In French, we need to choose between two auxiliary verbs when conjugating in the compound tenses. While most verbs use avoir, a distinct group of verbs, loosely known as the French verbs of movement, take the auxiliary verb être.

In today’s post, we focus on these French être verbs.

Once we review être conjugation, we’ll start our lesson by learning how to identify these verbs conjugated with être, including other contexts such as reflexive verbs and the passive voice. Then we’ll cover the grammatical rules for using être as an auxiliary verb, namely with respect to gender and number agreement.

Then we hone in on the verbs of movement. We’ll see their fundamental characteristics, and then get into our full lists of French être verbs that fall into this group. We put most of our emphasis on the common verbs of movement that you should know, with tons of examples.

Now let’s get started with our lesson on French être verbs!

Être conjugation

Before we get into any explanations, let’s just review the simple present tense conjugations of être. We’ll be seeing these in our examples throughout the rest of the post, especially where we use le passé composé with être. For the rest of the tenses, check out our dedicated post on être conjugation.

je suis nous sommes
tu es vous êtes
il, elle, on est ils, elles sont

When do we use the auxiliary verb Être?

French verbs of movement are among the most common instances where we need to use être as an auxiliary verb, but there are a couple of other situations where we also see French verb conjugation using être. Let’s take a quick look at each one so we can recognize when we’re seeing reflexive verbs, the passive voice, or movement verbs.

Reflexive verbs

Reflexive verbs are those where the action of the verb is performed by the subject upon itself. We can recognize reflexive verbs by their reflexive pronouns, whether se in the infinitive or others such as me or te when conjugated.

Some French reflexive verbs have obvious English counterparts like se laver (to wash oneself) or se maquiller (to put makeup on [oneself]), whereas other French reflexive verbs aren’t as obvious to English speakers, such as se souvenir (to remember) or se réveiller (to wake up).

Reflexive verbs in French always use être as their auxiliary verb in compound tenses. Let’s see a few examples in le passé composé.

  • Je me suis douché après mon entraînement. – I showered [myself] after training.
  • Ma mère s’est contentée d’une nuitée au chalet. – My mom contented herself with a night at the cottage.
  • Nous nous sommes réveillés quand l’avion attérissait. – We woke up when the plane landed.

Passive Voice

In the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is acted upon by the verb. This construction relies on the use of être conjugated as the auxiliary verb, along with the past participle of the action verb.

These aren’t compound conjugations in the same sense that we see with reflexive verbs and verbs of movement, even though they have a similar appearance. For a full explanation, see our detailed post on the French passive voice.

  • Le champ est inondé chaque printemps. – The field is inundated every spring.
  • Notre grande-mère était hospitalisée suite à l’accident. – Our grandmother was hospitalized after the accident.
  • Les œuvres de mon artiste préféré sont vendues dans cette galerie. – The works of my favorite artist are sold in this gallery.

Movement verbs

French verbs of movement form a unique category that takes être to form compound tenses. These verbs typically describe physical movement or a change of state or place. Since the focus of this post is on this group of être verbs, we’ll look at them in greater detail through the rest of today’s lesson.

Grammar: Gender and number agreement

Before we move on to our verbs of movement, let’s get our basic grammar rules straight.

When using any of these verbs in compound tenses, the past participle of être verbs must agree in gender and number with the subject. This is in contrast to the rest of the French verbs which take avoir as an auxiliary verb, where the participle remains unchanged for all subjects.

This agreement is shown through the addition of an ‑e for feminine subjects, an ‑s for plural masculine subjects, and both for plural feminine subjects: ‑es. The rest of the past participle’s spelling remains unchanged.

This rule applies not only to the verbs of movement we’re focusing on here, but also when using reflexive verbs or the passive voice as we saw above. We already demonstrated this rule when we introduced those contexts; from here on we’ll see this rule applied in all our examples where we use the passé composé with être verbs of motion.

  • Notre fils est allé au Canada, notre fille est allée en Belgique, nos nièces sont allées en Espagne et nous sommes allés au Maroc. – Our son went to Canada, our daughter went to Belgium, our nieces went to Spain, and we went to Morocco.

For more details on how to use the past participle, see our full lesson on le participe passé.

Pronunciation

For the most part, the endings we’ve just seen don’t change the pronunciation of the past participle: the additional ‑e , ‑s, and ‑es are normally silent.

In sentences where the participle ends in  and the following word begins with a vowel, the usual rules of French liaison come into play so the ‑s is pronounced.

For past participles that normally end in a silent ‑t, the addition of an ‑e leads us to pronounce the ‑t‑ after all. The être verb we’re referring to here is mourir: its masculine participle forms, mort and morts, are pronunced with a silent ending, while in its feminine participle forms, morte and mortes, we clearly pronounce the ‑t‑.

Characteristics of movement verbs

Now that we’ve gotten through all the general rules about French verbs that are conjugated with être, we’re ready to bring our focus specifically to the verbs of movement. We’ll start by looking at their defining characteristics, and then get into our lists of French movement verbs.

