How do I form the perfect tense?

After the present tense, the perfect tense is probably the next French tense you'll learn. It allows you to make sentences that describe a past event. It generally covers the meaning of English forms like I took and I have taken.

Here is an example of the perfect tense in French, along with an English equivalent:

il a vendu sa maison
he has sold his house
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As you can see, the general pattern is to use a present tense form of avoir (just as you'd use a form of have in English), followed by a form called the 'past participle'. So in this case, the past participle of the verb vendre is vendu, with a meaning and function similar to English sold.

In a few cases, French uses être rather than avoir:

So, to form the perfect tense, you basically need to know:
  • How to form the past participle;
  • Whether to use avoir or être.

As always in life and languages, there'll be a couple of minor complications to consider later on...

Worked examples with regular -er verbs

As an introduction to forming the perfect tense, we'll start with regular -er verbs. On the next page, we'll look at examples of forming the perfect tense.

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This page written by Neil Coffey. Copyright © Javamex UK 2014. All rights reserved.