Bonjour à tous! I have come across this example in Le Petit Robert that I did not understand. Why don't we accord the participe passé of the verb vivre with les années? If there is a rule, could you as well refer me to it?

(avec un compl. de durée) Avoir une vie d'une certaine durée. Les éléphants vivent longtemps. Les années qu'il a vécu, pendant lesquelles il a vécu (le participe ne s'accorde pas).

But later in the article it is used differently:

Les jours difficiles qu'elle a vécus.

  • 1
    This article should give you all the answers you need :) Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 7:32
  • @ Teleporting Goat, thank you for the reference. I've saved the site in my bookmarks.
    – Logan Xav
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 11:44

3 Answers 3


Certains verbes intransitifs comme courir, coûter, dormir, durer, marcher, mesurer, peser, régner, reposer, valoir, vivre, etc., peuvent être accompagnés d'un complement circonstanciel qui exprime la durée, la distance, le prix, ou la valeur (compléments circonstanciels de mesure).

Dans ces cas, le participe passé reste invariable. Par exemple :

Ce livre m'a coûté cent francs => Les cent francs que ce livre m'a coûté.

Les années qu'il a vécu pauvre => Les années pendant lesquelles il a vécu pauvre.

Cependant, courir, coûter, peser, valoir, vivre peuvent être transitifs et admettre un complement d'objet direct (COD). Donc, leur participe passé varie.

En particulier, vivre est transitif lorsqu'il signifie passer, éprouver.

Il n'oublierait pas les moments qu'ils avaient vécus (c-à-d passés) ensemble.

Source: Grammaire: Les Guides Le Robert & Nathan, p. 15-16.

P.S. Il y a une nouvelle édition mais moi je ne possède que la précédente.

  • Ces compléments circonstanciels s'appellent d'ailleurs compléments circonstanciels de mesure. Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 7:24
  • @TeleportingGoat Merci. Le livre que j'ai utilisé pour répondre ne mentionne pas ce terme.
    – Dimitris
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 7:26
  • @ dimitris, thank you for your book reference and explanation. The book seems to be a very good resource for learning. Do you know any of this kind for Spanish or Italian?
    – Logan Xav
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 11:43
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    @LoganXav : I do not know any Spanish of Italian. I answer you based only on my experience with French and German. The Easy...(language) Step by Step method is great one. I have worked with the French and the German book and I like a lot the approach. Also the books from Rutledge are great (judging from the French and German Basic Grammar series). Last but not least I recommend the Teach Youself Series (I have worked with the French and German books).
    – Dimitris
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 11:59
  • 1
    @LoganXav The books suggested are for anglophones of course. The book mentioned in my answer is a grammar book for francophones. I suppose that you search Spanish/Italian language books for anglophones. If you search Spanish/Italian language for francophones I am not certainly the right person to reply:-)!
    – Dimitris
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 12:02

That would be confusing!

Like a few verbs, vivre can take a direct object or not. Without an object, it means "live". With an object, it might be translated "undergo", "experience", or "live through".

When it's without an object, the years are an adverbial complement of time, or how long he lived. This could be made explicit by using "for" in English or pendant in French.

Compare the adverb:

A) He lived [for] several more years.
Il a vécu [pendant] plusieurs années de plus.

Versus the object:

B) He lived through three years [of war].
Il a vécu trois années [de guerre].

They mean option A in the first example, so the years don't agree (vécues) as an object would.

In the second example, they mean days he underwent, experienced, lived through. They are the direct object of vivre, so they agree (jours).

Note that nothing in the actual wording of these examples makes us read one way or the other — I'm just working backwards from the agreement they've used. But the reasoning could be useful when you're writing and need to know whether to agree.

[Pendant] les trois jours qu'il a vécu après l'accident il ne voulait pas manger.

  • @ Luke Sawczak, thank you for the English equivalents.
    – Logan Xav
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 11:45

My impression is that when the complement of vivre is quantified or numbered in some way, it triggers a reading as a circumstantial argument denoting a length of time. This is the same type of argument seen with verbs of measure such as mesurer and peser, which do not trigger agreement.

However, les jours difficiles does not have any quantifier and is this treated not as a length of time but as a more metaphorical, and thus "normal" object complement, which do similarly trigger agreement with peser (hence "les arguments que j'ai pesés", as quoted here at the bottom of page 3).

It's worth noting that very few of the verbs that can show this contrast have the object and circumstantial complement taking such similar forms: usually they are more distinct, hence the confusion.

  • @ Circeus, thank you for the link!
    – Logan Xav
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 11:46

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