Conjugate être (+ avoir) in Le Passé Composé (conversational past)

Look at these sentences:

L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade.
Last year, I was really sick.

Avez-vous été à Eurodisney?
Have you been to Eurodisney?

Ils ont été très déçus.
They were very disappointed.

Il a été en France.
He's been to France.

Avez-vous été marié?
Have you been married?

In le Passé Composé (conversational past), the verb être (to be) has an irregular past participle: été, and works with avoir as an auxiliary.
    

j'ai été I was/have been
tu as été you were/have been (singular-familiar form)
il/elle/on été he/she/we/one/people was/has been
   
nous avons été we were/have been
vous avez été you were/have been
ils/elles ont été they were/have been

 

 

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Avez-vous été marié?
Have you been married?


Avez-vous été à Eurodisney?
Have you been to Eurodisney?


Tu as été surpris par cela.
You've been surprised by this.


Il a été en France.
He's been to France.



L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade.
Last year, I was really sick.



Ils ont été très déçus.
They were very disappointed.


Q&A Forum 11 questions, 22 answers

Same video aired twice

Hi, Just to inform you that you have two copies of the same video clipping in this lesson.

Asked 1 month ago

Same video aired twice

Hi, Just to inform you that you have two copies of the same video clipping in this lesson.

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Imparfait vs Le Passé Composé for Être

Can you explain how to decide whether to use imparfait or le passé composé for être? If I understand it correctly, imparfait is for past events of some duration or past states of existence while le passé composé is for bounded one-off past events.

Above is this example:

L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade.

But if one was sick for most of the year, or even for some months, wouldn't it be:

L'année dernière, j'étais vraiment malade.

So, am I right in thinking the example sentence means something like "I had an episode of grave illness last year"?

Similarly, there is this example above:

Avez-vous été marié?

But being married is, except in extreme cases where there is a divorce immediately after the marriage, being married is an event of some duration.

So, why wouldn't it be:

Étiez-vous marié?

Unless the question is, simply, "have you ever had a marriage ceremony" (which would be a bounded event rather than a state of existence of some duration). But people don't really ask that.

Thanks for any clarification you can provide.

Asked 2 months ago
CécileKwiziq language super starCorrect answer

Hi Pattrice,

in your first example:

L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade,  it implies that you are better now so the action is completed.

However,  if you said -

L'année dernière quand j'étais malade je ne suis pas sorti de la maison pendant trois semaines.

You are zooming into that period of the past and whilst you were being ill you didn't go out for three weeks 

If you ask the question :

Avez-vous été marié?  

it would indicate that the person you are asking this to, is on her own and you want to find out whether they were ever married or always single.

But if you say -

Vous étiez (déjà)  marié en 1985 quand je vous ai rencontré? 

you are enquiring whether someone (you know has been married) was indeed married when you met them.

Not easy to explain but all to do with context and what meaning you are trying to convey...

Hope this helps!

 

 

Hi Pattrice, the question you ask is a good one and has been asked before several times (and also generated some useful answers). Have you looked in lessons dealing with imparfait in general?

Yes, I have reviewed those lessons. That is why I asked the question, to get expert clarification. I have seen answers from various community members who may or may not be sufficiently expert for me to trust their opinion on this subtle question. I was hoping for an answer from a staff member, but perhaps that is not how this paid service works.

Imparfait vs Le Passé Composé for Être

Can you explain how to decide whether to use imparfait or le passé composé for être? If I understand it correctly, imparfait is for past events of some duration or past states of existence while le passé composé is for bounded one-off past events.

Above is this example:

L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade.

But if one was sick for most of the year, or even for some months, wouldn't it be:

L'année dernière, j'étais vraiment malade.

So, am I right in thinking the example sentence means something like "I had an episode of grave illness last year"?

Similarly, there is this example above:

Avez-vous été marié?

But being married is, except in extreme cases where there is a divorce immediately after the marriage, being married is an event of some duration.

So, why wouldn't it be:

Étiez-vous marié?

Unless the question is, simply, "have you ever had a marriage ceremony" (which would be a bounded event rather than a state of existence of some duration). But people don't really ask that.

Thanks for any clarification you can provide.

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The opposite of the word devant

Asked 3 months ago
ChrisC1Correct answer

derrière -- behind

The opposite of the word devant

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Hello, in the video the speaker uses de liason permanently whereas the audio on the examples doesn't. Is this a regional thing?

Asked 9 months ago
CécileKwiziq language super starCorrect answer

Hi Claudia,

 I have listened to the video and the reader does make all the liaisons possible .

However, those are optional so this gives you the two possibilities.

I don't think the reader has a particular regional accent but it does sound very formal.

Whether French people make an optional liaison or not will depend on preference in the end. Some liaisons make the sentences flow better.

Hope this helps!

 

Merci beaucoup Cécile. 
Why are these liaisons optional?
CécileKwiziq language super star

Hi Johanna,

We are hoping to produce a lesson on 'liaisons' in the new year which will answer your question ...

