Why do some verbs use avoir and some être in the past tense?

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This rule might seem tricky at first. However, it is actually quite easy to follow after a bit of practice. 

Generally speaking, avoir is the main verb used to form the past tense. This is really similar to english. 
 

For example:

French: Il a mangé une banane
English: He has eaten a banana 


Sometimes, however, you will see the verb être used in some cases. In order to know whether to use avoir or être, you have to look at the main verb you are using. In the case above, the main verb was manger (to eat) and it took the avoir form. 

But some verbs are a bit more 'special' that that and, therefore, they take the être form. These are the following: 

a) verbs that express 'movement', such as arriver (to arrive) and sortir (to leave) - please see below for all other verbs that use être.

b) reflexive verbs 

Movement verbs can be memorised through the following Mnemonic:

Try and remember the phrase DR & MRS VANDERTRAMP'. Then, look at what  verb each letter represents.

  • Devenir
    Revenir
    &
    Monter
    Rester
    Sortir

    Venir
    Aller
    Naître
    Descendre
    Entrer
    Rentrer
    Tomber
    Retourner
    Arriver
    Mourir
    Partir

    Voila! 

    Don't worry if this seems a little bit complicated . Just read through it again and ask me if you have any other questions on it! :) 

 

Harry L. GCSE English Literature tutor, GCSE French tutor, A Level Fr...

About the author

is an online GCSE French tutor with MyTutor studying at Oxford, Wadham College University

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