Decoding French Verbs: When To Use ‘Être’ In The Past Tense

Decoding French Verbs: When To Use ‘Être’ In The Past Tense

In French, when forming the past tense (also known as the passé composé), most verbs use “avoir” (to have) as the auxiliary or “helper” verb, but a certain group of verbs use “être” (to be). Here’s a simple way to remember when to use “être”:

You typically use “être” for verbs that indicate a change in state or position, or verbs that describe motion or direction. Many of these verbs are intransitive, meaning they don’t take a direct object.

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The acronym “DR MRS VANDERTRAMP” can be used to remember some of the most common “être” verbs.

15 of the most common verbs that use “être” in the passé composé:

1. Devenir (to become)

Elle est devenue une avocate célèbre. (She became a famous lawyer.)

2. Revenir (to come back)

Je suis revenu hier. (I came back yesterday.)

3. Monter (to climb, to go up)

Ils sont montés au sommet. (They climbed to the top.)

4. Rentrer (to return, to go home)

Nous sommes rentrés à la maison. (We returned home.)

5. Sortir (to go out, to leave)

Tu es sorti hier soir? (Did you go out last night?)

6. Venir (to come)

Vous êtes venus me voir. (You came to see me.)

7. Aller (to go)

Je suis allé au cinéma. (I went to the cinema.)

8. Naître (to be born)

Il est né en 1980. (He was born in 1980.)

9. Descendre (to go down, to descend)

Vous êtes descendus à la cave. (You went down to the basement.)

10. Entrer (to enter)

Ils sont entrés sans frapper. (They entered without knocking.)

11. Retourner (to return)

Elle est retournée à Paris. (She returned to Paris.)

12. Tomber (to fall)

Le livre est tombé. (The book fell.)

13. Rester (to stay)

Nous sommes restés à la plage tout l’après-midi. (We stayed at the beach all afternoon.)

14. Arriver (to arrive)

Tu es arrivé en retard. (You arrived late.)

15. Partir (to leave)

Ils sont partis tôt ce matin. (They left early this morning.)

Keep in mind that when you use “être” as the auxiliary verb in passé composé, the past participle usually needs to agree with the subject in gender and number. For example, in “Elle est devenue une avocate célèbre”, “devenue” has an extra “e” at the end because the subject is feminine.

French verbs conjugation practice worksheets

French Verb Conjugation Practice

If you want to test your knowledge of more French verbs, play our French Verbs Word Search. Or if you’re looking for some French learning resources, check out our list of Everything You Need To Learn French.