French Verbs and Grammar: Le Passé Antérieur

French Grammar Rules- Le Passé Antérieur

How do you talk about the past of the past? French tutor Carol Beth L. shares this lesson on conjugating French verbs in le passé antérieur…

If you’ve studied French verbs for long enough, you’ve probably studied the passé composé and the imparfait to discuss events that took place in the past. But what do you do when you want to discuss events that happened before other past events?

Use the passé antérieur.

In English, this tense corresponds pretty closely to the past perfect, which in other words describes the past of the past. In English, it looks like this:

1) When I reached the end of the path, the sun had already set.
2) When the child began kindergarten, she had already studied cello for a year.

The formation of this verb tense bears some similarities to both the futur antérieur and the passé composé. As with both these tenses, the verb form will use an auxiliary verb (avoir or être) and a past participle. Select the auxiliary verb in the same way you would for the futur antérieur or passé composé. Conjugate this verb using the imparfait.

As a review, here are their conjugations:

Avoir Être
J’ avais J’ étais
Tu avais Tu étais
Il / elle / on avait Il / elle / on était
Nous avions Nous étions
Vous aviez Vous étiez
Ils / elles avaient Ils / elles étaient

Now form the past participle of the main verb in the same way you would for the passé composé. So the full passé antérieur for one -er reflexive verb, one -ir verb, and one -re verb might look like this:

se coucher – to go to bed or, for the sun, to set

Je m’étais couché(e)
Tu t’étais couché(e)
Il / elle / on s’était couché(e)
Nous nous étions couché(e)(s)
Vous vous étiez couché(e)(s)
Ils / elles s’étaient déja couché(e)s

finir – to finish
J’avais fini
Tu avais fini
Il / elle / on avait fini
Nous avions fini
Vous aviez fini
Ils / elles avaient fini

rendre – to return
J’avais rendu
Tu avais rendu
Il / elle / on avait rendu
Nous avions rendu
Vous aviez rendu
Ils / elles avaient rendu

So how would the previous examples in English look in French?

1) Quand je suis arrivé(e) à la fin de la rue, la soleil s’était déjà couchée.
(The extra “e” in arrivé(e) would depend on whether the speaker is male or female.)
2) Quand l’enfant a commencé la maternelle, elle avait déjà étudié le violoncelle depuis un an.

French Grammar Rules Le Passé Antérieur

Try conjugating the verbs in the examples below in the passé antérieur.

1) Quand je suis venu à la fête, mon frère ______________________ (partir).
2) Quand elle s’est couchée, la fille ______________________ (finir) ses devoirs.
3) Quand la bibliothèquaire a appellé, j’ ______________________ (rendre) le livre.
4) Quand tu es rentré, nous ______________________ (se coucher).

Now check your answers below:

1) était parti
2) avait fini
3) avais rendu
4) nous sommes couché(e)s
(Add the extra “e” only if all the people included by “nous” are female.)

How did you do? Either way, keep practicing and checking yourself!

Keep an eye out also for uses by other people, and for opportunities to use it in conversation. Correct repetitions, practice, and listening to others use it correctly will help you learn to use this conjugation naturally. Of course, having the right teacher will propel your success in French even farther!

CarolPost Author: Carol Beth L.
Carol Beth teaches French lessons in San Francisco, CA. She has her Masters in French language education from the Sorbonne University in Paris and has been teaching since 2009. Learn more about Carol Beth here!

Photo by Dennis Jarvis

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1 reply
  1. Paul Putter
    Paul Putter says:

    You seem to be confusing “passé-antérieur” with “plus-que-parfait”.

    Passé-antérieure: j’eus fini
    Plus-que-parfait: j’avais fini

    Passé-antérieur is a literary tense, not normally used in conversational French.


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