Conjugate être (+ avoir) in Le Passé Composé (conversational past)

Look at these sentences:

L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade.
Last year, I was really sick.

Avez-vous été à Eurodisney?
Have you been to Eurodisney?

Ils ont été très déçus.
They were very disappointed.

Il a été en France.
He's been to France.

Avez-vous été marié?
Have you been married?

In le Passé Composé (conversational past), the verb être (to be) has an irregular past participle: été, and works with avoir as an auxiliary.
    

j'ai été I was/have been
tu as été you were/have been (singular-familiar form)
il/elle/on été he/she/we/one/people was/has been
   
nous avons été we were/have been
vous avez été you were/have been
ils/elles ont été they were/have been

 

 

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade.
Last year, I was really sick.



Ils ont été très déçus.
They were very disappointed.


Avez-vous été marié?
Have you been married?


Avez-vous été à Eurodisney?
Have you been to Eurodisney?


Tu as été surpris par cela.
You've been surprised by this.


Il a été en France.
He's been to France.



Q&A

pattrice

Kwiziq community member

20 May 2019

1 reply

Imparfait vs Le Passé Composé for Être

Can you explain how to decide whether to use imparfait or le passé composé for être? If I understand it correctly, imparfait is for past events of some duration or past states of existence while le passé composé is for bounded one-off past events.

Above is this example:

L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade.

But if one was sick for most of the year, or even for some months, wouldn't it be:

L'année dernière, j'étais vraiment malade.

So, am I right in thinking the example sentence means something like "I had an episode of grave illness last year"?

Similarly, there is this example above:

Avez-vous été marié?

But being married is, except in extreme cases where there is a divorce immediately after the marriage, being married is an event of some duration.

So, why wouldn't it be:

Étiez-vous marié?

Unless the question is, simply, "have you ever had a marriage ceremony" (which would be a bounded event rather than a state of existence of some duration). But people don't really ask that.

Thanks for any clarification you can provide.

Chris

Kwiziq community member

21 May 2019

21/05/19

Hi Pattrice, the question you ask is a good one and has been asked before several times (and also generated some useful answers). Have you looked in lessons dealing with imparfait in general?

Praisenicole

Kwiziq community member

12 May 2019

1 reply

The opposite of the word devant

Chris

Kwiziq community member

13 May 2019

13/05/19

derrière -- behind

Claudia

Kwiziq community member

26 October 2018

4 replies

Hello, in the video the speaker uses de liason permanently whereas the audio on the examples doesn't. Is this a regional thing?

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

27 October 2018

27/10/18

Hi Claudia,

 I have listened to the video and the reader does make all the liaisons possible .

However, those are optional so this gives you the two possibilities.

I don't think the reader has a particular regional accent but it does sound very formal.

Whether French people make an optional liaison or not will depend on preference in the end. Some liaisons make the sentences flow better.

Hope this helps!

 

Claudia

Kwiziq community member

28 October 2018

28/10/18

Merci beaucoup Cécile. 

Johanna

Kwiziq community member

10 November 2018

10/11/18

Why are these liaisons optional?

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

28 November 2018

28/11/18

Hi Johanna,

We are hoping to produce a lesson on 'liaisons' in the new year which will answer your question ...

Alvin

Kwiziq community member

6 January 2018

1 reply

Suggestion to improve the lesson

I assume the reason this topic was recommended is because I chose to use l'imparfait instead of passé composé. This lesson would be better if it provided more information about when to use passé composé over l'imparfait. Although examples are good, I don't think samples are not sufficient to cover usage.

