Agreeing past participle with subject's gender and number with (+ être) verbs in Le Passé Composé

You've seen that in compound tenses, such as Le Passé Composé, the majority of verbs use avoir as auxiliary. See for example Conjugate regular -er verbs (+ avoir) in Le Passé Composé (conversational past). For those verbs, the past participle remains unchanged.

However, it is different when it comes to verbs using être as the auxiliary in Le Passé Composé, such as the Conjugate coming and going verbs (+ être) in Le Passé Composé (conversational past)Conjugate mourir, naître, décéder, devenir, rester (+ être) in Le Passé Composé (conversational past) and Conjugate reflexive verbs (+être) in Le Passé Composé (conversational past).

Look at these verbs using être as auxiliary in Le Passé Composé:

Anthony est devenu boulanger.
Anthony became a baker.

Elle est retournée à la maison.
She went back home.

Les garçons sont revenus !
The boys are back!

Elles sont sorties hier.
They went out yesterday.

Alice s'est maquillée.
Alice put her make-up on.

Jules et Pierre se sont bien amusés le weekend dernier.
Jules and Pierre had fun last weekend.

Isaac, tu t'es bien reposé ?
Isaac, did you rest well?

Note that when être is used as the auxiliary in compound tenses such as Le Passé Composé, the past participle must always agree in gender and number with the subject of the verb.

The endings follow this pattern:

  Masculine Feminine
Singular --- -e
Plural -s
-es

Note that when the group includes men AND women, you will always use the masculine-plural ending -s.

Here are some examples:

Gérard a dit: "Je suis allé en France l'année dernière."
Gérard said: "I went to France last year."

Pauline a dit: "Je suis allée en France l'année dernière."
Pauline said: "I went to France last year."

Marco et Paulo ont dit: "Nous sommes allés en France l'année dernière."
Marco and Paulo said: "We went to France last year."

Julia et Émilie ont dit: "Nous sommes allées en France l'année dernière."
Julia and Emilie said: "We went to France last year."

James et Lucy ont dit: "Nous sommes allés en France l'année dernière."
James and Lucy said: "We went to France last year."

 

ATTENTION: Case of agreement with vous

As you know, the French vous can be used to refer either to more than one person (plural you), or in a polite way to a single person (formal you). 

In le Passé Composé of (+ être) verbs, the agreement will depend on which vous is being used:

- with the plural vous, the past participle will take -s or -es depending on the gender of the people in the group it refers to:

Louis et toi, Francis, vous êtes rencontrés il y a trois ans.
Louis and you, Francis, met three years ago.

Isabelle et toi, Marie, êtes parties en même temps.
Isabelle and you, Marie, left at the same time.

Mes sœurs et toi, Charles, êtes restés un peu plus longtemps.
My sisters and you, Charles, stayed a bit longer.

- with the formal/singular vous, the past participle will remain unchanged or take an -e depending on the gender of the person it refers to:

Monsieur Dupont, vous vous êtes trompé.
Mister Dupont, you were mistaken.

Mademoiselle Rose, vous êtes devenue une charmante jeune fille.
Miss Rose, you became a charming young lady.

 

 

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Tammy, pourquoi es-tu revenue ?
Tammy, why did you come back?


Louis et toi, Francis, vous êtes rencontrés il y a trois ans.
Louis and you, Francis, met three years ago.


Julia et Émilie ont dit: "Nous sommes allées en France l'année dernière."
Julia and Emilie said: "We went to France last year."


Toutes les filles sont allées à Montpellier.
All the girls went to Montpellier.


Elles sont sorties hier.
They went out yesterday.


Marco et Paulo ont dit: "Nous sommes allés en France l'année dernière."
Marco and Paulo said: "We went to France last year."


Anthony est devenu boulanger.
Anthony became a baker.


Pauline a dit: "Je suis allée en France l'année dernière."
Pauline said: "I went to France last year."


Mademoiselle Rose, vous êtes devenue une charmante jeune fille.
Miss Rose, you became a charming young lady.


