The past participle agreement
You may have noticed that past participles used with "être" have to agree with the subject.
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.
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... :)
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.
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).
@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...
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.
- 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.
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.