Descendre can be used with avoir or être in Le Passé Composé... and changes meaning

Most verbs use either avoir or être as the auxiliary verb in Passé composé (or other compound tense)but descendre uses both, depending on its grammatical usage* and what it means in the sentence.
 
*Grammaphile's Corner : the technical grammatical distinction between these cases is actually whether the verb is used in a transitive or intransitive manner.
- The transitive version (the version with a direct object) uses avoir.
- The intransitive version (lacking a direct object), uses être.

être + descendu [de, sur, etc]

= to get off [something] 
= to get out of  [something/somewhere] 
= to go/come down from/to/into [something/somewhere]
 

Je suis descendu du train avant elle.
I got off the train before her.

Tu es descendu de la voiture.
You got out of the car.

Ils sont descendus de Paris pour le mariage.
They came down from Paris for the wedding.

Elle est descendue à la cave chercher une bouteille de vin.
She went down to the basement to get a bottle of wine.

Note that in each case where être is the auxilliary, the verb descendre is followed by a preposition (en, sur, de, dans, à etc.). 
In these cases descendre is usually about getting off [something], getting out of [something] or coming down from [somewhere].

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

avoir + descendu [quelque chose] ou [quelqu'un]

= to go/come/climb down [something] 
= to take [something] down -> physically move [something] to a lower position 
= to take [someone / animated being] down -> to shoot down, kill
 

J'ai descendu les escaliers aussi vite que j'ai pu.
I went down the stairs as fast as I could.

Il a descendu le Parrain.
He took down the Godfather (!!)

J'ai descendu les boîtes au sous-sol.
I took the boxes down to the basement.

Tu as descendu le cadeau de Pierre?
You took Pierre's present downstairs?

-> Here it literally means You took Pierre's present down (somewhere), which in a geographical context implies down a physical level, such as down some stairs or in the elevator. Therefore in English, you would translate it as downstairs when no clear destination (e.g. to the basement) is expressed. 

When descendre is followed immediately by a noun (as opposed to a preposition), it uses avoir as the auxiliary, like most verbs.  
 
It can be very tricky to get the distinction here if you think in terms of what descendre means in English. English verbs are very often 'prepositional', meaning we say things like to get off a plane as well as disembark a boat which are equivalent in meaning but grammatically very different - our verbs very often have prepositions where they don't in French! So, ask yourself if there's a preposition in the French, not the English! 
 
Here is the list of all "two-auxiliaryverbs in compound tenses:
 

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Elle est descendue à la cave chercher une bouteille de vin.
She went down to the basement to get a bottle of wine.


J'ai descendu les boîtes au sous-sol.
I took the boxes down to the basement.


Ils sont descendus de Paris pour le mariage.
They came down from Paris for the wedding.


avoir + descendu


Il a descendu le Parrain.
He took down the Godfather (!!)


J'ai descendu les escaliers aussi vite que j'ai pu.
I went down the stairs as fast as I could.


Tu as descendu le cadeau de Pierre?
You took Pierre's present downstairs?


être + descendu


Je suis descendu du train avant elle.
I got off the train before her.


Tu es descendu de la voiture.
You got out of the car.


Jacques est descendu du haricot magique.
Jack got off the beanstalk.


Q&A Forum 15 questions, 28 answers

LizC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

He walked down the boulevard ...

Il a descendu ... but where is the verb meaning to walk? I would have translated this sentence as: Il a marché descendre ...  I left the question blank because it was confusing. Thanks for your help!

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

Used in this context, descendre means "to walk down" so you don't need an extra marcher.

He walked down the boulevard ...

Il a descendu ... but where is the verb meaning to walk? I would have translated this sentence as: Il a marché descendre ...  I left the question blank because it was confusing. Thanks for your help!

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LizC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Jack and the giant

According to the notes, Jacques a descendu ... could mean he climbed down off the giant. I picked this answer, too, and it was wrong. Why? Thanks for your help. 

Asked 3 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Liz,

I think it is because the auxiliary verb for to get off something is ‘être’ and not ‘avoir‘ .

So the answer should be -

Jack est descendu du géant 

Hope this helps!

Jack and the giant

According to the notes, Jacques a descendu ... could mean he climbed down off the giant. I picked this answer, too, and it was wrong. Why? Thanks for your help. 

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UberA2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

”Je suis descendu au escalier roulant.”

Can you say this? Or would it have to be “J‘ai descendu l’escalier roulant.” 

Asked 8 months ago
ToddA1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributorCorrect answer

Your first example should use de instead of au to say Je suis descendu de l'escalier roulant. This would mean I got off the escalator. If you were to leave it as is, it would mean I went down to the escalator. If that's your intended meaning, then by all means. :)

Your second example means I went down the escalator

Similar meanings, but slightly nuanced. 