The French verbs of motion which require the use of être in their compound tenses have a few characteristics that tell them apart from the rest of the French verbs. Though we broadly consider them to be movement verbs or motion verbs, let’s take a quick look at some of the nuances of this sense of movement:

  • Physical relocation: These verbs often denote a change in location or position (to go, to leave, to stay).
  • Directional change: Verbs that imply moving towards, away, or around a point (to go up, to fall, to return).
  • State transition: Verbs indicating a transition from one state to another (to become, to appear, to to die).

In general, if a verb falls into one of these categories, then it’s one of our French être verbs. Now let’s move on to our lists of movement verbs in French.

The French verbs of movement: Vocab lists

In reality, there are only a handful of French verbs that take être in their compound tenses. We’ll cover these common French être verbs in our first few lists here, since these verbs constitute the vast majority of instances where we use être in this sense.

Nonetheless, there’s a long tail of French verbs that usually take avoir, but for which it can sometimes be gramatically correct to use être. For completeness, we include this list of verbs at the end, most of which are quite uncommon anyway.

Unless you’re really interested in the grammatical outliers, we recommend that you just focus on these first lists. If you know these ones, you’ll master 99% of the French verbs that take être in their compound tenses!

DR MRS VANDERTRAMP Verbs

Many native French speakers remember which verbs take être through this acronym, since DR MRS VANDERTRAMP covers the most common verbs of motion. Here’s the most important list of French motion verbs and their corresponding past participles.

French verb, infinitive English verb, infinitive French past participle
Devenir to become devenu
Revenir to come back revenu
Monter* to go up monté
Rentrer* to reenter rentré
Sortir* to go out sorti
Venir to come venu
Arriver to arrive arrivé
Naître to be born
Descendre* to descend descendu
Entrer* to enter entré
Retourner* to return retourné
Tomber* to fall tombé
Rester to stay resté
Aller to go allé
Mourir to die mort
Partir to leave parti

* These verbs can take either être or avoir, depending on the context

Verbs that can take Être or Avoir

So far we’ve been saying that the verbs in this lesson need to take être as an auxiliary verb in the compound tenses. This is usually the case, particularly when the use of the verbs meets the criteria of movement we explained above.

On the other hand, some of these verbs can also be used in such a way that they don’t express movement in the same way. Usually, it’s a matter of going vs bringing. In these cases when the verb is used to describe bringing, they take avoir as their auxiliary verb. Let’s see these two situations in action through some examples.

  • Elle est montée au dernier étage avec l’ascenseur. – She went up to the top floor with the elevator.
  • Elle a monté son vélo au dernier étage avec l’ascenseur. – She took her bike up to the top floor with the elevator.
  • Quand la pluie a commencé, je suis rentré à la maison et j’ai rentré le parasol. – When the rain started, I went back inside the house and I brought in the parasol.
  • Nous sommes sortis sur la terrasse pour l’apéro. – We went out onto the patio for happy hour.
  • Nous avons sorti le fromage et le vin pour l’apéro. – We brought out the cheese and wine for happy hour.
  • Êtes-vous retournés au magasin avec l’électroménager cassé ? – Did you return to the store with the broken appliance?
  • Avez-vous retourné l’électroménager cassé au magasin ? – Did you return the broken appliance to the store?

Verbs that always take Être

The other verbs we saw in the list above always take être. These are the verbs that really epitomize the characteristics we laid out above. Unlike the ones we just saw, these ones can’t really be used in such a way where they could take avoir as the auxiliary verb.

  • Après son doctorat, ma tante est devenue professeure. – After her doctorate, my aunt became a professor.
  • Ma soeur et sa copine sont parties en voyage en été, mais elles sont revenues en septembre. – My sister and her girlfriend went away on their travels for the summer, but they came back in September.
  • Jérôme et son frère sont venus à notre soirée avec Antoine. – Jérôme and his brother came to our party with Antoine.
  • Qu’est-ce qui est arrivé vers minuit ? – What happened at around midnight?
  • Notre grande-mère etait née en Corse, et elle est morte en Provence. – Our grandmother was born in Corsica, and she died in Provence.
  • Nous sommes restés trois mois chez nous durant la pandemie. – We stayed home for three months during the pandemic.
  • Nous ne serions jamais allées aux danseuses avec nos maris. – We would never have gone to the strip joint with our husbands.

In addition to these common verbs that use être in the passé composé, a few other French verbs also follow this same rule that they can only use être in their compound conjugations. Most are derivatives of venir, while décéder is a synonym of mouirir. Renaître is rarely used in compound tenses.

French verb, infinitive English verb, infinitive French past participle
advenir to happen, to come to advenu
intervenir to intervene intervenu
obvenir to occur, to happen obvenu
parvenir to achieve, to reach parvenu
provenir to originate, to stem provenu
survenir to occur, to arise survenu
décéder to pass away, to die décédé
renaître to be reborn, to revive rené
  • Il est advenu que l’usine soit fermée juste avant sa retraite. – It came about that the factory closed just before his retirement.
  • Les policiers sont intervenus à trois reprises. – The police intervened three times.
  • Elvis Presley et Marilyn Monroe sont tous les deux décédés à l’âge de 33 ans. – Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe both died at the age of 33.

