Auxiliary Verb

Definition: An auxiliary verb is a conjugated verb used in front of another verb in compound tenses in order to indicate the mood and tense of the verb.

In French, the auxiliary verb is either avoir or être. All French verbs are classified by which auxiliary verb they take, and they use the same auxiliary verb in all compound tenses. Most French verbs use avoir. The following is a list of verbs (and their derivatives) that require être.

  1. être (to be)
  2. avoir (to have)
Examples in French:
aller - to go
arriver - to arrive
descendre (redescendre) - to descend / go downstairs
entrer (rentrer) - to enter
monter (remonter) - to climb
mourir - to die
naître (renaître) - to be born
partir (repartir) - to leave
passer - to pass, spend time
rester - to stay
retourner - to return
sortir (ressortir) - to go out
tomber (retomber) - to fall
venir (devenir, parvenir, revenir) - to come
These are all verbs of a certain kind of movement.

You do get used to these verbs over time and one day you'll just know whether to use être or avoir without even having to think about it.

Some advices for être and avoir's use:

  1. All pronominal verbs use être as the auxiliary verb as well:

    se baigner - to bathe
    s'habiller - to get dressed
    s'imaginer - to imagine
    se laver - to wash
    se lever - to get up
    se moquer - to make fun of
    se préparer - to prepare oneself
    se promener - to go for a walk
    se raser - to shave
    se reposer - to rest

  2. For all verbs conjugated with être in all of the compound tenses, the past participle has to agree with the subject in gender and number.

    Il est allé - Elle est allée - Ils sont allés - Elles sont allées

  3. Verbs are conjugated with être only when they are intransitive. When the above verbs are used transitively, avoir is used as the auxiliary verb.

    Je suis sorti
    I went out.

    J'ai sorti la voiture
    I took the car out.

    Il est descendu
    He went downstairs.

    Il a descendu la valise
    He took the suitcase down.

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