The French love to live for the present.
That must be why they made talking about the past so difficult!
French learners spend months sorting through the differences between the imperfect and composed past… only to face the myriad exceptions, the most baffling of which are certainly irregular past participles.
Past participles are an integral part of all composed French tenses.
At first, they seem pretty reasonable (especially when compared to the French subjunctive or so-called “simple past.”) After all, they are invariable, and the regular ones have just three endings: é, i or u.
Soon, however, French learners are welcomed into the wonderful world of irregular past participles.
It can be enough to make you want to tear your hair out!
No need to stress! Keep cool and read on.
Because this guide will help you master those pesky irregulars.
What Is a (Regular) Past Participle?
Unlike many other languages, French does not use a preterite tense to talk about the past, but rather a composed past tense: the passé composé.
As its name suggests, the passé composé is made up of two elements: an auxiliary verb (avoir [to have] or être [to be]) and a past participle. (If you want to learn more about how the passé composé is formed, there is a guide for that.)
In most cases, the past participle is formed in a very predictable way:
- For 1st group verbs like parler (to speak), the root (parl-) is combined with the ending –é to make the past participle parlé.
- For 2nd group verbs like choisir (to choose), the root (chois-) is combined with the ending –i to make the past participle choisi.
- For 3rd group verbs like descendre (to descend, to go down), the root (descend-) is combined with the ending –u to make the past participle descendu.
Of course, some verbs do not fall into these regular groups. This is when you have to deal with irregular past participles.
How to Learn Irregular Past Participles in French
In addition to using the list and examples below to learn irregular past participles, the best way to study them is simply to practice!
Here are a few great ways to learn these oddities of the French language:
- Multiple-choice conjugation quiz: Choose the right past participle in this interactive exercise, presented entirely in French.
- Fill in the gaps activity: Take your skills a step further with this exercise, which requires you to fill in the correct past participle in the blank.
- FluentU: Watch FluentU videos to train your ear to recognize the irregular uses of past participles. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Let’s start with this Disney video—the French version of “A Tale as Old as Time.” How many past participles can you spot?
Not sure? FluentU brings the vocabulary and grammar within reach with interactive subtitles.
Tap on any word to see an image, definition, grammar explanation including part of speech and useful examples.
Tap on the word “suit,” for example, and this is what appears:
There are also built-in flashcards and fun quizzes to make sure you remember the new words after you’re done watching.
The concept of French past participles should be a bit easier to grasp now that you’ve heard it used! To watch the video above with all the learning features, and explore the full FluentU video library, check out a free FluentU trial.
Master 50 of the Most Common Irregular Past Participles in French with This Guide
French learners are used to encountering exceptions and irregular verbs, but irregular past participles can be a little bit different. Some verbs that learners are used to seeing in the irregular category, like aller (to go), actually look like regular verbs here (the past participle of aller is allé).
This list is your one-stop shop for 50 of the most common irregular past participles:
1. Abstenir (to abstain) → abstenu
2. Acquérir (to acquire) → acquis
3. Apprendre (to learn) → appris
4. Atteindre (to attain) → atteint
5. Asseoir (to sit) → assis
6. Avoir (to have) → eu
7. Boire (to drink) → bu
8. Comprendre (to understand) → compris
9. Conduire (to drive) → conduit
10. Connaitre (to know) → connu
11. Construire (to build) → construit
12. Courir (to run) → couru
13. Couvrir (to cover) → couvert
14. Craindre (to fear) → craint
15. Croire (to believe) → cru
16. Décevoir (to deceive; to disappoint) → déçu
17. Découvrir (to discover) → découvert
18. Devoir (to have to) → dû
19. Dire (to say) → dit
20. Écrire (to write) → écrit
21. Etre (to be) → été
22. Faire (to do; to make) → fait
23. Falloir (to have to) → fallu
24. Instruire (to instruct) → instruit
25. Joindre (to join; to affix) → joint
26. Lire (to read) → lu
27. Mettre (to put) → mis
28. Mourir (to die) → mort
29. Naitre (to be born) → né
30. Obtenir (to obtain) → obtenu
31. Offrir (to offer) → offert
32. Ouvrir (to open) → ouvert
33. Peindre (to paint) → peint
34. Permettre (to allow; to permit) → permis
35. Plaire (to please) → plu
36. Pleuvoir (to rain) → plu
37. Prendre (to take) → pris
38. Produire (to produce) → produit
39. Pouvoir (to be able to) → pu
40. Recevoir (to receive) → reçu
41. Réduire (to reduce) → réduit
42. Rire (to laugh) → ri
43. Savoir (to know) → su
44. Souffrir (to suffer) → souffert
45. Suivre (to follow) → suivi
46. Tenir (to hold) → tenu
47. Vivre (to live) → vécu
48. Valoir (to be worth) → valu
49. Voir (to see) → vu
50. Vouloir (to want) → voulu
Using Irregular Past Participles: It’s Not Just About the Passé Composé
While the most common use of past participles is in composed past tenses such as the passé composé or pluperfect, past participles can actually be used in other ways as well.
