French Grammar Guide for non-francophones

Past Participles (e.g.: parlé, venu, parti)

Questions about Past Participles

Q: Why is it j’ai parlé and NOT *j’ai parler?

It is true that parlé and parler sound the same. However, they are not used in the same context. The form parlé (and donné, commencé, cassé, etc.) tend to be found after the auxiliary avoir, e.g.: Il a commencé son nouveau poste hier, elle a terminé le livre en trois jours. On the other hand, the form parler (and other infinitives), tend to be found after prepositions, e.g.: On vient de manger or verbs other than avoir and être, e.g.: Je veux changer.

If you are deciding between a past participle and an infinitive, change the verb to an -ir infinitive and see how it sounds. If it sounds fine (e.g.: Je vais finir), then the -er infinitive is probably correct in that context. If it sounds strange (e.g.: j'ai finir), then you probably need a past participle.

Q: Why is it je vais y aller and NOT je vais y allé?

The -é form of -er verbs is used after avoir and être. In most other cases, the infinitive is more likely. That’s the case after other verbs, like aller (Je vais ramasser les déchets), devoir (e.g.: Je dois passer te voir) and pouvoir (Tu peux demander à ta mère). The same pattern is found after prepositions as well. For example, Elle me demande de ramasser mes jouets, cela sert à améliorer la réception.

Q: Why is it la femme que j'ai rencontrée and NOT la femme que j'ai rencontré?

When a direct object (a noun that answers the question "what?" or "who?") precedes, the past participle agrees with it.

Q: Why is it ils se sont parlé and NOT ils se sont parlés?

The verb parler is followed by an indirect object (on parle à quelqu'un). Since past participles don't agree with indirect objects, there is not agreement marking on parlé.

Q: Why is it elles se sont vues and NOT elles se sont vu?

The verb voir is followed by a direct object (not by a preposition or indirect object). Since past participles agree with preceding direct objects, you need to indicate this agreement by writing vues.

Q: Why is it la chanson que j'ai entendu chanter and NOT la chanson que j'ai entendue chanter?

This is a special case since it invovles a past participle (entendu) followed by an infinitive (chanter). In cases like this, there is only agreement if the noun (la chanson) functions as the subject of the infinitive. Since it does not (it isn't the song that does the singing!), no agreement should be made on the past participle.

Q: Why is it j'ai dû partir and NOT j'ai du partir?

The past participle of devoir is written with a circumflex accent (). The form du is a preposition that means "from the/of the". Though they sound the same, they are written differently.

Mistakes to avoid:

*Je veux commencé demain (use the -er form after verbs other than avoir and être)

*Il m’a donner un livre (use the -é form after avoir and être)

*Elle va mangé avec nous (use the -er form after verbs other than avoir and être)

*Je viens de regardé un film en français (use -er after prepositions)

*J’ai adorer ce film (use the -é form after avoir and être)

 Practice: Write a paragraph about what you did yesterday and what you will do tomorrow, then check it with BonPatron.com!

Verb conjugation:
 
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