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In my French class we had one exercise to choose the right form of the past participle and even the teacher (a French native) wasn't sure what the correct answer was. It's kind of an awkwardly structured phrase, which doesn't help either:

Des problèmes, ils s'en sont créé / créés toute leur vie !

The book says the correct answer is "créés", but in the rules we got from a different text they say there should be no agreement when "en" is the COD of the verb. However, that section is talking about verbs that are conjugated with "avoir" and offers no specific rules for "être" and "en".

I would like to know from someone knowledgeable enough in the subtleties of French conjugation which one they consider correct and if you have an authoritative source to cite, that'd be perfect. Thanks!

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This is a case that combines 2 grammar rules:

1) the agreement of the past participle with a reflexive verb

2) the agreement of the past participle with "en" used as COD

The first rule states that the past participle of reflexive verbs (which use indeed the auxiliary "être") that have a COD follows the same agreement rules as standard verbs, ie that the agreement of the past participle must be made with the COD if it precedes the verb (see here).

BUT the second rule states an exception to the general rule of agreement with the COD that precedes, namely that there is NO agreement of the past participle if the COD is the pronoun "en" (see here). This applies to all cases of the rule above.

Hence:

If the COD comes after the participle => no agreement

Ils se sont créé des problèmes.

If the COD comes before the participle => agreement

Les problèmes qu'ils se sont créés

If the COD is "en" => no agreement

Des problèmes, ils s'en sont créé

  • Thanks for your answer, Greg. My teacher came back the following class after consulting with her colleagues and they all agreed there's no agreement when "en" is the COD, like you say. So, looks like the book's answer was wrong 🤷‍♂️ – Mariano Ruggiero Jun 22 at 6:50

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