By the way, I know what you're trying to convey, but you can use l'escalator instead of l'escalier roulant (moving stairs). I'm not a native speaker though, so if I'm wrong, someone please correct me. 

Uber asked:View original

”Je suis descendu au escalier roulant.”

Can you say this? Or would it have to be “J‘ai descendu l’escalier roulant.” 

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WalterC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

down the stairs to the basement?

If instead of just going down to the basement to fetch a bottle of wine, she went down THE STAIRS to the basement to fetch the bottle, would you conjugate descendre with etre or avoir?

Walter B.

Asked 10 months ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor Correct answer

It would require avoir, because les escaliers are the direct object and descendre is used as a transitive verb.

J'ai descendu les escaliers à la cave.

That's how I would say it.

WalterC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Thanks, Chris.

Walter

down the stairs to the basement?

If instead of just going down to the basement to fetch a bottle of wine, she went down THE STAIRS to the basement to fetch the bottle, would you conjugate descendre with etre or avoir?

Walter B.

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SunyaB2Kwiziq community member

Jacque a descendu le géant.

The test at the end of the lesson marked the choice: Jack took the giant down (killed him) as wrong. It accepted only the choice: Jack took the giant downstairs as correct. Why? The lesson suggests that the first choice to be one of the correct meanings. What am I missing? 

Thanks, Sunya 

Asked 1 year ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor Correct answer
Are you sure that "Jack took the giant downstairs" is indeed the proper translation? I would have said "Jack took the giant down", meaning he killed it, would be the right one.
AurélieKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Bonjour Sunya !

I had a look at your Correction Board, and it says that both "Jack took the giant down (killed him)" and "Jack took the giant downstairs" are correct, but shows that you only selected one answer (Jack took the giant downstairs), hence the nearly correct mark.

I hope that's helpful!
Bonne journée !

SunyaB2Kwiziq community member

Thank you. I really must focus on distinguishing between intransitive and transitive forms... the action is happening to whom or what? Subject or direct object? être or avoir choice then becomes easier...

Sunya

Sunya asked:View original

Jacque a descendu le géant.

The test at the end of the lesson marked the choice: Jack took the giant down (killed him) as wrong. It accepted only the choice: Jack took the giant downstairs as correct. Why? The lesson suggests that the first choice to be one of the correct meanings. What am I missing? 

Thanks, Sunya 

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EricC1Kwiziq community member

why not he climbed down the magic beanstalk?

"In another example I read that Jacques est descendu de l'arbre means Jack climbed down the tree. So why cannot Jacques est descendu du haricot magique mean Jack climbed down the magic bean as well as Jack got off the magic beanstalk?"  In the quiz I took, I was told it was wrong.
Asked 1 year ago
JimC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

"Jacques est descendu de l'arbre means Jack climbed down the tree." 

Really the English translation should read "Jack climbed down from the tree"

This point is the translation of "de" above.

I suspect this is why you are being marked wrong.

Hope this helps.

Alan

why not he climbed down the magic beanstalk?

"In another example I read that Jacques est descendu de l'arbre means Jack climbed down the tree. So why cannot Jacques est descendu du haricot magique mean Jack climbed down the magic bean as well as Jack got off the magic beanstalk?"  In the quiz I took, I was told it was wrong.

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BeverleyB2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

So many questions on this topic!! t seems to me that there is so much to think about with these avoir/être issues is simply to remember the one rule.

Use etre when it's followed by a preposition and avoir when it's followed by a noun.

Asked 1 year ago
BeverleyB2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
Sorry about the typos.  It's 10.40pm and I have been gardening all day.  I should really be in bed, not revising lessons from my notebook!!

So many questions on this topic!! t seems to me that there is so much to think about with these avoir/être issues is simply to remember the one rule.

Use etre when it's followed by a preposition and avoir when it's followed by a noun.

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PaulC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Jack descended (on) the giant

I can see from the discussion that I am not the only learner who gets confused about this, but am I correct that these two sentences are translated thus:

Jack descended the giant = Jack a descendu le geant (Sorry, can't do the accent)

and

Jack descended on the giant = Jack est descendu sur le geant.

Asked 1 year ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Hi Paul, my understanding is thus:

Jack a descendu le géant. -- Jack took down the giant (i.e., he killed it)
Jack est descendu du géant. -- Jack came down from the giant.#

-- Chris (not a native speaker).

PaulC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Thanks Chris. I saw your two examples in the lesson, but it gets trickier in the multiple choice quizzes.  According to the "right" answers on the quizzes "Jacques a descendu le géant." also means "Jack took the giant downstairs." But the meaning of "Jacques est descendu du haricot magique." includes "Jack got (climbed) off the magic beanstalk" but not "Jack climbed down the magic beanstalk."

