Lesson 1: School

Introduction to Perfect Tenses

The next section is optional. You will eventually learn everything that is covered in it, but if you would like a preview, read it, and if not, continue on to the school section.

  • The perfect tenses are also called the compound or composed tenses.
  • The perfect tenses are all composed of a conjugated auxiliary verb and a fixed past participle.

Auxiliary Verb Formation

  • The auxiliary verb is always either avoir or être.
  • The tense of the verb depends upon the tense that avoir or être is conjugated in.
    • When the auxiliary verb is conjugated in the passé composé, for example, the auxiliary verb is conjugated in the present indicative.
      • J’ai fini. – I have finished.

Past Participle Formation

  • -er verbs – replace -er with é
  • -ir verbs – replace -ir with i
  • -re verbs – replace -re with u
  • irregular verbs – must be memorized

Past Participle Agreement

  • The past participle must agree with the direct object of a clause in gender and plurality if the direct object goes before the verb.
    • the direct object is masculine singular – no change
      • J’ai fini le jeu. – I have finished the game.
      • Je l’ai fini. – I have finished it.
    • the direct object is feminine singular – add an e to the past participle
      • J’ai fini la tâche. – I have finished the task.
      • Je l’ai finie. – I have finished it.
    • the direct object is masculine plural – add an s to the past participle.
      • J’ai fini les jeux. – I have finished the games.
      • Je les ai finis. – I have finished them.
    • the direct object is feminine plural – add an es to the past participle.
      • J’ai fini les tâches. – I have finished the tasks.
      • Je les ai finies. – I have finished them.
  • The past participle must agree with the subject of a clause in gender and plurality if it is conjugated with the auxiliary être.
    • the subject is masculine singular – no change
      • Il est arrivé. – He has arrived.
    • the subject is feminine singular – add an e to the past participle
      • Elle est arrivée. – She has arrived.
    • the subject is masculine plural – add an s to the past participle.
      • Ils sont arrivés. – They have arrived.
    • the subject is feminine plural – add an es to the past participle.
      • Elles sont arrivées. – They have arrived.

Avoir ou Être?

  • In most circumstances, the auxiliary verb is avoir.
  • However, under certain situations, the auxiliary verb is être.
  • This occurs when:
    • The verb is one of 16 special verbs that take être.
      • Note that when a direct object is used with these verbs, the auxiliary verb becomes avoir.
    • The verb is reflexive.
      • That is, the subject of the verb is also its object.

List of Tenses

There are seven perfect tenses in French. These are:

  1. Le passé composé (The Present Perfect)
  2. Le plus-que-parfait de l’indicatif (The Pluperfect of the Indicative)
  3. Le plus-que-parfait du subjonctif (The Pluperfect Subjunctive)
  4. Le passé antérieur (The Past Anterior)
  5. Le futur antérieur (The Future Anterior)
  6. Le conditionnel passé (The Past Conditional)
  7. Le passé du subjonctif (The Past Subjunctive)

Don’t worry if you don’t completely understand the perfect tenses. Each tense and lists of irregular verb conjugations will be given later in this course. In the next lesson, the passé composé is introduced.

Introduction to Moods and Tenses

Like the above section, this is also optional. You will eventually learn everything in here.


French Vocabulary • School
School L’école
GeneralClasses / Grades
le professeur[2]teacher12th GradeClasse Terminale
la boursescholarship11th Grade1ère (la première classe)
le diplôme (professionnel)diploma10th Grade2ème (la deuxième classe)
le bac(calauréat)high school exit exam9th Grade3ème (la troisième classe)
la bibliothèquelibrary8th Grade4ème (la quatrième classe)
les notesgrades (as on a test)7th Grade5ème (la cinquième classe)
les coursclasses or courses6th Grade6ème (la sixième classe)
la classegrade (e.g. 6th Grade)5th GradeCM2 (CM = cours moyen)
en cours de […]in […] class4th GradeCM1
Pendant les cours – During Classes3rd GradeCE2 (CE=cours élémentaire)
le tableauchalkboard2nd GradeCE1
la craiechalk1st GradeCP1 (CP = cours préparatoire)
le pupitredeskVerbs
l’examen (m)testpasser
un examen
to take a test
les devoirshomeworkétudierto study
la classeclassécrireto write
la cantine
to (eat) lunch
lever (la main)to raise (your hand)
la récré(ation)
la cour
(une question)
to ask (a question)
Schools and Studentsparlerto speak
l’école (f)schoolécouterto listen (to)
student (m)
student (f)
entendreto hear (of)
le collège
(classes 6-4)
jr. high school
(grades 6-9)
regarderto watch
le collégienjr. high school studentdéjeunerto (have) lunch
le lycée
(classes 3-terminale)
high school
(grades 10-12)
le lycéenhigh school studentDescribing Teachers and Students
l’université (f)
la fac(ulté)
nul(le)not good, not bright
l’enseignement supérieurhigher education
graduate school
Des fournitures scolaires – School Supllies
la craiechalkcray
le tableauthe boardtahbloh
le stylo(-bille)pensteeloh (bee)
le crayonpencilkrayoh
la calculatricecalculator
le livre
le bouquin
le cahiernotebookkie ay
le papier
la feuille de papier
sheet of paper
le bloc-notes(small) notepadblock nut
le classeurthree-ring binder
le sac à dosbackpacksack ah doe
la gommeerasergum
la règlerulerrehgluh
le feutremarkerfeuhtr