Hello, in the video the speaker uses de liason permanently whereas the audio on the examples doesn't. Is this a regional thing?

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Suggestion to improve the lesson

I assume the reason this topic was recommended is because I chose to use l'imparfait instead of passé composé. This lesson would be better if it provided more information about when to use passé composé over l'imparfait. Although examples are good, I don't think samples are not sufficient to cover usage.
Asked 1 year ago
RonC1
Bonsoir Alvin, Here is a link regarding l'imparfait and le passé composé Using Le Passé Composé on its own or with L'Imparfait

Suggestion to improve the lesson

I assume the reason this topic was recommended is because I chose to use l'imparfait instead of passé composé. This lesson would be better if it provided more information about when to use passé composé over l'imparfait. Although examples are good, I don't think samples are not sufficient to cover usage.

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SusanB2

How do I know when to use j'ai été rather than j'étais...it's all very confusing

Asked 1 year ago
RonC1
Bonjour Susan, This is a very good question and I thank you for it. I struggle with this myself. Here is the lesson from this site that addresses it: Using Le Passé Composé on its own or with L'Imparfait The one way that I remember the difference is this: 1) If I am speaking, I typically use the passé composé. However, if I am writing a paper or paragraph, then both come into play. 2) Writing descriptive phrases, I tend toward l'imparfait but for one time historical events, I use the passé composé. Having said that, there are very clear-cut grammar rules that address the use of each which should be in the link above for the lesson. Here is another excellent reference site from the UT Austin French department that addresses the difference: https://www.laits.utexas.edu/tex/pr/tap8.html And if neither of these links are satisfactory there are others, simply google search «passé composé vs imparfait» without the quotation marks. Bonne chance et bonne continuation dans vos études de français Ron

Good link to UT Austin, useful

Susan asked:View original

How do I know when to use j'ai été rather than j'étais...it's all very confusing

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Avez-vous ete marie?

Asked 2 years ago
Sorry, I am completely new to the site, so I am not entirely sure what to click and when. My question is why in vous and ete we don't pronounce s at the end of vous?
RonC1
Bonsoir Igor, For the most part, the final consonant on all French words is not pronounced. To that end, of course there are exceptions. Actually with «Avez-vous été marié?» there would possibly be a liaison with the «s» of vous and été so it would be pronounced like «vou s'été» J'espère que cela vous aidera.

Avez-vous ete marie?

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When discussing about a feeling we had in the past don't we use L'imperatif?

Asked 2 years ago
LauraKwiziq language super star
Bonjour Sandunika, I think you mean l'imparfait :-) You can use either imparfait or passé composé, it depends on the situation. J'étais malade = I was sick (ongoing) J'ai été malade = I got sick (all of a sudden)
Merci Laura!

When discussing about a feeling we had in the past don't we use L'imperatif?

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L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade vs L'année dernière, j'étais vraiment malade

(re-posting as as new question) Bonjour Aurélie ! Thank you very much for taking the time to respond, That's very helpful. May I please clarify to ensure I understand? So the use of Le Passé Composé draws attention to a specific instance or time when the speaker was sick last year - for example, if during the month of February s/he had been very ill and was referring to this, it would be correct to say L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade. However, if the speaker is referring more generally to having been ill, perhaps even on several different occasions throughout the year and not drawing attention to a specific occasion of being ill, it would be correct to use L'année dernière, j'étais vraiment malade. Can it be said that Le Passé Composé is more likely to be used to draw attention to the sickness, whereas the use of L'Imparfait might be used if one were drawing attention to the nature of last year rather than particularly drawing attention to the sickness? I know it's a different question, but could you also please let me know if it is acceptable to say: j'ai été mangé (I have been eating) - and whether it is a common construction in French. Many thanks again!
Asked 3 years ago
AurélieKwiziq language super star
Bonjour Adrian ! You are correct as to the usage of Le Passé Composé and L'Imparfait in the examples you gave. I'd rather say that L'Imparfait is more a descriptive tense, describing a state that lasted in the past, such being ill, whereas Le Passé Composé is more focused on actions, expressing something that happened in the past. As for "J'ai été mangé", it means "I have been eatEN" in French! To say "I have been eating", you would once again use Le Passé Composé here, as in French we don't have a "continuous" form (be + -ING), so wouldn't make the distinction between this and "I have eaten". It would be Le Passé Composé as this action is considered in relation with a consequence it has in the present tense, so as one whole action. I hope that's helpful! À bientôt !

L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade vs L'année dernière, j'étais vraiment malade

(re-posting as as new question) Bonjour Aurélie ! Thank you very much for taking the time to respond, That's very helpful. May I please clarify to ensure I understand? So the use of Le Passé Composé draws attention to a specific instance or time when the speaker was sick last year - for example, if during the month of February s/he had been very ill and was referring to this, it would be correct to say L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade. However, if the speaker is referring more generally to having been ill, perhaps even on several different occasions throughout the year and not drawing attention to a specific occasion of being ill, it would be correct to use L'année dernière, j'étais vraiment malade. Can it be said that Le Passé Composé is more likely to be used to draw attention to the sickness, whereas the use of L'Imparfait might be used if one were drawing attention to the nature of last year rather than particularly drawing attention to the sickness? I know it's a different question, but could you also please let me know if it is acceptable to say: j'ai été mangé (I have been eating) - and whether it is a common construction in French. Many thanks again!

