French Verbs - Past Participle Agreement

Past Participle Agreement

The past participle is used in three ways in French: as an adjective, in the passive construction, and in the compound tense-aspect constructions. When it is used as an adjective, it follows all the regular adjective agreement rules. In passive constructions, it always agrees with the passive subject.

In compound tense-aspect forms, more complicated agreement rules apply.

A. The auxiliary verb is avoir.

  1. If there is no direct object (the verb is intransitive) or the direct object appears after the past participle, then the past participle does not agree (i.e., it takes the default masculine singular form).
    • (intransitive) Elles ont dormi. ("They (fem.) slept.")
    • (direct object after verb) Claire a vu deux baleines. ("Claire saw two whales.")
  2. If there is a direct object and it appears before the past participle, then the participle must agree with it. Three cases:
    • (pronoun before the auxiliary) Il y avait deux baleines. Claire les a vues. ("There were two whales. Claire saw them.")
    • (clause-initial wh-question element) Quelles baleines Claire a-t-elle vues ? ("Which whales did Claire see?")
    • (relative clause introduced by que) les deux baleines que Claire a vues ("the two whales that Claire saw")
  3. The above rules apply in writing only. In speech, the past participle of a verb conjugated with avoir is nearly always invariable. (For the vast majority of verbs, this would be the case anyway. For example, vu vus vue vues "seen" are all pronounced /vy/. However, this applies also to past participles like fait "done" and mis "put" whose feminine forms sound different in speech.)

B. The auxiliary is être, and the verb is not reflexive. The past participle agrees with the subject:

Elles sont arrivées. ("They (fem.) arrived.")

C. The auxiliary is être and the verb is reflexive. The agreement rules are in fact the same as those for structures with avoir in A, keeping in mind that the reflexive pronoun corresponds to either the direct object or the indirect object of the verb.

  1. There is no direct object, or the direct object appears after the past participle → no agreement. In these cases, the reflexive pronoun expresses the indirect object.
    • (no direct object) Elles se sont succédé. Nous nous sommes parlé. ("They (fem.) succeeded. We spoke with each other.")
    • (direct object after verb) Elles se sont posé des questions. ("They (fem.) asked each other some questions.")
  2. There is a direct object and it appears before the past participle. → The past participle agrees with this object. The first three cases are the same as in A.2 above (the reflexive pronoun is the indirect object).
    • (direct object pronoun) J'ai fait une tarte. Les enfants se la sont partagée. ("I made a pie. The children shared it.")
    • (wh-question) Quelle tarte se sont-ils partagée ? ("Which pie did they share?")
    • (que relative) la tarte que les enfants se sont partagée ("the pie that the children shared")

    The reflexive pronoun can itself be the direct object, in which case the participle agrees with it (and therefore with the subject). This also includes "inherently reflexive" verbs, for which the reflexive pronoun cannot be interpreted semantically as an object (direct or indirect) of the verb.

    • (ordinary reflexive) Elles se sont suivies. Nous nous sommes salués. ("They (fem.) followed each other. We greeted each other.")
    • (inherently reflexive) Ils se sont moqués de moi. Nous nous sommes souvenus de l'événement.
      ("They made fun of me. We remembered the event.") (exception: Elles se sont ri du danger. "They (fem.) laughed at the danger.")

Read more about this topic:  French Verbs

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