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The passé composé with être: learning strategies

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

As seen recently, the passe compose can be used with the auxiliary être or avoir. It is one of the most used tenses in French. Today will focus on learning the passe composé with être. Keep on reading to learn 3 strategies to remember the verbs used with être.

the passe compose with etre

How to form the passe compose tense?

As seem previously, the passe compose is a compound tense. That means that it is composed of two verbs: the auxiliary or the helping verb that can be avoir or être and the past participle of the verb. Most verbs are conjugated with the auxiliary avoir.

Let's review how to conjugate the irregular verb être in the present tense.

  • Je suis => I am

  • Tu es => You are

  • Il est => He is

  • Elle est => She is

  • Nous sommes => we are

  • Vous êtes => you are

  • Ils sont/elles sont => They are

How to memorize verbs conjugated with être?

Generally, movement verbs and reflexive verbs are used with être in the passé composé. To make it easier for you to remember the list of the motion verbs conjugated with the auxiliary être, there are 3 different strategies you can implement. These strategies work for the 14 or 17 verbs (actually it can be more than that if you take into account their derivatives) generally used with the auxiliary être.

1. Strategy 1 : Learning the verbs in pairs

Most of the verbs conjugated with être have opposites. Below is the list of these opposite verbs. All you need to do is to learn them by heart.

  • Aller vs venir

  • Arriver vs Partir

  • Rester vs Partir

  • Enter vs Sortir

  • Monter vs Descendre

  • Naître vs Mourir

  • Passer Vs retourner

However, you will not find an opposite for the verb tomber. But at least it is the only one left so, it's not so difficult to memorize.

You have to note that the verbs listed above and also their derivatives are conjugated with the helping verb être. Ex: venir, devenir, revenir/entrer, renter / ester /monter, remonter/passer, repasser, ...

2. Strategy 2: Dr. and Mrs. Vandertramp Mnemotechnic

You have certainly heard about the Dr and MRS VANDERTRAMP mnemotechnic. So, What do Dr. and Mrs. Vandertramp stand for?

This is another way of remembering the list of 17 verbs conjugated with être in the passe compose tense. Each letter of this learning aid represents a verb. If you browse the web, you will notice that some are referring to DR and MRS Vandertramp, or DR MRS VANDERTRAMPP and others are talking about DR. and MRS P. VANDERTRAMP. As for me, I will go for the last one which includes the main 17 verbs used with être as you can see below.

  • D => Devenir (to become)

  • R =>Revenir (to come back)

  • M =>Monter (to go up)

  • R=> Rentrer (to get in, to return)

  • S=> Sortir (to go out)

  • P. => Passer (to pass)

  • V => Venir (to come)

  • A => Arriver (to arrive)

  • N => Naître (to be born)

  • D =>Descendre (to get down/go down)

  • E => Entrer (to enter)

  • R =>Retourner (to return)

  • T => Tomber (to fall down)

  • R => Rester (to stay)

  • A -> Aller (to go)

  • M => Mourir (to die)

  • P => Partir (to leave)

Here is a picture that summaries the DR MRS VANDERTRAMP mnemotechnic, with examples

Mnemotechnic DR and MRS Vandertamp _Learn French with chanty

3. Strategy 3: the house of être or la maison d’être

This is the third mnemotechnic used to learn the passe compose with être. It's a visual learning strategy, consisting of visualizing the verbs as actions or situations happening in a house like the facts of being born (Naître), dying (Mourir), going up (monter), going down (descendre), staying (rester), ...

A cup of French has a synthetic infographic of la maison d’être that you can check out for reference.

Note: some of the verbs listed above may also be used with the auxiliary avoir when they are followed with a direct object complement. Example: J'ai monté les cartons. => I have put the boxes up / Tu as sorti la poubelle? => Did you put out the trash?

Forming a negative sentence in the passé composé

To get a negative sentence, you should use the negation word ne pas, ne plus ... However, unlike present tense, where the verb is located between the two negation words (eg> Je ne vais pas en Espagne cet été), it is the auxiliary verb that is in between the negation words. Example: Je NE suis PAs allée en Espagne cet été.

Ne become N' in front of a vowel or a silent H. Elle n'est pas allée à Paris.

The Passé composé and reflexive verbs

Reflexive verbs are also conjugated with the auxiliary être in the passe composé. If you are looking for examples, Verbs like se lever, se laver, s'habiller that have the reflexive pronoun "se" before the infinitive, are called reflexive verbs or pronominal verbs.

Therefore, you should conjugate them as it follows: Subject+Reflexive pronoun + Auxiliary etre in present tense + Past participle.

For instance, here is how to conjugate the verb se réveiller(to wake up) in French.

  • Je me suis réveillé(e)

  • Tu t'es reveillé(e)

  • Il s'est réveillé

  • Elle s'est réveillée

  • Nous nous sommes réveillé (e)s

  • Vous vous êtes réveillé(e)s

  • Ils se sont réveillés

  • Elles se sont réveillées.

If ever you are struggling to know where to place the reflexive pronoun, remember to keep it next to the personal pronoun subject. Example: Je me, tu te, il se, nous nous, vous vous, ils se.

However, in the negative form, the reflexive pronoun comes right after the negation word "ne" and before the helping verb être.

Eg.: je ne ME suis pas réveillée.

Forming the past participle and its agreement

Most of the Vandertramp verbs end with ER or IR. As a reminder, past participles can be obtained by :

  • replacing the ER endings of the infinitive verb with "é" (eg. monter=>monté)

  • replacing the IR endings of the infinitive verb with "i" (eg. sortir => sorti, partir => parti).

However, it is important to note some irregular past participles. as you can see below.

  • mourir => mort

  • naître =>

  • partir => parti

  • sortir => Sorti

  • venir => venu

Keep in mind that when you conjugate the passé composé with être, you should make some adjustments to the past participle depending on the gender of the subject.

  • For a feminine and singular subject, the past participle would take an "e" at the end.

  • For a masculine and singular subject, the past participle remains unchanged.

  • For plural subjects, the past participle will take "s". When dealing with mixed genders, like men and women, the dominant gender is the masculine. Even if you have one man with a thousand women, the masculine gender takes over the feminine.


  • Elle est allée au musée.

  • Ils sont allés au restaurant.

Note: You will learn later, at a higher level, that there are some exceptions to these agreement rules.

Practice on the Dr Mrs Vandertramp verbs

Here is a practice exercise for consolidating your learning about the motion verbs used with the auxiliary être.

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In case you like fun learning, our best recommendation would be Lingopie. Their subtitles and flashcard features make it easier for you to develop your vocabulary and listening skills while having fun watching your favorite movie or TV show.

I hope this helps you understand better the conjugation of the Passe composé with être. If that is the case, help us share it with your friends. We really appreciate it.


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