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Complete post:

Sep

09

2012

"Les filles sont arrivées…", "Les desserts sont servis", "Le jeu est décidé"…

"The girls have arrived", "The desserts are served", "The game is decided"…

Our site visitors often ask us questions about verbs. You will know, if you are following our lessons, that we place a lot of emphasis on verbs and how they behave.

Given the frequency of questions on the subject, it is worth summarising some important information. So, fasten your seatbelts: our next several blog posts are going to present some important information about verbs - how they are used, how 'agreement' works in French. In this post, we are going to talk about agreement of the past participle (l'accord du participe passé), but don't worry, we won't get too technical. Allons-y!

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The auxiliary verb être

The examples in the title of this blog post are relatively simple. We can see that the auxiliary verb être (est) is used and is followed by a past participle (arrivées, servis, décidé). In situations like this, the past participle agrees – in gender and number – with the subject of the verb. Now consider three further examples:

  • Le but sera atteint. (le but : masculine singular)
    [= The goal will be reached.]
  • Les fleurs sont cueillies. (les fleurs : feminine plural)
    [= The flowers are picked.]
  • La façade a été repeinte. (la façade : féminine singular)
    [= The facade has been painted.]

So, let's reiterate: where the auxiliary verb être is used, the past participle agrees with the subject.

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The auxiliary verb avoir

Now let's consider the auxiliary verb avoir. Where avoir is followed by a past participle, the participle agrees with the direct object of the verb, but only where that direct object precedes the verb.

On the other hand, the participle remains unchanged if the direct object comes after the verb.) To illustrate the point, let's consider 2 examples. (In the 2 sentences below, la tâche (the task) is the direct object of the verb entreprendre (to undertake).)

  • Elle a entrepris une tâche difficile. (The direct object – La tâche – comes after the verb. The past participle – entrepris – remains unchanged.)
    [= She has undertaken a difficult task.]
  • La tâche qu'elle a entreprise est difficile. (La tâche comes before the verb. The past participle – entreprise – agrees with la tâche* (feminine singular). *In fact, technically speaking, agreement is with the relative pronoun que which refers to la tâche.)
    [= The task which she has undertaken is difficult.]

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Now one more thing… sometimes we will meet past participles without an auxiliary verb. In such cases, these past participles are effectively adjectives and agree with the noun or pronoun to which they refer, for example:

  • des pierres lancées par les manifestants (les pierres : feminine plural)
    [= stones thrown by the protesters]

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The information above shows how important it is to be familiar with, and be able to distinguish between, the auxiliary verbs avoir and être. So study them carefully!

Finally…

Don't worry if you have not absorbed all of the information above; after all, some of it is quite technical. In our next post, will come back to the topic of direct and indirect objects (des compléments d'objet directs et indirects). Don't worry, we will keep it as simple as possible! À très bientôt.

Comment(s)/question from misasakai on Sep, 29 at 06:26

I happened to see a sentence "La robe que tu as acheté aujourd'hui est belle." in a French site. For me, the sentence seems wrong in terms of agreement, but I'm not sure. If it is correct, could anybody explain?

Comment(s)/question from equipe_lfbp on Sep, 29 at 10:04

Misasakai, the sentence is wrong in terms of agreement. It should be:

  • La robe que tu as achetée aujourd'hui est belle.

Pourquoi? The direct object (complément d'objet direct) of the verb is the pronoun que which refers to the feminine noun la robe. Consequently, agreement of the past participle – achetée – is feminine singular.

Note that the COD is placed before the auxiliary verb avoir (as). If the COD comes after the verb, there is no agreement:

  • Tu as acheté une robe aujourd'hui. (COD = la robe)

Comment(s)/question from misasakai on Oct, 01 at 11:51

Merci beaucoup! In a sense, as a learner, it's good to know that even French people make agreement errors.

Comment(s)/question from equipe_lfbp on Oct, 01 at 12:09

Agreement of the past participle in compound tenses (passé composé, plus-que-parfait, etc) is the source of many errors, especially amongst younger French people, now that traditional grammar teaching in schools is not as strict as it used to be.

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