Isaac, tu t'es bien reposé ?
Isaac, did you rest well?


Jules et Pierre se sont bien amusés le weekend dernier.
Jules and Pierre had fun last weekend.



Mes sœurs et toi, Charles, êtes restés un peu plus longtemps.
My sisters and you, Charles, stayed a bit longer.


Elle est retournée à la maison.
She went back home.


James et Lucy ont dit: "Nous sommes allés en France l'année dernière."
James and Lucy said: "We went to France last year."


Monsieur Dupont, vous vous êtes trompé.
Mister Dupont, you were mistaken.



Isabelle et toi, Marie, êtes parties en même temps.
Isabelle and you, Marie, left at the same time.


Alice s'est maquillée.
Alice put her make-up on.


Gérard a dit: "Je suis allé en France l'année dernière."
Gérard said: "I went to France last year."


Les garçons sont revenus !
The boys are back!


Q&A Forum 11 questions, 26 answers

BibianA1Kwiziq community member

Anthony est devenu boulanger. Would I be wrong to say Anthony est devenu un boulanger?

Asked 11 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Bibian,

No, you won't use the article in French with jobs as explained in the following lesson:

https://progress.lawlessfrench.com/revision/grammar/dont-use-indefinite-articles-with-professions

unless you add an adjective', 

Anthony est un excellent boulanger .

Hope this helps!

Anthony est devenu boulanger. Would I be wrong to say Anthony est devenu un boulanger?

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WalkerA2Kwiziq community member

"Jules et Pierre se sont bien amusés le weekend dernier."

What is the purpose of the 'bien' in this sentence?

Wouldn't the meaning be exactly the same if it was omitted?

Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Walker,

The addition of 'bien' intensifies the fun element , the difference between a good time and a great time.

Hope this helps!

ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

They had great fun last weekend.

Would the meaning be the same without "great"?

WalkerA2Kwiziq community member

Chris: Sorry, I should have quoted the English translation from the page.  It does not utilise the word 'great'.  It just says they 'had fun' which (to have fun) is the base meaning of s'amuser (no bien required).

However, I do understand after reading Cécile's explanation that this is about intensifying the 'fun' element of the meaning, much like the bien in "j'aime bien...," when referring to objects (not people) I suppose.

Many thanks to you both!

WalkerA2Kwiziq community member
"Much like the bien in 'j'aime bien' emphasises how much you like an object," I meant to say. 
Walker asked:View original

"Jules et Pierre se sont bien amusés le weekend dernier."

What is the purpose of the 'bien' in this sentence?

Wouldn't the meaning be exactly the same if it was omitted?

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MartinA0Kwiziq community member

Bon Jour !! I saw this sentence in your examples: Alice s'est maquillée. (Alice put her make-up on.) I don' t see the verb mettre (to put) ??

Asked 1 year ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor Correct answer

Hi Martin,

There is no "mettre" in this sentence because the verb " se maquiller" already means "to put one's make-up on". You can't say "I made myself up" in English. (Well, you could, but it would mean something completely different).

-- Chris.

MartinA0Kwiziq community member
Merci !!

Bon Jour !! I saw this sentence in your examples: Alice s'est maquillée. (Alice put her make-up on.) I don' t see the verb mettre (to put) ??

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BillB2Kwiziq community member

nous nous sommes brossé

I'm confused this is a reflexive verb, so uses etre, and with a plural subject.  So why is it not "nous nous sommes brosséS"?
Asked 1 year ago
LauraKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Bonjour Bill,

There is agreement with reflexive verbs only when the reflexive pronoun is the direct object.

Nous nous sommes lavés. - We washed up. The reflexive pronoun nous is the direct object: we washed ourselves -  the people doing the washing and being washed are the same.

But in nous nous sommes brossé les cheveux, the reflexive pronoun is actually the indirect object, because the direct object is les cheveux. While not grammatical, you can get a better sense of this by rewording the sentence: Nous sommes brossé les cheveux à nous. Since the direct object does not precede the verb, there is no agreement.

