The perfect (past) tense with avoir and être

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  • Created by: umyesok
  • Created on: 12-12-17 15:23

When to use the perfect tense

The perfect tense is used to talk about something that happened in the past - an action that is completely finished, eg: she watched TV, she has watched TV.

The perfect tense is sometimes used with time phrases such as:

French                        English

hier                             yesterday

hier matin                 yesterday morning

hier soir                     yesterday evening

le week-end dernier  last weekend

lundi dernier              last Monday

la semaine dernière   last week

le mois dernier            last month

l'année dernière          last year

How to form the perfect tense

You need two parts to form the perfect tense:

  • the present tense of avoir or être – this is known as an auxiliary verb
  • the past participle of the main verb

A past participle is when you take the infinitive of the verb (ie a verb taken straight from the dictionary ending in -er, -ir, -re) and you change it into the past, eg:

  • to watch → watched
  • to finish → finished
  • to sell → sold

Forming the perfect tense with avoir

How to make a past participle for regular verbs used with avoir:

Choose the verb you want to use.

For verbs ending in -er, take off -er and add :

parler (to speak) → parl + éparlé = spoken

For verbs ending in -ir, take off -ir and add -i:

choisir (to choose) → chois + ichoisi = chosen

For verbs ending -re, take off -re and add -u:

vendre (to sell) → vend + uvendu = sold

How to form the perfect tense with avoir

Once you have formed your past participle, you need to select the correct part of avoir you want to use.

1. You must choose a part of avoir in the present tense, eg:

EnglishSubject pronounAvoir – to have I j’ ai you (informal) tu as he/she/it (we) il/elle/on a we nous avons you (formal, plural) vous avez they ils/elles ont

2. Now add your chosen past participle:

-er verb: parler-ir verb: choisir-re verb: vendre parlé choisi vendu

  • j’ai + parlé = I spoke/I have spoken
  • nous avons + choisi = we chose/we have…

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