Introduction to the Passé Composé

The compound past tense (past indefinite), more commonly known as the passé composé, refers to an action or event completed in the past. In English, it may be expressed by using the past participle (the ‐ed form of the verb) or by using the helping verbs “have” or “did” with the past participle: He has finished studying.

The word “compound” in this tense is important because it tells you that this tense is made up of more than one part: Two elements are needed to form the passé composé: a helping verb (often called an auxiliary verb) and a past participle.

Although the overwhelming majority of French verbs use avoir (to have) as their helping verb, a few verbs use être (to be), and even fewer may use either of these two helping verbs, depending on the meaning the speaker wishes to impart.