...


@Sitesurf: thanks a lot! This is not a nightmare, I understand your point clearly. Please have a look again, I've replaced this example with another with "voir". Is it ok?


i know that this is a 4month old comment, but i just wanted to tell you that i found it enormously helpful


I'm glad it helped :)


Thanks @olimo... this is really helpful


Agreed, and it is now 14 months old, but the rules of French are still the same! Thank you.


Still helping people even after 4 years :) thank you!


I know that this is a 7 month old comment, but I just wanted to tell you that I agree with you :)


This discussion is awesome! I wish I had read it before I struggled my way through the skill :D (I guess that proves you right about the way in which grammar can make things easier)


Erm, isn't "parti" the past participle of "partir" (to leave) and not "parler" (to speak)? Other than that, it makes sense, thanks!


Yes, and your explanation of the different uses of past participles depending on whether they use être or avoir is helpful. Thanks :)


Well explained or should it be well explaineeds :-)


Very helpful, thanks for this!


thanks for your explanation


thanks very much for the note. but i found a sentence in duolingo "les choses que nous avons pensees et faites" why here we have to agree with the subject in "avoir" type?


The rule is respected.
les choses (feminine plural) is the D.O. of the verbs avons pensé(e)(s) and avons fait(e)(s). Since it's placed before the verb, the past participle agrees with this feminine plural D.O.
=> pensées, faites.


thanks, in the past, i just thought the rule only with the pronouns, actually also for the nouns.


Yes, it's for "any kind" of D.O.. For example, here, in fact the (gramatical) D.O. is que, but it goes for les choses which is feminine plural.


@olimo thnx so much this really is most helpful :) Could you also tell me where I can learn about infinitifs?


thank you, this clears the confusion


I'm confused with "Le mari et sa femme se sont telephoné."...why doesn't rule for 3


The reason is that he French verb "téléphoner" is constructed with an indirect object after the preposition "à".

  • To call someone = Appeler quelqu'un but Téléphoner à quelqu'un.

In other words, the reflexive pronoun "se" is not a direct object but an indirect object and in this case, the past participle does not agree with the reflexive pronoun.

Please compare:

  • Ils se sont appelés: "se" is a direct object, so "appelés" agrees with the masculine plural "se".
  • Ils se sont téléphoné: "se" is an indirect object, so "appelé does not agree.


Thank you for that explanation.


Thank you so much. I use the Duolingo app, and when lessons using a past participle came up, I found it very confusing. I wish the app had some way of linking to explanations like the one you have given here.


If you use the online version on your phone, you can access all our Tips&Notes from this recap page: https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/29888394


I've been getting incorrect from duolingo because it wants past participle to agree even with avior as a helping verb. Next time I do one I'll give you an example. Also why does it say, qu'il nous a dite hier. Why isn't dite the regular past participle: dit? any help?


Either you have not read the whole thread, nor clicked on the links given above, or you have not fully understood the rules.

Once again for you, the rules of agreement for the past participle in French:

With the auxiliary "être", the PP agrees with the subject: Elle est partie.

With the auxiliary "avoir", the PP never agrees with the subject.

  • the PP does not agree with a direct object placed after the verb: J'ai dit la phrase.
  • the PP only agrees with a direct object placed before the verb: C'est la phrase que j'ai dite.


I admit I read the initial instruction but not the entire thread. I found this info after some research on another site. Thank You so much! it's very frustrating sometimes.

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