The word professeur is considered masculine at all times, even if the teacher is female. The only case when “professeur” can be preceded by feminine determinant is either when contracting it in colloquial language “la prof”, or when adding a few words before : “madame/mademoiselle la/le professeur”.
The way that grades are numbered in France is opposite the way they are in the US. Whereas American grade numbers go up as you approach your senior year, they descend in France.
Écrire is an irregular verb. You will learn to conjugate it in the next section.
In French, you do not “own” body parts. While in English, you would say my hand or your hand, the definite article is almost always used in French.

  • la mainmy hand
  • la jambemy leg
  • le brasmy arm

For example, you would say Je me suis cassé la main (I have broken my hand) and never Je me suis cassé ma main. But you must say “Ma main est cassée” (My hand is broken) and not “La main est cassée” (lit. The hand is broken) if you speak about your own hand.
To and of are built into the verbs écouter and entendre respectively. It is not necessary to add a preposition to the verb. Other verbs, such as répondre {à), meaning to respond (to), are almost always followed by a preposition.

Écrire & Lire

Écrire is an irregular french verb, meaning to write. It varies from other ‘-re’ verbs in the plural conjugation, by adding a ‘v’.

French Verb • School
écrire to write
past participle: écrit
first personj’ écrisjay creeI writenous écrivonsnoozay creevohnwe write
second persontu écristue aycreeyou writevous écrivezvoozay creevayyou write
third personil écriteel aycreehe writesils écriventeel zaycreevethey write
(masc. or mixed)
elle écritell aycreeshe writes
on écritohn aycreeone writeselles écriventell zaycreevethey write (fem.)

Lire is an irregular french verb, meaning to read. It’s plural conjugation adds an additional ‘s’.

French Verb • School
lire to read
past participle: lu
first personje lisjeuh leeI readnous lisonsnoo leezonnwe read
second persontu listue leeyou readvous lisezvoo leezayyou read
third personil liteel leehe readsils lisenteel leezthey read
(masc. or mixed)
elle litell leeshe reads
on litohn leeone readselles lisentell leezthey read (fem.)

School Subjects

French Vocabulary • School
School Subjects Les matières d’enseignement
les langueslanguagesles mathématiques
les maths
l’anglaisEnglishl’algèbre (f)algebra
le françaisFrenchle calculcalculus
l’espagnolSpanishla géométriegeometry
l’allemandGermanles sciences
le russeRussianl’économieeconomics
l’italienItalianla géo(graphie)geography
l’histoire (f)history
les sciences
other subjects
la biologie
la bio
biologyle dessindrawing
la chimiechemistryl’informatique (f)computer science
la technologieengineeringla littératureliterature
la physiquephysicsla musiquemusic

Passé Composé with Regular Verbs

The passé composé is a perfect tense, and is therefore composed of an auxiliary verb and a past participle. With most verbs, that auxiliary verb is avoir.


In English, verbs conjugated in the passé composé literally mean have/has ____ed. While there is a simple past tense in French, it is almost only used in formal writing, so verbs conjugated in the passé composé can also be used to mean the English simple tense.

  • For example, the passé composé form of parler (to speak), [avoir] parlé, literally mean has/have spoken, but also means spoke.

Basic Formation

To conjugate a verb in the passé composé, the helping verb, usually avoir, is conjugated in the present indicative and the past participle is then added.

Auxiliary Verb – Avoir

Conjugate avoir in the present indicative.

j’aiI havenous avonswe have
tu asyou havevous avezyou have
il ahe hasils ontthey have

Past Participle

  • -er verbs – replace -er with é
  • -ir verbs – replace -ir with i
  • -re verbs – replace -re with u
  • irregular verbs – varies, must be memorized.
Formation of the Past Participle
Verb GroupInfinitiveStemPast Participle
-er verbsjouerjoujoué
-ir verbsfinirfinfini
-re verbsrépondrerépondrépondu

Avoir + Past Participle

J’ai joué.I have playedNous avons joué.We have played.
Tu as joué.You have played.Vous avez joué.You have played.
Il a joué.He has played.Ils ont joué.They have played.

Content is available under GNU Free Documentation License Source: Wikibooks

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