The French past participle, called le participe passé, is an essential verb form that you will come across all the time in the French language. Past participle French is pretty similar to its English counterpart, where the past participle usually ends in –ed or –en. In French, past participles generally end in –é, –i, and –u, with a few exceptions, bien-sûr !
The French past participle has three main usages. First and foremost, it is essential in the creation of the compound tenses such as le passé composé. In addition, it is also used to form the passive voice, and even adjectives!
In this post, you will find out why we use the past participle so often in French, how to form it according to the ending of the verb, and what are the rules of agreements. C’est parti !
When do we need the French past participle?
The French past participle is used for three different scenarios: to create compound verbs, to form the passive voice, and to make adjectives. Let’s review them all in detail.
The French past participle to form compound tenses
Compound tenses in French are formed with a combination of the conjugated auxiliary verb être or avoir, and a past participle. The same formula applies to all of the compound tenses, just with the auxiliary verbs conjugated in different simple tenses.
Le participe passé remains a constant in all of the compound tenses. To demonstrate this, we’ll look at a series of examples here which all use the past participles of the French verbs aller and écrire: allé and écrit.
The most common compound tense in French is the passé composé, which refers to past completed actions. Here, the past participle is added to the auxiliary verb conjugated in the present tense.
- I went to Mathew’s. – Je suis allé chez Mathew.
- I wrote to her aunt – J’ai écrit à sa tante.
Another compound past tense is the plus-que-parfait, which is used to talk about anterior actions in the past. Here, the auxiliary verb is conjugated in the imparfait.
- At this time last year, I had gone to Mathew’s. – L’an dernier à cette période, j’étais allé chez Mathew.
- Before seeing her again, I had written to her aunt to get some news. – Avant de la revoir, j’avais écrit à sa tante pour prendre des nouvelles.
The French past participle is also used to form the passé antérieur, which has the same purpose as the plus-que-parfait, but in its literary form. In this case, the auxiliary verb is conjugated in the passé simple.
- As soon as I had gone to Mathew’s, he felt better. – Dès que je fus allé chez Mathew, il se senti mieux.
- When I had written to her aunt, she told me the news. – Quand j’eus écrit à sa tante, elle m’annonça la nouvelle.
Similarly, past participle French is needed to form the futur antérieur, a tense that describes a future action that will happen at a certain time. In this case, the auxiliary verb is conjugated in le futur simple.
- When I will eventually have gone to Mathew’s, I will feel calmer. – Quand je serai enfin allé chez Mathew, je me sentirai plus tranquille.
- As soon as I will have written to her aunt, I will be able to move on. – Dès que j’aurai écrit à sa tante, je pourrais passer à autre chose.
The same construction applies in the conditionnel passé. The auxiliary verb, conjugated in le conditionnel présent, is used with a past participle to talk about events or actions that would have happened in the past if another action had taken place.
- I would have gone to Mathew’s if I knew he came back. – Je serais allé chez Mathew si j’avais su qu’il était rentré.
- I would have written to her aunt if only I had the time. – J’aurai écrit à sa tante si seulement j’avais eu le temps.
- I need to have gone to Mathew’s before I go to work. – Il faut que je sois allé chez Mathew avant d’aller au travail.
- Even though I had written to her aunt, she didn’t forgive me. – Bien que j’aie écrit à sa tante, elle ne m’a pas pardonné.
Finally, there’s one more compound tense in the subjonctif called the plus-que-parfait. It’s so obscure, however, that we’ll just provide the conjugations to show that the past participles indeed remain the same: je fusse allé and j’eusse écrit.
As we’ve seen throughout this section with all the examples that included allé and écrit, we use the same past participles to form all of the compound tenses in French. Now let’s see the other contexts where we use past participle French.
The past participle to form the passive voice
There is another common case where you will encounter the French past participle: the passive voice.
To form the passive voice in French, we conjugate être to match the object of the action, and follow it with action verb’s past participle. When we want to indicate who carried out the action, we can follow the past participle with par.
- The apples are eaten by caterpillars. – Les pomme sont mangées par des chenilles.
- A new CEO was elected by the shareholders. – Un nouveau CEO a été élu par les actionnaires.
The past participle to form adjectives
Finally, we can create many adjectives in French by using the participle, either on its own or along with the verb être.
- My daughter found a lost cat. – Ma fille a trouvé un chat perdu.
- Passengers appreciate well-executed landings. – Des passagers apprécient des attérissages bien exécutés.
- It’s always best to keep a written copy of the lease. – C’est toujours mieux de garder une copie écrite du bail.
