In my French class, we were taught the "Dr. and Mrs. Vandertramp" mnemonic to learn the main verbs that use être as an auxiliary verb in the passé composé in most cases. Looking at the results from a web search, this seems like a commonly used device for English speakers learning French. How long this mnemonic been used and who invented it?

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    @jlliagre Wow. How is anyone able to remember which letter corresponds to which verb?!
    – N.I.
    Sep 20, 2018 at 8:31
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    @NajibIdrissi Yes, puzzling at first sight but that's how mnemonics work. They only help finding pieces of information already buried in the brain but they generally can't help building them from scratch.
    – jlliagre
    Sep 20, 2018 at 8:46
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    @Graham Note that the rule is misleading inasmuch as some of these verbs are conjugated in compound tenses with avoir instead of être when they take a direct object and in some special cases (e.g. J'ai monté/descendu les bagages; j'ai monté l'escalier, etc.).. Note also that implicitly this list contains compounds of venir like convenir and parvenir. Bear in mind that these verbs are a little tricky:-)! larousse.fr/dictionnaires/francais/convenir/18968/difficulte
    – Dimitris
    Sep 20, 2018 at 10:10
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    Yup, it's not great. I haven't met many students who like this long mnemonic. Even once you get it, it's only ever useful in artificial test environments. One way of memorizing it is a house diagram people use: You can entrer dans une maison et en sortir, etc. But it's too arbitrary, and people don't naître in houses anymore anyway. :p What I've found surprisingly effective for all ages is simply chunking. We start with "venir" and put it under the heading "coming", which pulls in "arriver" and "entrer". Then "revenir" under "coming back", adding "rentrer" and "retourner". And so on...
    – Luke Sawczak
    Sep 20, 2018 at 12:16
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    Sometimes students see different patterns, so we use whatever's most coherent for them. For example, one student thinks of "rester jeune / devenir vieux", while another thinks of "naître, devenir ce qu'on est, mourir" under the heading "life stages". If "rester" is left over they can always use "Qu'est ce qui reste ?" But whichever way it shakes out, this method exploits the underlying semantic consistency in this range of verbs. Students seem to like this semantic method better than formal patterns like "venir/revenir/devenir" and "enter/rentrer" (which don't account for them all anyway).
    – Luke Sawczak
    Sep 20, 2018 at 12:19

1 Answer 1


The oldest reference search engines are able to find seems to be this 1984 document :

Experiment in International Living. School for International Training, ‎Peace Corps (U.S.). Information Collection and Exchange

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Note that:

  • native French speaking people are generally unaware of this mnemonic

  • passer is sometimes included in more recent versions of this list (either as Mrs. P. Vandertramp or Mrs Vandertrampp), although j'ai passé is at least as frequent as je suis passé. There are rules to decide which auxiliary verb to use.

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