Other important verbs that are usually conjugated with Être

So far we’ve seen the most important French être verbs that you should know. A few others aren’t quite as common, and can also sometimes be used with avoir, but since they’re usually used with être we’ll make a point of introducing them in this section.

French verb, infinitive English verb, infinitive French past participle
apparaître to appear apparu
convenir to suit, to agree convenu
demeurer to reside, to remain demeuré
disparaître to disappear disparu
éclore to hatch, to bloom éclos
passer to pass, to spend time passé
réapparaître to reappear réapparu
redescendre to go back down redescendu
repasser to pass by again, to iron repassé
ressortir to go back out ressorti
  • Ça veut dire quoi si des corbeaux sont apparus dans mon rêve ? – What does it mean if crows appeared in my dream?
  • Cette jupe t’est convenue quand t’était plus jeune, mais là, elle ne te convient plus. – This skirt suited you when you were young, but now, it doesn’t suit you anymore.
  • La victime est demeurée silencieuse lors de l’interrogation. – The victim remained silent during the interrogation.
  • Leurs traces sont disparues dans la tempête. – Their footprints disappeared in the snowstorm.
  • Les bactéries sont éclos rapidement à la suite de la coupure du courant. – The bacteria multiplied rapidly following the power outage.
  • Élodie est passée cet après-midi pour emprunter les clés, et elle est repassée une deuxième fois nous les retourner. – Élodie passed by this afternoon to borrow the keys, and she passed by again a second time to return them to us.
  • Le renard est reapparu à nouveau près de la piscine. – The fox reappeared by the pool once again.
  • Avec toutes ces livraisons, je suis redescendu trop de fois aujourd’hui. – With all these deliveries, I went downstairs again too many times today.
  • La souris est enfin ressortie du plafond ! – The mouse finally went back out of the ceiling!

Other French verbs sometimes conjugated with Être

We’re including this last list of French être verbs for completeness. Most of these verbs are quite uncommon, and they’re also usually conjugated with avoir. We went through thousands of French verbs to see which ones are nonetheless sometimes (even if rarely) conjugated with être in their compound tenses, so we present them all here.

Unless you’re really interested in these ones to learn more vocab, we recommend just skipping this section’s verbs. Still, since we’re offering this post as a comprehensive reference on French verbs conjugated with être, we feel obliged to include them.

French verb, infinitive English verb, infinitive French past participle
accoucher to give birth accouché
accourir to run up accouru
accroître to increase, to grow accru
alunir to land on the moon aluni
amerrir to land on water amerris
atterrir to land atterri
augmenter to increase augmenté
avorter to abort, to miscarry avorté
baisser to lower, to decrease baissé
camper to camp campé
changer to change changé
chavirer to capsize chaviré
choir to fall chu
commencer to begin, to start commencé
croître to grow, to increase crû
crouler to crumble, to collapse croulé
croupir to languish, to rot croupi
déborder to overflow débordé
décamper to decamp, to clear out décampé
déchoir to decline, to degrade déchu
décroître to decrease décru
dégeler to thaw dégelé
dégénérer to degenerate dégénéré
diminuer to decrease, to diminish diminué
disconvenir to be unsuitable disconvenu
divorcer to divorce divorcé
échapper to escape échappé
échoir to fall due, to expire échu
échouer to fail, to run aground échoué
embellir to beautify, to enhance embelli
empirer to worsen empiré
expirer to expire expiré
grandir to grow up grandi
grossir to gain weight grossi
jaillir to gush, to spring forth jailli
maigrir to lose weight maigri
paraître to seem, to appear paru
pourrir to rot, to decay pourri
rajeunir to rejuvenate rajeuni
réchapper to escape, to survive réchappé
récidiver to relapse, to reoffend récidivé
reparaître to reappear reparu
ressusciter to resurrect ressuscité
résulter to result résulté
sonner to ring, to sound sonné
stationner to park, to station stationné
tourner to turn, to shoot (film) tourné
trépasser to pass away, to die trépassé
vieillir to age, to grow old vieilli

Conclusion: French Être verbs

Understanding and correctly using French verbs of movement with être is a fundamental aspect of fluency in the French language. This lesson provided an detailed overview of how to identify these verbs of movement, particularly alongside their être verb counterparts in the passive voice and in the reflexive. For all three categories of être verbs, we covered the grammar rules of gender and number agreement as well as pronunciation.

Then we focused on the French verbs of motion. We saw their defining characteristics, and then went through a few lists of the most important motion verbs that every French learner should know. For completeness, we ended with a list of other French verbs that may also take être as an auxiliary verb.

Overall, this post serves as a comprehensive reference to the French verbs of motion that take être in the passé composé and other compound tenses. We saw so many examples of these verbs in action, so now you’re ready to correctly use the French être verbs!

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