Ron

Kwiziq community member

14 January 2018

14/01/18

Bonsoir Alvin, Here is a link regarding l'imparfait and le passé composé Using Le Passé Composé on its own or with L'Imparfait

Susan

Kwiziq community member

24 August 2017

1 reply

How do I know when to use j'ai été rather than j'étais...it's all very confusing

Ron

Kwiziq community member

24 August 2017

24/08/17

Bonjour Susan, This is a very good question and I thank you for it. I struggle with this myself. Here is the lesson from this site that addresses it: Using Le Passé Composé on its own or with L'Imparfait The one way that I remember the difference is this: 1) If I am speaking, I typically use the passé composé. However, if I am writing a paper or paragraph, then both come into play. 2) Writing descriptive phrases, I tend toward l'imparfait but for one time historical events, I use the passé composé. Having said that, there are very clear-cut grammar rules that address the use of each which should be in the link above for the lesson. Here is another excellent reference site from the UT Austin French department that addresses the difference: https://www.laits.utexas.edu/tex/pr/tap8.html And if neither of these links are satisfactory there are others, simply google search «passé composé vs imparfait» without the quotation marks. Bonne chance et bonne continuation dans vos études de français Ron

Igor

Kwiziq community member

21 July 2017

2 replies

Avez-vous ete marie?

Igor

Kwiziq community member

21 July 2017

21/07/17

Sorry, I am completely new to the site, so I am not entirely sure what to click and when. My question is why in vous and ete we don't pronounce s at the end of vous?

Ron

Kwiziq community member

21 July 2017

21/07/17

Bonsoir Igor, For the most part, the final consonant on all French words is not pronounced. To that end, of course there are exceptions. Actually with «Avez-vous été marié?» there would possibly be a liaison with the «s» of vous and été so it would be pronounced like «vou s'été» J'espère que cela vous aidera.

Sandunika

Kwiziq community member

5 July 2017

2 replies

When discussing about a feeling we had in the past don't we use L'imperatif?

Laura

Kwiziq language super star

5 July 2017

5/07/17

Bonjour Sandunika, I think you mean l'imparfait :-) You can use either imparfait or passé composé, it depends on the situation. J'étais malade = I was sick (ongoing) J'ai été malade = I got sick (all of a sudden)

Sandunika

Kwiziq community member

5 July 2017

5/07/17

Merci Laura!

Adrian

Kwiziq community member

15 July 2016

1 reply

L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade vs L'année dernière, j'étais vraiment malade

(re-posting as as new question) Bonjour Aurélie ! Thank you very much for taking the time to respond, That's very helpful. May I please clarify to ensure I understand? So the use of Le Passé Composé draws attention to a specific instance or time when the speaker was sick last year - for example, if during the month of February s/he had been very ill and was referring to this, it would be correct to say L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade. However, if the speaker is referring more generally to having been ill, perhaps even on several different occasions throughout the year and not drawing attention to a specific occasion of being ill, it would be correct to use L'année dernière, j'étais vraiment malade. Can it be said that Le Passé Composé is more likely to be used to draw attention to the sickness, whereas the use of L'Imparfait might be used if one were drawing attention to the nature of last year rather than particularly drawing attention to the sickness? I know it's a different question, but could you also please let me know if it is acceptable to say: j'ai été mangé (I have been eating) - and whether it is a common construction in French. Many thanks again!

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

18 July 2016

18/07/16

Bonjour Adrian ! You are correct as to the usage of Le Passé Composé and L'Imparfait in the examples you gave. I'd rather say that L'Imparfait is more a descriptive tense, describing a state that lasted in the past, such being ill, whereas Le Passé Composé is more focused on actions, expressing something that happened in the past. As for "J'ai été mangé", it means "I have been eatEN" in French! To say "I have been eating", you would once again use Le Passé Composé here, as in French we don't have a "continuous" form (be + -ING), so wouldn't make the distinction between this and "I have eaten". It would be Le Passé Composé as this action is considered in relation with a consequence it has in the present tense, so as one whole action. I hope that's helpful! À bientôt !

Adrian

Kwiziq community member

12 July 2016

3 replies

L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade vs L'année dernière, j'étais vraiment malade

Similar question to Clif... Is the second option acceptable, and if so, is there any difference in meaning/emphasis? I was taught that j'ai été vraiment malade was used more to express "I have been really ill" in a sentence such as "Sorry I haven't been to see your recently, but I've been really ill" ...... is that correct? Also, is it grammatically correct (and common usage) to say: j'ai été mangé (I have been eating) Thanks in advance

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

12 July 2016

12/07/16

Bonjour Adrian !