As this is a very tricky grammar point, Aurélie is going to address it in detail, either in this lesson or a separate one, but in the meantime you might find section 3 of this lesson helpful: Agreement with pronominal verbs

nous nous sommes brossé

I'm confused this is a reflexive verb, so uses etre, and with a plural subject.  So why is it not "nous nous sommes brosséS"?

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Gabrielle C1Kwiziq community member

Hi, I love the website. I too am wondering why 'we brushed our hair' is 'Nous nous sommes brossé les cheveux' rather than with an 's' added to brossé

Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Gabrielle,

The agreement of past participles in the case of reflexive verbs is most interesting.

As they use the auxilliary verb 'être' in the perfect tense, they normally agree just as adjectives in gender and number.

This is always true of simple intransitive verbs like se coucher, s'appelerse réveiller, s'arrêter, which don't have an object.

In the case of verbs like 'se casser.... quelque chose', 'se brosser...quelque chose', 'se laver ...quelque chose' etc. which in English translate literally and oddly to break /brush/wash (yourself ) something which clearly have an object  then we apply the agreement rules of verbs using 'avoir' in the perfect tense, and the past participle will agree only if the object precedes the verb.

Here are a few examples which might help to illustrate the point:

Ils se sont lavé les mains,( They washed their hands) but ils se sont lavés à l'eau froide (They washed  in cold water).

Elle s'est cassé une jambe (She broke a leg) but La jambe qu'elle s'est cassée aura du mal à guérir (The leg she broke will not heal well).

Elles se sont préparé une soupe (They have made (themselves) a soup) but la soupe qu'elles se sont préparée est délicieuse (The soup they made is delicious).

Nous nous sommes acheté une maison (We bought ourselves a house) but La maison que nous nous sommes achetée n'a pas de dépendances (The house we bought has no outbuildings)

Hope this helps!

Gabrielle C1Kwiziq community member
Cécile, that is an enormous help. The examples you gave are really clear. Thank you very much. G
CécileKwiziq team member
:-)
AlanC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Cécile - could you explain this example more, I don't see the difference. Don't both cases have an object which doesn't precede the verb?

Ils se sont lavé les mains,( They washed their hands) but ils se sont lavés les mains à l'eau froide (They washed their hands in cold water).

KatieC1Kwiziq community member

Your examples do clarify but bring up another question. Why use a reflexive verb when the object is not the self?  Why not say, “Elles ont préparé une soupe.”

CécileKwiziq team member

Hi Katie, 

The French love using reflexive verbs and we are much more likely to say -

Je vais me préparer une bonne soupe 

than 

Je vais préparer une bonne soupe

Bonne continuation!

Hi, I love the website. I too am wondering why 'we brushed our hair' is 'Nous nous sommes brossé les cheveux' rather than with an 's' added to brossé

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PaulC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Can you please give more explanation and examples of how the reflexive participle agrees in number and gender?

For example: Nous nous sommes brosse(s) les dents/les cheveux
Asked 1 year ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Hi Paul,

You will find an excellent explanation of all possible cases along with examples here:

https://www.lawlessfrench.com/grammar/agreement-with-pronominal-verbs/

Greetings, -- Chris.

PaulC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
I suggest that Kwiziq leave out tests on this topic at this stage of the course. 
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Why?

-- Chris

P.S.: See my reply to your later post.

JanB1Kwiziq community member

Cecile and Chris, Your posts on this topic were excellent. Thank you so much. 

In addition, I want to say that I agree with the person below who said this type of sentence (with reflexive verbs where the past participle does not agree with the subject) should be left out of lessons at earlier levels, for instance Lower Intermediate, which is my level. Why? Because we already have a heavy load of things to remember and understand. The brain only holds so much new information at one time. Leave it until later. As a career teacher, I believe there is a principle of providing an appropriate level of difficulty for each student's current achievement level.

Then again, if it is thought appropriate to include it, PUT IT IN THE LESSON. Don't just throw it in during a test when we have never seen it before.

