The perfect tense with ‘avoir’ and ‘être’ – French

avoir and etre

The perfect tense, also called ‘la passé compose’ in French, is used to describe an action in the past that is completely finished.



The perfect tense with ‘avoir’


The majority of verbs in the perfect tense use ‘avoir’ and their past participle.

To conjugate verbs in the perfect tense, you need to know the verb ‘avoir’ in the present tense and how to form past participles.


‘avoir’ in the present tense

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


To form the past participles of ‘er’ verbs:

  1. drop the ‘er’
  2. add ‘é’

Example: regarder (to watch) > regardé (watched)


To form the past participles of ‘ir’ verbs:

  1. drop the ‘r’

Example: finir (to finish) > fini (finished)


To form the past participles of ‘re’ verbs:

  1. drop the ‘re’
  2. add ‘u’

Example: attendre (to wait) > attendu (waited)




J’ai acheté son cadeau d’anniversaire.

I bought her birthday gift.


J’ai choisi une robe bleue.

I chose a blue dress.


Nous avons vendu notre maison.

We sold our house.


Note that some past participles are irregular:

prendre (to take) becomes ‘pris’

comprendre (to understand) becomes ‘compris’

ouvrir (to open) becomes ‘ouvert’…




Elle a pris ton manteau.

She took your coat.


Tu as compris?

Did you understand ?


J’ai ouvert la porte.

I opened the door.



The perfect tense with ‘être’


A few verbs use ‘être’ in the perfect tense. It is easy to remember them thanks to the Mrs Vandertramp acronym. (see below)


Verbs conjugated with ‘être’ in the perfect tense agree their past participle with the subject pronoun.


  Infinitive English Past participle
M Monter to go up monté
R Retourner to return retourné
S Rester to stay resté
V Venir to come venu
A Arriver to arrive arrivé
N Naître to be born
D Sortir to go out sorti
E Tomber to fall tombé
R Rentrer to go back in rentré
T Aller to go allé
R Mourir to die mort
A Partir to leave parti
M Entrer to enter entré
P Descendre to go down/to get off descendu



‘être’ in the present tense


je suis I am
tu es you are (informal, singular)
il, elle, on est he, she is / we are
nous sommes we are
vous êtes you are (formal, plural)
ils, elles sont they are




Elles sont restées après le concert.

They stayed after the concert.


Elle est née en 2002.

She was born in 2002.


Ils sont sortis.

They went out.