How to form the past participle in French
Forming the French past participle is fairly straightforward for regular verbs. For irregular verbs, however, they just need to be learned by heart.
The first step is to look at the infinitive to find out if it belongs to the first group (-er verbs), the second group (-ir verbs), the third group (-re verbs), or if it is irregular. For regular verbs in the three groups, forming the past participle just involves adding specific endings to the stem. We’ll show these here with some example verbs for each group.
For regular -er verbs, the past participle is formed by adding –é at the end of the verb stem.
|Infinitive: -er||Past participle: -é|
|Manger (to eat)||Mangé|
|Aimer (to love)||Aimé|
For regular -ir verbs, the past participle is formed by adding –i at the end of the verb stem.
|Infinitive: -ir||Past participle: -i|
|Finir (to finish)||Fini|
|Dormir (to sleep)||Dormi|
For regular -re verbs, the past participle is formed by adding –u at the end of the verb stem.
|Infinitive: -re||Past participle: -u|
|Rendre (to give back)||Rendu|
|Attendre (to wait)||Attendu|
Irregular past participles in French: Lists
As we saw above, forming the French past participle for many verbs is very straightforward. However, many verbs have irregular past participles, whether through a stem change, an ending change, or both. Here we provide you with lists of irregular past participles in French for many common verbs, grouped by their endings.
We’ll start with the list of irregular verbs with a past participle ending in –u.
|Irregular verb||Past participle -u|
|Boire (to drink)||Bu|
|Connaître (to know)||Connu|
|Courir (to run)||Couru|
|Croire (to believe)||Cru|
|Devoir (to have to, must)||Dû|
|Falloir (to need)||Fallu|
|Lire (to read)||Lu|
|Plaire (to please)||Plu|
|Pleuvoir (to rain)||Plu|
|Pouvoir (to be able to, can)||Pu|
|Reçevoir (to receive)||Reçu|
|Savoir (to know)||Su|
|Tenir (to hold)||Tenu|
|Venir (to come)||Venu|
|Voir (to see)||Vu|
|Vouloir (to want)||Voulu|
The following verbs have an irregular past participle ending in –is:
|Irregular verb||Past participle -is|
|Apprendre (to learn)||Appris|
|Asseoir (to sit)||Assis|
|Comprendre (to understand)||Compris|
|Mettre (to put)||Mis|
|Prendre (to take)||Pris|
|Promettre (to promise)||Promis|
These irregular -re verbs end with a –t in past participle:
|Irregular verb||Past participle -t|
|Conduire (to drive)||Conduit|
|Construire (to build)||Construit|
|Craindre (to fear)||Craint|
|Dire (to tell)||Dit|
|Écrire (to write)||Écrit|
|Éteindre (to turn off)||Éteint|
|Faire (to do)||Fait|
|Joindre (to join)||Joint|
|Peindre (to paint)||Peint|
|Produire (to produce)||Produit|
|Traduire (to translate)||Traduit|
There are four irregular verbs that take –ert in their past participle:
|Irregular verb||Past participle -ert|
|Découvrir (to discover)||Découvert|
|Offrir (to offer)||Offert|
|Ouvrir (to open)||Ouvert|
|Souffrir (to suffer)||Souffert|
The two following verbs, as well as their declinations (sourire, poursuivre, etc.) have irregular past participles ending in –i:
|Irregular verb||Past participle -i|
|Rire (to smile)||Ri|
|Suivre (to follow)||Suivi|
Last but not least, these four verbs each have a unique irregular past participle:
|Irregular verb||Past participle|
Gender and number agreement with past participles
In many cases, depending on how it is used in a sentence, we need to add an ending to the past participle to make it feminine or plural. There are rules for each of the contexts we looked at earlier, so let’s examine each one in turn.
In general, we simply add an -e to a French past participle to make it feminine, an -s to make it plural, and -es for both. Thankfully, there are few exceptions to this rule, even among the lists of irregular verbs we saw above.
In compound tenses with auxiliary verb Avoir
In most contexts in compound tenses using avoir as the auxiliary verb, the French past participle remains unchanged. This means that it keeps its base form regardless of the gender or number of the subject.
- Sarah left her daughters at her parents’ place. – Sarah a laissé ses filles chez ses parents.
- My cats would have eaten the mouse, but it fled. – Mes chats auraient mangé la souris, mais elle a fui.
When the French past participle is used in a compound tense with the auxiliary verb avoir, it is never modified to match the gender or number of the subject. It also is not modified to match the direct object when the direct object comes after the past participle.
However, when the direct object is placed before the past participle, the participle needs to agree in gender and number with the direct object.
