What is the tense of this sentence?

Nous sommes allés faire une promenade.

So far, I have learned about passé composé, futur proche, and passé proche. However, none of them seem to fit here.

  • 3
    Note that this is stilted French. In real life: On est allés faire une promenade or On a été faire une promenade.
    – jlliagre
    Jun 19, 2023 at 21:33
  • 1
    Ou encore: nous sommes allés nous promener.
    – Frank
    Jun 19, 2023 at 23:18
  • 3
    @Frank Mieux : On est allés se promener. Le pronom sujet nous a disparu de la quasi totalité des registres du français parlé.
    – jlliagre
    Jun 20, 2023 at 8:35
  • @jlliagre À ce point? Bon, ok :-)
    – Frank
    Jun 20, 2023 at 13:34
  • 1
    @jlliagre Oops! Effectivement, j'ai lu trop vite. Je regardais l'entrée de TLFi sur "on" tout à l'heure, et c'est un très vieux mot apparemment. Je vais continuer à lire pour voir si dans le passé, il a été utilisé dans d'autres fonctions que sujet.
    – Frank
    Jun 20, 2023 at 15:27

3 Answers 3


It's also passé composé. This is the verb aller conjugated with the auxiliary être. You may be used to seeing the use of the auxiliary avoir, as in the sentence "j'ai couru pendant toute la promenade", but for some verbs we use the auxiliary être.

For some verbs you can use both, each giving a different meaning to the action.

With the être auxiliary, the past participle, in this case allés, is conjugated in the plural with the subject, in this case "nous". That's why we put an s at the end.

This sentence expresses a past action that you could simply translate it as: we went for a walk.

I'd say it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the present: in French, we use the passé composé a lot, to the detriment of other past tenses like passé simple or imparfait.

  • I just googled "liste des verbes se conjuguant avec l'auxiliaire être" and sadly the first 20 pages in the results were wrong. Google results are not reliable :(
    – Stef
    Jun 20, 2023 at 15:15
  • @Hippo, thanks for your explanation.
    – sleepy
    Jun 20, 2023 at 15:56

One English translation is "we went to take a walk."

In English, the verb is went, in the simple past, and to take is an infinitive complement of the verb. In French, the verb is sommes allés, in the passé composé, and faire is a complement of the verb.

I'm not entirely sure of the French grammatical terms, but faire plays the same role in French as take does in English. I believe it's called a COD (complément d'objet direct), and in this case the COD happens to be an infinitive.

  • The "golden" rule is: “quand deux verbes se suivent le deuxième est à l'infinitif (except of course when the 1st one is an auxiliary). The second verb is indeed complement of the 1st one, not sure offhand it it's always COD, it is here anyway.
    – None
    Jun 19, 2023 at 15:37
  • @None: I guess that in English, we have both gerund complements (I suggested going to a movie) and infinitive complements (I wanted to go to a movie). And in French, the golden rule says that verb complements are always infinitive, so the phrase complément infinitif would be redundant, which is why I don't remember seeing it anywhere. Jun 19, 2023 at 16:12
  • @PeterShor Upon quick verification, complément infinitif doesn't seem to show up in LBU 14th, so it's probably called something else.
    – Frank
    Jun 19, 2023 at 16:24
  • I've only seen it used in academic papers (and even then rarely). Not identified as such in the grammar taught at school
    – None
    Jun 19, 2023 at 16:26
  • It seems that the same problem/nuance exists in English: why We went to take a walk rather than We took a walk? (Though the first phrase might be suggested by the analogy with We went for a walk.)
    – Roger V.
    Jun 20, 2023 at 8:57

This is a construction that involves two verbs, the first one being a verb of motion ("aller" in this case), always conjugated, and the second one some other verb of an allowed sort (a numerous kind), always in the infinitive. Here is the definition for "aller".

(TLFi) 3. [Aller est suivi d'un inf. marquant le but, le plus souvent non précédé de la prép. pour; avec éventuellement un adv. ou un compl. de lieu entre aller et l'inf.] Se mettre en mouvement pour faire quelque chose.

  • Aller voir un ami

It follows that you have to consider the tense of "aller" which is easily seen to be the "passé composé"; the tense and mode of "faire" are "présent" and "infinitif", respectively.

"Faire une promenade" is a "complement circonstanciel de but"; the equivalent in English grammar is "adverbial" (adjunct of purpose).

Some usual verbs as first element (not all verbs of motion enter into this construction)

  • aller, venir, partir, revenir, sortir,


  • Elle va chercher sa fille à l'école. — Elle va à l'école chercher sa fille. (option of position for CC de lieu)

  • Il part souvent pêcher à la campagne. (possibility of insertion of an adverb)

  • Ils sont revenus (pour) prendre leurs affaires. (sometimes "pour" is optional and does not change the meaning)

  • Ils viennent parfois dire bonjour.

  • nous étions partis chercher des provisions.

  • Il est allé étudier à l'université.

  • Le planton est sorti vérifier les papier de l'automobiliste.

  • Il a sauté décrocher le pompon. (not idiomatic)

  • Il a sauté pour décrocher le pompon. (correct)

  • Looks like a small typo on "ils sont revenu(s)"
    – kuroi neko
    Jun 20, 2023 at 10:24
  • @LPH, thanks for the explanation.
    – sleepy
    Jun 20, 2023 at 13:29

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