Compound Tenses

French verb conjugations can be divided into two categories: simple tenses and compound tenses.

Simple tenses have only one part (je vais) whereas compound tenses have two (je suis allé). Compound tenses are obviously more complicated.

Characteristics of compound tenses:
  1. Compound tenses are always made up of two parts: the conjugated auxiliary verb and the past participle. French verbs are classified by their auxiliary verb, either avoir or être. Each verb uses the same auxiliary verb in all of the compound tenses.

    Il est. Il est allé
    Nous aurons. Nous aurons mangé.

  2. In all compound tenses, the past participle of être verbs has to agree with the subject of the sentence in gender and number.
    Il est allé. He went.
    Elle était allée. She had gone.
    Ils seront allés. They will have gone.
    ...qu'elles soient allées. ...that they went.

    In addition, the past participle of avoir verbs that are preceded by a direct object must agree with the direct object
    Les livres que tu as commandés sont ici.
    The books that you ordered are here.

    La pomme ? Je l'aurai mangée.
    The apple? I will have eaten it.

    Mes soeurs... vous les aviez vues ?
    My sisters... had you seen them?

    When the direct object follows an avoir verb, there is no agreement.

    As-tu commandé des livres?
    Did you order some books?

    J'aurai mangé la pomme.
    I will have eaten the apple.

    Aviez-vous vu mes soeurs?
    Had you seen my sisters?

    When an indirect object precedes an avoir verb, there is no agreement.

    Je leur ai parlé.
    I talked to them.

    Il nous a téléphoné.
    He called us.

    If both a direct and indirect object precede the verb, the past participle still has to agree with the direct object.

    Il me les a donnés. He gave them to me.

    Je la lui ai dite.
    I said it to him.

  3. Personal and adverbial pronouns always precede the auxiliary verb in compound tenses:

    Je te l'ai donné.
    I gave it to you.

    Il l'avait fait.
    He had done it.

    Nous y serons allés.
    We will have gone there.
  4. Negative structures surround the auxiliary verb

    Je n'ai pas étudié.
    I didn't study.

    Nous n'aurions jamais su.
    We would have never known.
    Except in the past infinitive, where they precede it.

    If you have both a pronoun and a negative adverb, the pronoun is placed in front of the auxiliary verb, and then the negative structure surrounds both.

    Je ne te l'ai pas donné.
    I didn't give it to you.

    Nous n'y serions pas aller.
    We wouldn't have gone there.

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