1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: French
  4. >
  5. Le passé composé: the explana…


Le passé composé: the explanation of how to choose the auxiliary verb

The passé composé is the most common French past tense, therefore you'll need it every time you want to write in the past.

Luckily, you only have two auxiliary verbs to pick up from (avoir and être) but how to choose?

Firstly, most of French verbs use the auxiliary verb avoir, whilst the auxiliary être is used in some particular cases.


J'ai fait mes devoirs (I did me homework)

Elles ont gagné le match (They won the game)

But when to use the auxiliary être?

In most of the cases, the auxiliary verb être is used with pronominal verbs (se taire, se laver, se rencontrer, s'aimer...etc) and action verbs (sortir, entrer, aller, revenir, tomber...etc).


Hier, Je ne suis pas allé à l'école (Yesterday, I didn't go to school)

Il s'est lavé les mains avant de manger (He washed his hands before eating)

! With the auxiliary *être*, the conjugated verb accords with the gender and type of the phrase subject.


Elles sont allées à l'école (They went to school)

Vous vous êtes levés . (You woke up)

! All transitive verbs uses avoir as auxiliary verb. Some verbs that generally use être can be transitive in some cases and the most common example for that is the verbe tomber.


transitive: Il a tombé sa veste (He dropped his jacket)

intransitive: La nuit est tombée (The night fell)

I hope this was helpful.

August 1, 2014



I don't know how much this might help, but here's how I remember which verbs take être:

  1. The ~16 verbs that every French student should memorize, below. I remember them as ADVENT + the opposite of each, in addition to retourner, and derivatives of any of these:

A: arriver (arrive) + partir (leave)

D: descendre (descend) + monter (go up)

V: venir (come) + aller (go)

E: entrer (enter) + sortir (go out)

N: naitre (born) + mourir (die)

T: tomber (fall) + rester (stay)

Retourner (return)]


rentrer (reenter) revenir (come back) devenir (become) parvenir (reach/achieve)

Notice that each of the ADVENT verbs has an opposite, which helps in memorization; additionally, by "derivative", I mean any verb that stems from the original verb (so revenir, devenir, parvenir are all derivatives of "venir").

  1. Any reflexive verb that indicates an action being done your one's own body — also known as pronominal verbs. (i.e. se lever, se laver, etc.)

  2. Reciprocal verbs or any verb that is made reciprocal (e.g. ourselves, yourselves) by adding a reciprocal pronoun.


my french teacher also says that


DR & MRS VANDERTRAMP is a popular mnemonic that I use for remembering the "être" verbs.


(Devenir Revenir

Monter Rester Sortir

Venir Aller Naître Descendre Entrer Rentrer Tomber Retourner Arriver Mourir Partir)


Actually, Passer and Descendre depend on the context. And also tomber, but I've explained it in the thread.


Je suis passé chez toi hier soir, mais tu n'étais pas là.

J'ai passé mon temps sur l'ordinateur.


Je suis descendu à la cave pour chercher une bonne bouteille.

J'ai descendu les escaliers à toute vitesse, j'ai bien failli tomber.

<h1>Bon courage!</h1>


Yup passer is in there as well, I believe.


Most of my French teachers use that mnemonic as well - it can be quite helpful in memorizing all of the être verbs.


That was super. Thanks!


You're welcome! I try :)


A French teacher told me once - with passé compose, use etre for: "The comings and goings, the ups and downs, and the beginnings and endings of life".


I'm trying to find out- what do they mean when they say that aller can't be transitive. Je suis allé au collège. How is this transitive when it clearly has an object?


Very helpful, thanks.


you're welcome :)

  • 2457

Good, but I'd just like to know: is there any difference in the choice of auxiliaries in french and in italian? It would simplify my mental patterns quite a lot :/


They are quite similar and the superman vs cats mnemonic for italian uses a lot of the same words as french (italian version obviously). A big difference though is that être takes avoir in french but takes essere in italian

  • 2457

Merci, mais je ne connais pas cette système mnémonique que tu dis. Selon wikipédia (version italienne) l'usage de les verbes auxiliaires est quasiment le même dans les deux langues, mais avec ces exceptions:

  • les verbes être, coûter, durer, manquer, plaire, vivre
  • les auxiliaires modals

qui exigent avoir en français (au lieu de essere en italien). Spero che ci sia qualche italiano talmente pazzo da studiare il francese attraverso l'inglese cui possa interessare l'informazione!


Sorry, I don't speak Italian I can't help you with that :s you seem to be a Southern Italian though, aren't you? :p

  • 2457

How do you know that? You're giving me the creeps :D


I think I am a psychic! Beware! x)

  • 460

I should know this, but what's a transitive verb?


A transitive verb in French is a verb that requires one or more direct objects. This contrasts with intransitive verbs, which do not require objects.


je t'en prie :) (de rien is also valid)


Was very helpful. Got 98 on 100 all because of you. Thanks.


I was trying to determine how close to Italian's use of essere and avere this was. In the beginning, I thought it was exactly the same. Then I thought there were exceptions. Now with your explanation, I'm back to it being almost exactly the same as the Passato Prossimo. The only difference I see is that in Italian, when an object pronoun is used, the inifinitive matches case and number the way it would with essere/être even though it is using avere.

Learn French in just 5 minutes a day. For free.