And last, if you are going to toss it into a test, at least let us know right away, that yes, the test answer given is correct. It's not so much that I needed an explanation right now. I needed someone to say, Yes, the answer we gave is correct. No, it is not an error. 

But, thank you for the clear answer you two gave.

RobC1Kwiziq community member
Bravo Jan! 

Can you please give more explanation and examples of how the reflexive participle agrees in number and gender?

For example: Nous nous sommes brosse(s) les dents/les cheveux

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PekkaA1Kwiziq community member

Hi. The perfect tense rather than the past tense?

Hi.' Mademoiselle Rose, vous êtes devenue une charmante jeune fille' translates as: M. Rose, you became a charming young lady.  Wouldn't the perfect tense: you have become ' be better here if this is a direct comment to Miss Rose? 

Pekka Järvilehto. 

Helsinki

Asked 1 year ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Hi Pekka,

As you know, the French sentence is in the perfect tense (vous êtes devenue). And I agree with you that for the English translation the perfect tense (you have become) would be more natural.

-- Chris (not a native speaker).

Hi. The perfect tense rather than the past tense?

Hi.' Mademoiselle Rose, vous êtes devenue une charmante jeune fille' translates as: M. Rose, you became a charming young lady.  Wouldn't the perfect tense: you have become ' be better here if this is a direct comment to Miss Rose? 

Pekka Järvilehto. 

Helsinki

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BrianC1Kwiziq community member

should the past participle agree in this sentence, "Elle s'est lavé les mains" ?

Asked 2 years ago
BrianC1Kwiziq community member

I have managed to find this which you should read,
https://www.lawlessfrench.com/grammar/agreement-with-pronominal-verbs/

You will note that Laura uses the following example: Elles se sont lavé les cheveux. Note that there is no agreement unless (like with avoir) the direct object precedes the auxilliary verb. The direct object is les cheveux, se becomes the indirect object.

should the past participle agree in this sentence, "Elle s'est lavé les mains" ?

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LynnC1Kwiziq community member

Does the phrase "il est mort" mean "he is dead" as well as "he died"?

Asked 2 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team memberCorrect answer
Bonjour Lynn !

Yes, and here's why:

- Il est mort = he died 
Here it's Le Passé Composé of mourir, which is one of verbs that take être as an auxiliary.

- Il est mort = he is dead
Here it's simply Le Présent of être (to be) + the adjective (derived from the past participle of mourir) mort.

I hope that's helpful!
À bientôt !

Does the phrase "il est mort" mean "he is dead" as well as "he died"?

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ArashC1Kwiziq community member

Quelles bonnes résolutions as-tu prises cette année?

Quelles bonnes résolutions as-tu prises cette année? Does in this question the verb agrees with object?
Asked 2 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
Bonjour Arash ! Oui absolument ! Indeed the object of the verb here would be "les bonnes résolutions" (what did you take? -resolutions), and this object is placed before the auxiliary "avoir" in the sentence, so "pris" needs to agree with the feminine plural word "résolutions" = "prises". Bonne journée !
AdrienneB2Kwiziq community member
I thought only être needed to agree, not avoir?

Quelles bonnes résolutions as-tu prises cette année?

Quelles bonnes résolutions as-tu prises cette année? Does in this question the verb agrees with object?

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JennyA1Kwiziq community member

Why do you use j'y suis tombe. Why "j'y and not je

Asked 3 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
Bonjour Jenny, When you say "J'y suis tombé(e)", you're saying "I fell (in) there". The adverbial pronoun "y" here is used to replace a place that could have been mentioned previously. I agree that out of context, it sounds a bit weird! If you meant "I fell", you could of course say "Je suis tombé(e)". In our lesson, we're using the example "J'y suis allé(e)" (I went there). In that case, you couldn't just say "Je suis allé(e)" (I went), as in French the verb "aller" always needs a mentioned location (i.e. to go where?). I hope that's helpful! Aurélie
JennyA1Kwiziq community member
Merci beaucoup pour votre reponse Jenny

Why do you use j'y suis tombe. Why "j'y and not je

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