In our examples above, we’ll replace “my cats” (masculine), “her daughters,” and “the mouse” (both feminine) with the direct object pronouns “les” and “la.” Since these pronouns are placed before the past participles, the past participles are modified to match the gender and number of these direct objects.
- Sarah left them at her parents’ place. – Sarah les a laissées chez ses parents.
- Had the mouse not fled from them, my cats would have eaten it. – Si la souris ne les avait pas fuis, mes chats l’auraient mangée.
In compound tenses with auxiliary verb Être
A number of French verbs of movement take être as the auxiliary verb in their compound tenses. For these verbs, the past participle always agrees in gender and number with the subject.
- We went to the party together. My wife left early, but I stayed until the end. – Nous sommes allés à la fête ensemble. Ma femme est partie tôt, mais je suis resté jusqu’à la fin.
- My grandparents died the same year that my daughter was born. – Mes grands-parents sont morts la même année que ma fille est née.
In compound tenses with reflexive verbs
Reflexive verbs are in a separate class from the verbs of movement, in that they take être as the auxiliary verb when the subject performs the action on themself.
When conjugating a reflexive verb with être in a compound tense, the past participle usually agrees in gender and number with the subject.
- She washed herself. – Elle s’est lavée.
- They kissed each other. – Ils se sont embrassés.
However, when a reflexive verb has a direct object, the past participle remains unchanged in its base form, similarly to the compound tenses with avoir as the auxiliary verb.
- She washed her hands. – Elle s’est lavé les mains.
Likewise, if the direct object appears before the past participle, the participle needs to agree in gender and number with the direct object. Note that this is quite an unusual construction, that we’re just including here for completeness. It’s rare that we replace the direct object of a reflexive verb with a pronoun.
- His hands were dirty. She washed them. – Ses mains étaient sales. Elle se les est lavées.
When these same verbs are used as non-reflexives (since the subject doesn’t do the action on themself), they take avoir as the auxiliary verb and follow the same rules that we saw above.
- She washed her dresses. She washed them. – Elle a lavé ses robes. Elle les a lavées.
- He kissed the woman. She kissed the man. – Il a embrassé la femme. Elle a embrassé l’homme.
- He kissed her. She kissed him. – Il l’a embrassée. Elle l’a embrassé.
In the passive voice
When using past participle French to form the passive voice, the participle always agrees with the gender and number of the verb’s subject.
- On the farm, mice are eaten by cats every day. – À la ferme, des souris sont mangées par les chats tous les jours.
- Three warnings were sent, and then the house was seized. – Trois avertissements ont été envoyés, puis la maison a été saisie.
When used as an adjective, the past participle always agrees with the subject’s gender and number.
- Charles is always referencing unknown movies. – Charles fait toujours référence à des films inconnus.
- My supercharged team runs on energy drinks that are well-dosed with caffeine and sugar. – Mon équipe survoltée est alimentée par des boissons énergétiques bien dosés de caféine et de sucre.
In today’s lesson, we covered everything you need to know to properly use past participles in French. Before we go, let’s just do a quick review of what we saw to link the various sections of the post.
We learned that forming the past participle is usually fairly straightforward, since regular verbs in the -er, -ir, and -re groups just take -é, -i, and -u as their new endings, respectively. Many irregular verbs have slightly different forms to their past participles that need to be learned individually, so we included lists of the most common verbs.
When a past participle needs to agree with a noun in gender or number, it usually just takes an -e for feminine, an -s for plural, and -es for feminine plural.
As far as how and when to use past participle French, first and foremost, we saw how it is an integral part of all the compound tenses.
When conjugated with the auxiliary verb avoir, the past participle keeps its base form in most cases. The exception is when the direct object is placed before the past participle, in which case the participle needs to match the direct object. When used in a compound tense with avoir, the past participle is never modified to agree with the subject.
When conjugated in a compound tense with the auxiliary verb être, the past participle usually matches the gender and number of the subject. There are several exceptions to this rule, however, which we explained for the various contexts.
We also saw how the past participle is also used to form the passive voice, with the participle always agreeing in gender and number with the verb’s subject.
Finally, we saw how to use the French past participle as an adjective. In this context, like any other French adjective, it needs to match the gender and number of the noun it modifies.
To sum up, we hope this post has clearly demonstrated the importance of the past participle in French, and given some clear guidance on how and when to use it. The formation of the past participle is usually easy enough, as are the various contexts where it’s used.
The hardest part of past participle French is definitely knowing if or when to add an ending to match the gender and number of a noun in the sentence. Even native speakers regularly have difficulty getting this right every time. So if you follow the rules we’ve laid out here, you’ll be ahead of many native French speakers!