I have some difficulties grokking this subject, after reading a lot here and other sites, I've tried to create a flow chart that summarizes all the different cases, so it can be used by French language students or even a computer program.

I'd like to get a feedback, and more specifically, my questions are:

  1. Is it correct? Are there any mistakes or inaccuracies?
  2. Is it complete? Are there any cases not covered here?
  3. How can it be simplified?
  4. Is it necessary to learn the verbs in (10) by heart? What exactly do they have in common?

Terminals are denoted by trapezes or ovals (for exceptions). My main source is http://www.leaflanguages.org/french-grammar-reflexive-verbs-passe-compose-past-tense/

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  • 1
    Where is the en direct object that does not trigger agreement, I can't find it in the chart. What are the exceptions on the left side (i.e. reflexive verbs that would use avoir)
    – GAM PUB
    Mar 31, 2018 at 5:12

3 Answers 3


Yes, it can certainly be simplified! Here's my attempt and link to LucidChart doc (requires login).

Past participle agreement

Written explanation:

Having taught this to elementary and high school students for a few years now, I've boiled it down to two rules that do need some explanation but are easy to remember once they're understood.

Make the past participle agree when:

  1. The verb takes the auxiliary être by default
    • These are generally intransitive verbs that imply a change in the subject's state or position, including Dr. Mrs. Vandertramp*
    • The participle agrees with the subject


  1. The verb has a direct object that comes before it
    • Keep in mind that "reflexive" objects can be direct or indirect
    • The participle agrees with the direct object

* The only verbs that should be memorized by heart for this purpose.

As long as students understand a few basic terms, these rules are pretty clear.

A couple of the thornier points:

  • "être by default" means that a verb whose auxiliary becomes être because it's reflexive doesn't automatically count. It may still count because of the second rule, but not just because it's être. This rule refers to verbs like tomber that naturally take être.

  • "direct or indirect reflexive objects" means you can't tell just by looking at the reflexive object. Test using the verb's infinitive: does it take an indirect object, i.e. does it use à ?

    • lever qqn.nous nous sommes levés
    • parler à qqn.nous nous sommes parlé
    • Since some verbs only seem to appear in the reflexive form (se méfier de), it might be impossible to recast the reflexive object postverbally. The source you cite says these are all going to function like direct objects, i.e. trigger agreement, and I believe that's right.
  • Don't forget that some sentences have two objects. Make sure you agree with the direct one.

    • As-tu envoyé la lettre à Jean ? — Oui, je la lui ai envoyée.
  • Great, this is much simpler, thanks. I was wondering if you should make a distinction between an object which is a pronoun and one which isn't. BTW, en is also a direct (undefined) object, but doesn't trigger an agreement. I just realized it's missing in my chart as well.
    – dimid
    Mar 31, 2018 at 19:53
  • @dimid Hmm, in my grammar en doesn't fall under the heading of "direct object", but I updated the bottom right box to say "preposition" instead of just "à" (any preposition means no agreement). For the pronoun, that would be another way to cover "before the verb vs. after the verb" — but not quite because you can have pronominal objects after the verb, so this rule probably captures it more simply.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Mar 31, 2018 at 21:41
  • I've meant en, not as in the proposition in, but as the direct undefined object, as in j'en ai acheté beaucoup. BTW, what happens if there is an object, but it's after the verb?
    – dimid
    Apr 1, 2018 at 14:39
  • P.S. perhaps it'd also worthwhile to add that a COD before the verb, could be in the main phrase, while the verb in the subordinate one, e.g. les fleurs que j'ai achetées. Anyhow, it's a great answer and I've accepted it.
    – dimid
    Apr 1, 2018 at 15:00
  • @dimid (a) I know which en you mean, but I don't think of it as the COD. J'ai acheté beaucoup de pommes. The COD is beaucoup de pommes, but en only replaces part of that unit, so they can't be identical. (b) If there's an object after the verb, no agreement: Thus, J'ai acheté trois fleurs but Les fleurs que j'ai achetées. (c) Good point about the clause difference; when explaining this to students, if they get confused, I usually check that they know the object must belong to that verb. "What did I buy?" — "Flowers." — "Okay, so fleurs is the noun that matters."
    – Luke Sawczak
    Apr 2, 2018 at 1:27

For starters, your graph is treating "verb" and "auxiliary" as the same thing ("Quel est le verbe" ought to be "quel est l'auxiliaire"). They are not and this makes your graph confusing to people trying to explain.

In fact, because of this, I cannot even tell what distinction "y a-t-il un nom après le verbe" is trying to make since I can't tell if you're referring to auxiliaries while simultaneously managing to confused nouns and pronouns (the latters of which would be before the auxiliary), or referring to actual nouns being after the entire verb.


For a preliminary version of a diagram flow, it is rather good. Linguistically it needs some effort to be a proper one. Others will certainly point out several things.

I want just to add the following mnemonic rule for the verbs conjugated with être:



Mourir, Rester, Sortir, Devenir, Retourner, Venir, Aller, Naître, Descendre, Entrer, Revenir, Tomber, Rentrer, Arriver, Mourir, Passer, Partir

and their compounds (like ressortir, repasser, repartir, remonter, etc.)

[There are some other verbs like contrevenir, intervenir, parvenir - all compounds of venir - but for a beginner above empirical law suffices. The rules are a little complicated for these verbs. Not all the grammars talked about them.]

There are also some verbs that they are conjugated with avoir if they have a direct object.

They are:

Sortir (J'ai sorti les poubelles. Je suis sorti avant lui.), Monter, Retourner, Descendre, Passer, Rentrer.


What is the difference between the verb 'sortir' being conjugated with être or avoir?

Dr and Mrs Vandertrampp

Origin of the "Dr. and Mrs. Vandertramp" mnemonic

  • Thank you, love the mnemonic :) I deliberately tried not to get into details of when to use être/avoir, since the chart is already too complicated.
    – dimid
    Mar 30, 2018 at 3:40
  • On second thought, in case of avoir and a direct object, does the participe passé fit to the subject? If so, it should be added to the chart.
    – dimid
    Mar 30, 2018 at 3:52
  • Hmm, looks like this isn't case (unless the COD is before the auxiliary, which is already covered in the chart) la-conjugaison.nouvelobs.com/regles/orthographe/…
    – dimid
    Mar 30, 2018 at 13:01

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