Maybe the meaninngs are different for beanstalks and giants a propos Aurelie's comment that "With animated beings, "avoir descendu" means "to take down, to shoot them down, to kill them"." Aurelie also writes that "If you wanted to say "He climbed down ON the giant", you would use "être descendu" as it would be followed by a preposition such as "de" (off/from) or "le long de" (along):"

Maybe the quiz answer is wrong?

TerriC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
I also had this question, and I'm still confused. The examples "J'ai descendu les escaliers" and "Jacques a descendu le géant". Why does the first mean I went down, but the second does not mean He went down (He descended)? I did not get the first two, but this one I did answer was marked wrong. 

Jack descended (on) the giant

I can see from the discussion that I am not the only learner who gets confused about this, but am I correct that these two sentences are translated thus:

Jack descended the giant = Jack a descendu le geant (Sorry, can't do the accent)

and

Jack descended on the giant = Jack est descendu sur le geant.

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RonC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

More specific description please

être + descendu [de, sur, etc] = to get off [something] = to get out of [something/somewhere] = to go/come down from/to/into [something/somewhere] avoir + descendu [quelque chose] ou [quelqu'un] = to go/come/climb down [something] = to take [something] down -> physically moving [something] to a lower position = to take [someone / animated being] down -> to shoot them down, to kill them There seems to be a lot of ambiguity between the English example meanings between être and avoir usage: to get off [something] = to go/come down from/to/into [something/somewhere] and: = to go/come/climb down [something]. Because in English these translations can have very similar meanings, it is unclear to me, hence the ambiguity, a method to differentiate these two. Could you please elaborate more with a bit more preciseness? Merci en avance.
Asked 2 years ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
You use "être descendu" in the intransitive form whenever you use a preposition and not a direct object. For example: "je suis descendu de la boîte" -- I got out of the box. But "j'ai descendu la boîte (à la cave)" -- I took the box down (to the basement). I guess you need to detach yourself from the English and stop translating. Easier said than done, I know, but ultimately there's no way around it. -- Chris.
RonC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
It is difficult to not translate, partially due to the fact that everything on this site is translated. Merci.
GruffKwiziq team member

Hi Ron - yes, this is unfortunately one of the harder aspects of language when the mapping between two languages isn't straightforward. Chris is right that the only way to deal with this is to try to detach yourself from the English (which is only really there to ensure you understand the meaning quickly).

In general, French is more precise than English, so that may help here. Consider that the same expression is used for trains and cars, whereas we use two completely different expressions for the same thing in English (why do we get out of a car, yet get off a train? The action is almost identical - but the act climbing down, say, a bean stalk is clearly different and we see that reflected in the French).

Prepositions (and prepositional phrases, in English) is one of the areas where there is no logic or rule to help. You just have to learn and become familiar with each in each context.

However, the main take away from this lesson and the related lessons is that if the verb takes a direct object (a.k.a. 'transitive') then we use avoir not être in le passé composé.

Hope that helps!

More specific description please

être + descendu [de, sur, etc] = to get off [something] = to get out of [something/somewhere] = to go/come down from/to/into [something/somewhere] avoir + descendu [quelque chose] ou [quelqu'un] = to go/come/climb down [something] = to take [something] down -> physically moving [something] to a lower position = to take [someone / animated being] down -> to shoot them down, to kill them There seems to be a lot of ambiguity between the English example meanings between être and avoir usage: to get off [something] = to go/come down from/to/into [something/somewhere] and: = to go/come/climb down [something]. Because in English these translations can have very similar meanings, it is unclear to me, hence the ambiguity, a method to differentiate these two. Could you please elaborate more with a bit more preciseness? Merci en avance.

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JohnB2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Il ________ descendu le drapeau

I ran into this prompt on the quiz "Il ________ descendu le drapeau, car la reine avait quitté le palais." The correct answer is "il a descendu." Why is it "a" and not "avait"? I feel this is more of an English question than a french question. We have "la reine avait quitté." So shouldn't it be "il AVAIT descendu"? When should we use avait and avait for both clauses?
Asked 2 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team memberCorrect answer
Bonjour John !

Both Le Passé Composé and Le Plus-que-Parfait are possible in this case, depending on the sequence of actions :
- Il avait descendu le drapeau, car la reine avait quitté le palais.
-
> both actions happened simultaneously

- Il a descendu le drapeau, car la reine avait quitté le palais.