Irregular Past Participles Used as Adjectives
For instance, many past participles—both regular and irregular—can also become adjectives. Take a look at the examples featuring irregular past participles below:
En automne, les feuilles mortes tombent des arbres. (In fall, dead leaves fall from trees.)
Le ciel est un peu couvert aujourd’hui. (It’s a bit cloudy today. [Literally: the sky is a bit covered today.])
Veuillez trouver mon CV et ma lettre de motivation joints à cet email. (Please find my CV and cover letter attached to this email.)
As you may have noticed with these examples, when the past participle is used as an adjective, like other adjectives, it agrees with the noun in number and gender.
Generally speaking, past participles only agree with the subject of the sentence when they are conjugated with être. This includes the “DR MRS VANDERTRAMP” list of verbs as well as all reflexive verbs.
La fille de Gemma est née hier. (Gemma’s daughter was born yesterday.)
Je me suis regardée dans la glace avant de partir à l’école. (I looked at myself in the mirror before leaving for school.)
To this list, however, we must add the case of past participles used as adjectives, like in the examples above or the further examples below:
Cette pièce de théâtre a été écrite en 1671. (This play was written in 1671.)
La maison de Paul, construite l’année dernière, a malheureusement pris feu. (Paul’s house, which was built last year, unfortunately caught fire.)
Note: Noun agreement can also happen when the past participle is used as a past participle—but only when the object pre-poses it. Let’s look at some examples:
Marie a pris la pomme qui était sur le comptoir. (Marie took the apple that was on the counter.)
In this example, the past participle pre-poses the object—in this case, pomme—so it doesn’t exhibit noun agreement.
Laura a laissé une pomme sur le comptoir, et Marie l’a prise. (Laura left an apple on the counter, and Marie took it.)
In this example, however, the object—in this case, the l’ that represents the apple—pre-poses the past participle. This means that the past participle, pris, agrees with the object, pomme.
Irregular Past Participles Used as Nouns
In some cases, a past participle can even become a noun linked to the original meaning of the verb.
For the most part, this happens with the feminized form of the past participle, for example:
- Conduit, the past participle of conduire (to drive) becomes conduite (behavior)
Sa conduite lors de la soirée était impardonnable. (Her behavior at the party was inexcusable.)
- Craint, the past participle of craindre (to fear) becomes crainte (fear)
La crainte de toute mère est que quelque chose arriverait à ses enfants. (The fear of any mother is that something would happen to her children.)
- Découvert, the past participle of découvrir (to discover) becomes découverte (discovery)
Les archéologues ont fait une énorme découverte lundi. (The archaeologists made an enormous discovery Monday.)
- Mis, the past participle of mettre (to put) becomes mise (stake, as in gambling)
La mise est de 20 euros—qui veut participer? (The stakes are 20 euro—who’s in?)
- Mort, the past participle of mourir (to die) becomes mort (death)
La mort fait peur à tout le monde. (Death scares everyone.)
In other cases, however, the masculine form is used:
- Joint, the past participle of joindre (to join) also means seal, as in a bathroom
Il nous faut un nouveau joint pour la douche. (We need a new seal in the shower.)
- Permis, the past participle of permettre (to allow) also means permit
Il a obtenu son permis de conduire. (He got his driver’s license.)
- Produit, the past participle of produire (to produce) also means product
Est-ce que tu as acheté du produit pour laver le sol? (Did you buy cleaning products to wash the floor?)
- Reçu, the past participle of recevoir (to receive) also means receipt
Est-ce que vous désirez votre reçu? (Would you like your receipt?)
- Suivi, the past participle of suivre (to follow) also means follow-up
Je vous envois le suivi de votre commande. (I’ll send you your order follow-up [tracking information].)
Master these words and you will soon be using irregular past participles… regularly!
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