Conjugate voir, devoir, pouvoir, boire, croire, savoir, lire, taire (+ avoir) in Le Passé Composé (conversational past)

In Passé composé, some verbs have very short irregular past participles (vu, bu, cru, su, lu, tu, pu, dû).

Look at these sentences in Passé composé:

As-tu vu l'éléphant rose?
Did you see the pink elephant?

Je ne l'ai jamais cru.
I never believed him.

Nous avons lu ce livre hier.
We read that book yesterday.

Elle n'a jamais su la vérité.
She never knew the truth.

Il a tu les raisons de son départ.
He kept quiet the reasons of his departure.

Ils ont bu toute la soirée.
They drank all night.

Vous avez pu rencontrer Sting.
You were able to meet Sting.
You could meet Sting.

J'ai dû annuler mon vol.
I had to cancel my flight.

Note that they all work with avoir as an auxiliary.

It's worth learning this list by heart since these verbs all have the same sounding short past participle:

voir (to see)  ->  vu
boire (to drink) -> bu
croire (to believe) -> cru
savoir (to know) -> su
lire (to read)  ->  lu
taire (to silence, to keep quiet)  ->  tu    [rare]
pouvoir (to be able to)  ->  pu
devoir (to have to)  ->  

 

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Nous avons lu ce livre hier.
We read that book yesterday.



Vous avez pu rencontrer Sting.
You were able to meet Sting.
You could meet Sting.



Je ne l'ai jamais cru.
I never believed him.



Ils ont bu toute la soirée.
They drank all night.



As-tu vu l'éléphant rose?
Did you see the pink elephant?



Il a tu les raisons de son départ.
He kept quiet the reasons of his departure.




Elle n'a jamais su la vérité.
She never knew the truth.



J'ai dû annuler mon vol.
I had to cancel my flight.


Q&A

Walter

Kwiziq community member

16 December 2018

7 replies

Vous avez pu recontrer Sting?

You give two translations:  "You were able to meet Sting."  "You could meet Sting."  Shouldn't the second one read, "You could have met Sting."?  I believe "You could meet Sting" is in the present conditional tense.  Unless I have my tenses all mixed up ...

Steve

Kwiziq community member

16 December 2018

16/12/18

Walter,

I think giving two different meanings may have confused the issue.

"You were able to meet Sting" = "You could meet Sting".

Nothing more, nothing less.

"The event was organised in such a way that you could meet Sting at the end of it!"


"Could have" in French uses a slightly different construct:

Conjugate pouvoir in Le Conditionnel Passé = could have (past conditional)

Walter

Kwiziq community member

16 December 2018

16/12/18

Well, yes, if you create a larger context using the past tense, and then make "you could meet Sting" a subsidiary clause within that context, the present tense makes sense in English.  However, it seems to me that the sentence "Vous avez pu rencontrer Sting" as it stands is in the past tense in French and should therefore be read in the past tense in English as well. But I am just learning here, so thanks for getting back to me. 

Walter B.

Chris

Kwiziq community member

16 December 2018

16/12/18

Actually, "could" in English is both: past tense of "can" as well as conditional of the same verb. It is, however, falling increasingly out of use to use "could" for "was able to", i.e., past tense of "can".

Steve

Kwiziq community member

17 December 2018

17/12/18

Yes I did follow up a bit on this after Walter's response to me.

As per my previous response, I personally don't see a difference in the two (English) phrases, but I do admit that there is probably a point of grammar here i.e., I think Walter is correct in indicating that the phrase is in the present conditional tense, and I guess I have made this error all my life and do not doubt your point that it is falling out of use.

Regardless, and for Walter's original point, the French phrase cannot be translated into "you could have met Sting". This would be:

"Vous auriez pu rencontrer Sting."

Chris

Kwiziq community member

17 December 2018

17/12/18

I was able to meet Sting (i.e., "could" as past tense of "can") -- J'ai pu rencontrer Sting.
I could have met Sting (i.e., "could" as conditional of "can") -- J'auriez pu rencontrer Sting.

Walter

Kwiziq community member

17 December 2018

17/12/18

I am no doubt wading into waters way over my head here, but tenses and grammar aside, (ha,ha!) it seems to me that the phrase "You could meet Sting" is a description of a hypothetical in present time, unless you add more context or other modifications to it.  I could be wrong, but I don't think I have ever used "could" referring to the past without the addition of "have".  Perhaps that's just an American turn of speech.  (Many younger Americans seem to think the phrase is "could of", which is truly sad.)  I suppose language, least of all the English language, doesn't always fit into orderly little boxes the way the 18th century grammarians thought it should.  I won't say anything about the French language because I am just a student here, and besides I don't wish to get into trouble with the Academie Francaise!

Thanks for your trouble.

Walter B.

Sherry

Kwiziq community member

4 March 2019

4/03/19

Interesting about the declining use in English of "could" as the past tense of "can". It seems to be pretty much limited to negation: "I couldn't go to the concert because I had to work that night".

Jennifer

Kwiziq community member

2 February 2017

1 reply

J'ai su que tu étais venu me voir? I found out that you had come to see me.

Is this a usual way to say I found out. Why is the verb trouver or perhaps découvrir not used?

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

3 February 2017

3/02/17

Bonjour Jennifer ! Here we used a bit of translation licence, as the literal meaning is "I've known that...". But in French, using Le Passé Composé "J'ai su" implies that the knowledge is a punctual action here, so it actually refers more to the moment I acquired that knowledge, hence "found out" being a better translation in English. The most colloquial verb to say "to find out *something*" is "apprendre *quelque chose*": "J'ai appris que tu étais venu me voir." You would never use "trouver", and "découvrir" carries an extra sense of mystery and secret there. I hope that's helpful! À bientôt !
Getting that for you now.