As we discussed in the previous, “normal” passé composé lesson, there are a few verbs that don’t use the avoir conjugation + past participle when you use the past tense. Instead, these verbs use the present tense conjugation of être + past participle.
Normal verbs: present tense avoir conjugation + past participle
Être verbs: present tense être conjugation + past participle
A common mnemonic, or memory aid to remember these verbs is to use the acronym “Dr. Mrs. Vandertramp”.
The “Être” Verbs
The “Dr. Mrs. Vandertramp” verbs are intransitive verbs (they don’t take objects). If that’s gibberish to you, just know that these verbs are mostly verbs of coming, going or staying, or of being born and dying.
|D||Descendre → descendu|
|r||Retourner → retourné|
|M||Mourir → mort|
|r||Revenir → revenu|
|s||Sortir → sorti|
|V||Venir → venu|
|a||Aller → allé|
|n||Naître → né|
|d||Devenir → devenu|
|e||Entrer → entré|
|r||Rester → resté|
|t||Tomber → tombé|
|r||Rentrer → rentré|
|a||Arriver → arrivé|
|m||Monter → monté|
|p||Partir → parti|
Past Participles with Être Verbs
Just as a reminder, the present tense être conjugation:
|je suis||nous sommes|
|tu es||vous êtes|
|il est||ils sont|
Most of the être verbs below follow the normal past participle ending pattern for -er, -ir, and -re verbs, which you should recognize from the previous lesson. The only two that don’t are living and dying: naître becomes né, and mourir becomes mort. That makes things a little easier, doesn’t it?
One unusual difference you might not expect is the past participle form of aller, which is actually treated like a regular verb in passé composé and is conjugated like any other -er verb, becoming allé.)
Examples of passé composé with être verbs:
Je suis descendu. (NOT j’ai descendu)
Tu es tombé (NOT tu as tombé)
Il est allé. (NOT il a allé)
The Other Big Difference: Verb Agreement with Être Verbs
Apart from being conjugated with être instead of avoir, Dr. Mrs. Vandertramp verbs are different in one other way: the past participle has to agree in gender and number with the subject of the sentence, by adding an extra e and/or s to the end of the past participle form.
This means that there are four different past participle endings that an être verb conjugated in the past tense could take:
Tom est resté (no special ending)
Susie est restée (add a final e)
Tom et Susie sont restés (add an s but not an e)
Susie et Ashley sont restées (add a final s and an e)
Notice that, just like with adjectives, having just one male in the group makes the past participle ending masculine, and therefore not need the extra e. Only when the subject is female do you get the additional -e ending, and only all-female groups will take take the e + s final ending. Finally, note that if you are using je and the speaker is a female, her verbs need to get an extra e ending.
In summary, the difference between the “Dr. Mrs. Vandertramp” verbs and normal verbs in passé composé is that these need to be conjugated with être, not avoir, and the end of the past participles of these verbs need s‘s and/or e‘s to match the subject of the sentence (unlike with avoir verbs, which do not need subject/verb agreement).