- the queen left first, and then he took the flag down

The English sentence we gave was "He took down the flag, because the queen had left the palace.", so here we prompted the second case :)

I hope that's helpful!
À bientôt !
RonC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
It is possible to use l'imparfait and le passé composé in the same sentence I don't have access to the lessons but using the magnifying glass type in passé compose and imparfait together which should give you a lesson explaining it. Bonne chance. My internet connection is down so I am on mon portable pour le moment

Il ________ descendu le drapeau

I ran into this prompt on the quiz "Il ________ descendu le drapeau, car la reine avait quitté le palais." The correct answer is "il a descendu." Why is it "a" and not "avait"? I feel this is more of an English question than a french question. We have "la reine avait quitté." So shouldn't it be "il AVAIT descendu"? When should we use avait and avait for both clauses?

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ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

"Jacques a descendu le géant."

I get the transitive meaning of "avoir descendu" in the example above. Therefore the possible option "Jack descended on the giant.", meaning he is sliding down the gian's body, would also be transitive. So why doesn't it work here? -- Chris.
Asked 3 years ago
JimC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
I think that the sentence translates to "Jacques has felled or knocked down the géant", rather than sliding down his body If we were referring to a staircase then I would agree that this context would have the sense of sliding down. Alan
ClareC1Kwiziq community member
But in the test one has to tick all that COULD be correct. One suggestion is that Jacques descended on the giant. Surely this is a possibility? As well as the other correct answers of Jacques felled the giant and Jacques took the giant downstairs? If it is not a possibility could you please explain why? Thanks
LukasC1Kwiziq community member
I don't understand either. It seems that these two sentences: J'ai descendu les escaliers. Jacques a descendu le géant. Have the exact same structure -- avoir + descendre + an object. How come one can mean "went down the stairs" but the other cannot mean "climbed down the giant" (e.g. on his back or something)?

"Jacques a descendu le géant."

I get the transitive meaning of "avoir descendu" in the example above. Therefore the possible option "Jack descended on the giant.", meaning he is sliding down the gian's body, would also be transitive. So why doesn't it work here? -- Chris.

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SheilaB2Kwiziq community member

au sous-sol.

I understand that we use être w hen certain verbs are followed by a preposition but isn't 'au' as in 'J'ai descendu les boîtes au sous-sol.', a preposition or have I got that wrong - again!
Asked 3 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
Bonjour Sheila ! I understand your confusion, but here "au sous-sol" doesn't follow and relate to the verb "descendre". In this sentence, "descendre" is followed by a direct object (to take [something] down), therefore you use "avoir", even though you're adding a location *where* you're taking these boxes. The meaning is different: it's "to take [something] down [somewhere]" vs "to go down [somewhere]". I hope that's helpful! À bientôt !
SheilaB2Kwiziq community member
Ok thanks

au sous-sol.

I understand that we use être w hen certain verbs are followed by a preposition but isn't 'au' as in 'J'ai descendu les boîtes au sous-sol.', a preposition or have I got that wrong - again!

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AurélieKwiziq team member

Susan asked: " doesn't être+descendre mean come down from AND get off of?"

"Jacques est descendu du haricot magique." (Jack got off the magic beanstalk.)
Asked 3 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
Hello Susan ! The nuance here is as such: "être descendu" can mean "to come down (from)" in the sense of leaving (something), such as "I came down from the attic" which implies leaving the attic. However, "avoir descendu" would be "to come down (something)", as in being on something and sliding/climbing/going down it. Therefore here to say "Jack came down the magic beanstalk." (i.e. progressed down its surface), you would say "Jacques A descendu le haricot magique.". I hope that's helpful! À bientôt !
Susan C1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
Aha. Merci.

Susan asked: " doesn't être+descendre mean come down from AND get off of?"

"Jacques est descendu du haricot magique." (Jack got off the magic beanstalk.)

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AurélieKwiziq team member

Christopher asked: "Why "J. a descendu le géant." can't mean "J. climbed down on the giant" ?"

Asked 3 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
Bonjour Christopher ! The form "avoir descendu" can only mean "to go/come/climb down" SOMETHING: this meaning doesn't apply to people or animated beings. With animated beings, "avoir descendu" means "to take down -> to shoot them down, to kill them" If you wanted to say "He climbed down ON the giant", you would use "être descendu" as it would be followed by a preposition such as "de" (off/from) or "le long de" (along): "Il est descendu du géant. / Il est descendu le long de la jambe du géant. (along the giant's leg)" I hope that's helpful! À bientôt !

Christopher asked: "Why "J. a descendu le géant." can't mean "J. climbed down on the giant" ?"

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JenniferC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

descendu le Parrain. He took down the Godfather (!!)

Is this a physical taking down or can it be a taking down of his power?
Asked 3 years ago
MarkC1Kwiziq community memberCorrect answer
I think it means he assassinated the Godfather, or had him assassinated. See the failed attempt to do just that in "The Godfather, Part I".
JenniferC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
Thank you.

descendu le Parrain. He took down the Godfather (!!)

Is this a physical taking down or can it be a taking down of his power?

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