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French Lesson Plan: Le Passé Composé / The Completed Past

written by: Brian J. Donovan • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 11/15/2013

This lesson plan will walk you through teaching the conditional mood in French, or Le Passé Composé—often referred to as the “complete past" (as opposed to ongoing action in the past).

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    Le Passé Composé

    This lesson is appropriate for grades 7 through university, depending on your students’ levels. It should be easily adaptable to different levels, but it is geared more towards beginners. I’ve kept the format very simple to avoid too many layout issues. Paste the text into a document, so you can make the changes you'd like to make, and you can give copies to your students.

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    What Is It For?

    French Lesson Plan on the Completed Past In general, the Passé Composé is for completed actions in the past, as opposed to ongoing action. “I talked…" rather than “I was talking…" for example. You might also use it for events that happened multiple times in the past.

    The PC is comprised of two parts—the helping verb (l’auxiliaire) and the past participle of the main verb (le participe passé). Please note the verb être is often used in the Imparfait (Imperfect Past) instead of the Passé Composé (a state of being), as in “J’étais fatigué." / “I was tired."

    The Passé Composé and Imparfait (Imperfect past) can be used together to show that something took place while some other event was going on: Je mangeais le déjeuner quand mon frère a frappé à la porte. (I was eating lunch when my brother knocked on the door.)

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    The Past Participle

    A. Regular Verbs: To form the past participles, drop the ending from the infinitive and add in the past participle endings.

    ER verbs: -é regarder regardé

    RE verbs: -u vendre vendu

    IR verbs: -i sortir sorti

    B. Irregular Verbs: If the verb is irregular, the past participle will probably be irregular, too (not aller/allé). Here are some of the ones you’ll use more often :

    • apprendre: appris
    • avoir: eu
    • boire: bu
    • comprendre: compris
    • croire: cru
    • devoir:
    • dire: dit
    • écrire: écrit
    • être: été
    • faire: fait
    • lire: lu
    • mettre: mis
    • naître:
    • pouvoir: pu
    • prendre: pris
    • recevoir: reçu
    • suivre: suivi
    • venir: venu
    • voir: vu
    • vouloir: voulu

    C. As Adjectives: Many past participles can be used as adjectives, and they agree with the nouns they modify.

    1. J’ai un devoir écrit en science-po. I have a written assignment for poly-sci.

    2. Désolé, je suis pris ce soir. Sorry, I’m taken/busy this evening.

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    Helping Verbs

    A. ÊTRE

    Most verbs use avoir, but here are some ways to help you remember the list of the main verbs which take être as the helping verb. There are others that might use être, too, as you’ll see later:

    1. The Main Verbs

    a. Mrs Dr Vandertramp: each letter is the beginning of a verb (16 total). There are other verbs which can take être as a helping verb, but this is the main list (see #2).

    b. 5 paires (d’opposés), 4 R’s, DT: this method used five pairs of opposite verbs, four that begin with R, one that begins with D and one with T (16 total):

    (1) naître/mourir, monter/descendre, entrer/sortir, venir/aller, arriver/partir

    (2) Rentrer, Retourner, Rester, Revenir

    (3) Devenir, Tomber

    c. La Maison d’Etre: think of a house and the motion to, in and away from the house : entering, exiting, going up and down the stairs, staying…

    2. Agreement

    a. In most cases, your past participle will agree in gender and number with the subject. Add an –é for feminine and an –s for plural—both for feminine plural. You’ll learn specific cases where you won’t have agreement (see Reflexive Verbs).

    b. Examples.

    (1) Sophie : Je suis allée au café.

    (2) Roger : Je suis allé au café.

    (3) Sophie et Roger : Nous sommes allés au café.

    3. Reflexive (Pronomial) Verbs

    The past participle agrees when the reflexive pronoun is the direct object of the sentence.

    (1) d.o. : Elle s’est douchée. / She showered.

    (2) not d.o. : Elle s’est lavé les cheveux. / She washed her hair. (hair is d.o.)

    4. Negative: In the PC, the helping verb gets the negation: Je ne suis pas allé(e) au parc.

    B. AVOIR

    Most other verbs take avoir as their helping verb, and some can use both, depending on the sentence. As for agreement, you usually agree only when there is a direct object pronoun in front of the verb in place of the direct object of the sentence.

    1. No D.O. pronoun : J’ai regardé la télé. J’ai regardé les enfants.

    2. D.O. pronoun : Je l’ai regardée. Je les ai regardés.

    3. Negative: In the PC, the helping verb gets the negation: Je n’ai pas regardé la télé.

    C. BOTH

    Some verbs can use either être or avoir…

    The simplest explanation for whether you use être or avoir as the helping verb is that it depends on whether there’s a direct object involved. Then, for agreement, you’ll almost always agree when using être, and with avoir, if you use the direct object pronoun in front of the verb in place of the direct object, you’ll have agreement.

    Passer:

    (1) No D.O. : Je suis passé(e) par la poste avant de rentrer.

    (I went by the post office before going home.)

    (2) D.O./masculine : J’ai passé le sel. Je l’ai passé.

    (I passed the salt.)(I passed it.)

    (3) D.O./feminine : J’ai passé la tasse. Je l’ai passée.

    (I passed the cup.)(I passed it.)

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    Popular Examples in the Passé Composé

    The following examples are also available in a handout. Click this link to download the document.

    A. ÊTRE

    1. Je suis allé(e)… au parc. I went to the park.

    2. Je suis né(e)… à Paris. I was born in Paris.

    3. Je suis arrivé(e)… en retard. I arrived late.

    4. Je suis sorti(e)… avec des amis. I went out with friends.

    5. Je suis parti(e)… en vacances. I went/left on vacation.

    6. Je me suis levé(e)… à six heures. I got up a six o’clock.

    7. Je me suis couché(e)… à dix heures. I went to bed at 10 o’clock.

    8. Je me suis lavé(e)… les mains./le visage. I washed my hands/face.

    9. Je me suis brossé(e)… les dents./les cheveux. I brushed my teeth/hair.

    B. AVOIR

    1. J’ai fait… mes devoirs. I did my homework.

    2. J’ai regardé… la télé. I watched tv.

    3. J’ai mangé… un sandwich. I ate a sandwich.

    4. J’ai perdu… mes clés. I lost my keys.

    5. J’ai parlé… avec mes parents. I talked with my parents.

    6. J’ai cherché… un bon restaurant. I looked for a good restaurant.

    7. J’ai trouvé… un bon café. I found a good café./coffee.

    8. J’ai préparé… le dîner. I made/prepared dinner.

    9. J’ai acheté… du pain. I bought (some) bread.

    10. J’ai envoyé… une lettre. I sent a letter.

    11. J’ai bu… un soda. I drank a soda.

    12. J’ai lu… un bon livre. I read a good book.

    13. J’ai choisi… deux desserts. I chose two desserts.

    14. J’ai dormi… jusqu'à 9 heures. I slept until 9 o’clock.