Very interesting question indeed!

The past of être is always a bit tricky because the nuances between L'Imparfait and Le Passé Composé are not as easy to sense with this ''state-of-being'' verb. Both cases would be translated in English by ''Last year, I was really sick.''

1. L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade.             

-> In this first case, you're talking about the fact of having been sick as a punctual event that happened at a definite point in the past. You can also as you pointed out translate it with the Present Perfect "I have been sick" when linking it to a later consequence.      

2. L'année dernière, j'étais vraiment malade.

-> In this second case, you're evoking that sickness as something that lasted in the past, in its temporality as a process (e.g. it would be a bit like saying ''I was being sick'').

I hope that's helpful!
À bientôt !

Adrian

Kwiziq community member

13 July 2016

13/07/16

Bonjour Aurélie ! Thank you very much for taking the time to respond, That's very helpful. May I please clarify to ensure I understand? So the use of Le Passé Composé draws attention to a specific instance or time when the speaker was sick last year - for example, if during the month of February s/he had been very ill and was referring to this, it would be correct to say L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade. However, if the speaker is referring more generally to having been ill, perhaps even on several different occasions throughout the year and not drawing attention to a specific occasion of being ill, it would be correct to use L'année dernière, j'étais vraiment malade. Can it be said that Le Passé Composé is more likely to be used to draw attention to the sickness, whereas the use of L'Imparfait might be used if one were drawing attention to the nature of last year rather than particularly drawing attention to the sickness? I know it's a different question, but could you also please let me know if it is acceptable to say: j'ai été mangé (I have been eating) - and whether it is a common construction in French. Many thanks again!

Chris

Kwiziq community member

9 April 2019

9/04/19

Even though it's coming up to three years that this question was asked, it is an interesting one and sheds light on the ever present problem of passé composé versus imparfait.

I think Adrian got the right idea in his last post, when distinguising between a singular occurrance of falling sick versus emphasising that one was sick more or less over the entire year.

However, I noted one mistake which I wanted to point out: J'ai été mangé means "I was eaten." It is passive voice. To contrast again the most common use of imparfait and passé composé:

J'ai mangé et puis tu m'as appelé. -- I ate and then you called.Je mangeais quand tu m'as appelé. -- I was eating when you called me.

In the first sentence you have two acts in the past, one happening after the other. You need passé composé for both. The second sentence uses imparfait because the act of eating is ongoing and kind of the back story to your calling me. The temporal relationship between the two actions (eating and your calling me) is different.

Clif

Kwiziq community member

21 February 2016

3 replies

'Ils ont été'

In the example above this example seems a little misleading. Stated by itself, it seems as though it would be imparfait because it sounds to me that it could be describing a state of being in the past. Correct? In order to be passé composé wouldn't it have to describe an action with a clear ending? (after he canceled on them they were disappointed) ?

Laura

Kwiziq language super star

21 February 2016

21/02/16

Bonjour Clif,

The passé composé is also used when an action has a clear beginning. It's hard to make this distinction clear with "to be disappointed," so I'm going to use "to be sick" to show the difference:

J'étais malade = I was sick (for an unspecified period of time)

vs

J'été malade = I got sick (e.g., after eating some bad seafood)

So in the case of déçu, you need the imperfect when their disappointment is ongoing without a beginning *or* an ending, but the passé composé when they suddenly "got" disappointed because he cancelled on them.

Does that help?

Clif

Kwiziq community member

21 February 2016

21/02/16

Ok. Yes. That's the way I understand it lol. Like you said I think it was a little more challenging with that particular example. Thank you for clarifying.

E

Kwiziq community member

22 January 2017

22/01/17

Aurélie, In a response regarding passe compose and imparfait, you used "j'ete malade" to mean "I got sick (because of seafood). What tense is that?
I'll be right with you...