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L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade vs L'année dernière, j'étais vraiment malade

Similar question to Clif... Is the second option acceptable, and if so, is there any difference in meaning/emphasis? I was taught that j'ai été vraiment malade was used more to express "I have been really ill" in a sentence such as "Sorry I haven't been to see your recently, but I've been really ill" ...... is that correct? Also, is it grammatically correct (and common usage) to say: j'ai été mangé (I have been eating) Thanks in advance
Asked 3 years ago
AurélieKwiziq language super star

Bonjour Adrian !

Very interesting question indeed!

The past of être is always a bit tricky because the nuances between L'Imparfait and Le Passé Composé are not as easy to sense with this ''state-of-being'' verb. Both cases would be translated in English by ''Last year, I was really sick.''

1. L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade.             

-> In this first case, you're talking about the fact of having been sick as a punctual event that happened at a definite point in the past. You can also as you pointed out translate it with the Present Perfect "I have been sick" when linking it to a later consequence.      

2. L'année dernière, j'étais vraiment malade.

-> In this second case, you're evoking that sickness as something that lasted in the past, in its temporality as a process (e.g. it would be a bit like saying ''I was being sick'').

I hope that's helpful!
À bientôt !

Bonjour Aurélie ! Thank you very much for taking the time to respond, That's very helpful. May I please clarify to ensure I understand? So the use of Le Passé Composé draws attention to a specific instance or time when the speaker was sick last year - for example, if during the month of February s/he had been very ill and was referring to this, it would be correct to say L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade. However, if the speaker is referring more generally to having been ill, perhaps even on several different occasions throughout the year and not drawing attention to a specific occasion of being ill, it would be correct to use L'année dernière, j'étais vraiment malade. Can it be said that Le Passé Composé is more likely to be used to draw attention to the sickness, whereas the use of L'Imparfait might be used if one were drawing attention to the nature of last year rather than particularly drawing attention to the sickness? I know it's a different question, but could you also please let me know if it is acceptable to say: j'ai été mangé (I have been eating) - and whether it is a common construction in French. Many thanks again!

Even though it's coming up to three years that this question was asked, it is an interesting one and sheds light on the ever present problem of passé composé versus imparfait.

I think Adrian got the right idea in his last post, when distinguising between a singular occurrance of falling sick versus emphasising that one was sick more or less over the entire year.

However, I noted one mistake which I wanted to point out: J'ai été mangé means "I was eaten." It is passive voice. To contrast again the most common use of imparfait and passé composé:

J'ai mangé et puis tu m'as appelé. -- I ate and then you called.Je mangeais quand tu m'as appelé. -- I was eating when you called me.

In the first sentence you have two acts in the past, one happening after the other. You need passé composé for both. The second sentence uses imparfait because the act of eating is ongoing and kind of the back story to your calling me. The temporal relationship between the two actions (eating and your calling me) is different.

L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade vs L'année dernière, j'étais vraiment malade

Similar question to Clif... Is the second option acceptable, and if so, is there any difference in meaning/emphasis? I was taught that j'ai été vraiment malade was used more to express "I have been really ill" in a sentence such as "Sorry I haven't been to see your recently, but I've been really ill" ...... is that correct? Also, is it grammatically correct (and common usage) to say: j'ai été mangé (I have been eating) Thanks in advance

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'Ils ont été'

In the example above this example seems a little misleading. Stated by itself, it seems as though it would be imparfait because it sounds to me that it could be describing a state of being in the past. Correct? In order to be passé composé wouldn't it have to describe an action with a clear ending? (after he canceled on them they were disappointed) ?
Asked 3 years ago
LauraKwiziq language super star

Bonjour Clif,

The passé composé is also used when an action has a clear beginning. It's hard to make this distinction clear with "to be disappointed," so I'm going to use "to be sick" to show the difference:

J'étais malade = I was sick (for an unspecified period of time)

vs

J'été malade = I got sick (e.g., after eating some bad seafood)

So in the case of déçu, you need the imperfect when their disappointment is ongoing without a beginning *or* an ending, but the passé composé when they suddenly "got" disappointed because he cancelled on them.

Does that help?

Ok. Yes. That's the way I understand it lol. Like you said I think it was a little more challenging with that particular example. Thank you for clarifying.
EB1
Aurélie, In a response regarding passe compose and imparfait, you used "j'ete malade" to mean "I got sick (because of seafood). What tense is that?

'Ils ont été'

In the example above this example seems a little misleading. Stated by itself, it seems as though it would be imparfait because it sounds to me that it could be describing a state of being in the past. Correct? In order to be passé composé wouldn't it have to describe an action with a clear ending? (after he canceled on them they were disappointed) ?

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Let me take a look at that...