When using avoir as the auxilliary verb in the passe compose, I thought that the past participle had to agree with the direct object... so in the previous exercise there was:
"Nous avons nouri nos chiens" ...are not les chiens the direct object of the verb in that sentence?
"il a fini ses devoirs" ...are not les devoirs the direct object of that sentence...?
...I guess I have got something very wrong here... grateful for any guidance...
Don't worry -- it's not a matter of being "very wrong" it's a matter of understanding the "rule".
The past participle is required to agree in avoir but only when the direct object appears before the verb. In the examples you quote the direct objects are after the verb not before, therefore there is no agreement required.
Example: I write to my granddaughter, "Did you like the photos that I sent you?
As-tu aimé les photos que je t'ai envoyées? You will see here that direct object "les photos" appears before the auxiliary avoir and so there is agreement and the past participle reflects this as "envoyées" not "envoyé"
Hope this helps.
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