I was reading a French article and I came upon this structure a few times:

Il a été capturé.

But in school, for what I can remember we were only taught this:

Il est capturé.

So what is the actual difference in meaning and when should these structures be used? This incertitude remains as we didn't really used the first one in school; I noticed however that they are often used in articles.

3 Answers 3


These are passive constructions in the passé composé and indicatif présent tenses, respectively. No adjectives are involved whatsoever. The difference between them two is one of tense. The second one would be more accurately translated as He's being/getting caught.

In French the passive is constructed by following the corresponding conjugation of être with the past participle of the verb. Note that in such construction, the past participle must agree in gender and number with the subject.

  • @PaulPicard I agree that il est capturé is unidiomatic (but grammatical) and a number of other formulations would be better choices. I considered pointing it out, but it wasn't directly related to the question.
    – Circeus
    Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 13:54

NOTE: french is my mother language, it's why I can respond.
But english is NOT, so apologies in advance for this aspect :-)

Although previous answers are correct, it seems important to mention something else.

There is a difference between two kinds of verbs, natively rather appropriated for designate either an action/event (what is currently happening) or a result/situation (what is the state due to a previous action/event).

In the case of capturer, which belongs to the first kind above, il a été capturé is the most natural way to use it: it describes an event which already happened (and the result is something like il est prisonnier).

At the opposite, il est capturé may be rarely used: only in a special way to tell the story, where tense is always présent de l'indicatif, often for a dramatical effect. Example for the "whole" story: Il est poursuivi. Il tombe, il se relève... Mais il est rattrapé: ça y est, il est capturé !

  • Nice explanation! I'm wondering if "est capturé" can also be used (as "is captured" can be in English) in a quasi "conditional" sense like "If/when he is captured [he will be punished]" (quand/s'il est capturé ...) or does one have to use the future/conditional tense in that "si/quand" clause? (or would you try to avoid "si/quand" completely and say "Une fois capturé...."?) (or something else?) Thanks
    – Papa Poule
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 16:38
  • @PapaPoule: in fact, you may use either formulation, with a subtle difference. 1. In most cases, where we are drawing plans for a precise action targetting a given person, we'll say "s'il est capturé / quand il sera capturé". 2. The other style applies if we are talking about the general rules to follow in such occasions: "s'il est capturé / quand il est capturé".
    – cFreed
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 18:22

In both cases you're using the verb être with an adjective (capturé). The first one uses past tense (passé composé, he has been caught) the second one uses present tense (he is caught).

The difference in meaning is nothing more than the tense.

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