Lesson 1: School

Introduction to Perfect Tenses

The next section is optional. You will eventually learn everything that is covered in it, but if you would like a preview, read it, and if not, continue on to the school section.

  • The perfect tenses are also called the compound or composed tenses.
  • The perfect tenses are all composed of a conjugated auxiliary verb and a fixed past participle.

Auxiliary Verb Formation

  • The auxiliary verb is always either avoir or être.
  • The tense of the verb depends upon the tense that avoir or être is conjugated in.
    • When the auxiliary verb is conjugated in the passé composé, for example, the auxiliary verb is conjugated in the present indicative.
      • J’ai fini. – I have finished.

Past Participle Formation

  • -er verbs – replace -er with é
  • -ir verbs – replace -ir with i
  • -re verbs – replace -re with u
  • irregular verbs – must be memorized

Past Participle Agreement

  • The past participle must agree with the direct object of a clause in gender and plurality if the direct object goes before the verb.
    • the direct object is masculine singular – no change
      • J’ai fini le jeu. – I have finished the game.
      • Je l’ai fini. – I have finished it.
    • the direct object is feminine singular – add an e to the past participle
      • J’ai fini la tâche. – I have finished the task.
      • Je l’ai finie. – I have finished it.
    • the direct object is masculine plural – add an s to the past participle.
      • J’ai fini les jeux. – I have finished the games.
      • Je les ai finis. – I have finished them.
    • the direct object is feminine plural – add an es to the past participle.
      • J’ai fini les tâches. – I have finished the tasks.
      • Je les ai finies. – I have finished them.
  • The past participle must agree with the subject of a clause in gender and plurality if it is conjugated with the auxiliary être.
    • the subject is masculine singular – no change
      • Il est arrivé. – He has arrived.
    • the subject is feminine singular – add an e to the past participle
      • Elle est arrivée. – She has arrived.
    • the subject is masculine plural – add an s to the past participle.
      • Ils sont arrivés. – They have arrived.
    • the subject is feminine plural – add an es to the past participle.
      • Elles sont arrivées. – They have arrived.

Avoir ou Être?

  • In most circumstances, the auxiliary verb is avoir.
  • However, under certain situations, the auxiliary verb is être.
  • This occurs when:
    • The verb is one of 16 special verbs that take être.
      • Note that when a direct object is used with these verbs, the auxiliary verb becomes avoir.
    • The verb is reflexive.
      • That is, the subject of the verb is also its object.

List of Tenses

There are seven perfect tenses in French. These are:

  1. Le passé composé (The Present Perfect)
  2. Le plus-que-parfait de l’indicatif (The Pluperfect of the Indicative)
  3. Le plus-que-parfait du subjonctif (The Pluperfect Subjunctive)
  4. Le passé antérieur (The Past Anterior)
  5. Le futur antérieur (The Future Anterior)
  6. Le conditionnel passé (The Past Conditional)
  7. Le passé du subjonctif (The Past Subjunctive)

Don’t worry if you don’t completely understand the perfect tenses. Each tense and lists of irregular verb conjugations will be given later in this course. In the next lesson, the passé composé is introduced.

Introduction to Moods and Tenses

Like the above section, this is also optional. You will eventually learn everything in here.


French Vocabulary • School
School L’école
General Classes / Grades
le professeur[2] teacher 12th Grade Classe Terminale
la bourse scholarship 11th Grade 1ère (la première classe)
le diplôme (professionnel) diploma 10th Grade 2ème (la deuxième classe)
le bac(calauréat) high school exit exam 9th Grade 3ème (la troisième classe)
la bibliothèque library 8th Grade 4ème (la quatrième classe)
les notes grades (as on a test) 7th Grade 5ème (la cinquième classe)
les cours classes or courses 6th Grade 6ème (la sixième classe)
la classe grade (e.g. 6th Grade) 5th Grade CM2 (CM = cours moyen)
en cours de […] in […] class 4th Grade CM1
Pendant les cours – During Classes 3rd Grade CE2 (CE=cours élémentaire)
le tableau chalkboard 2nd Grade CE1
la craie chalk 1st Grade CP1 (CP = cours préparatoire)
le pupitre desk Verbs
l’examen (m) test passer
un examen
to take a test
les devoirs homework étudier to study
la classe class écrire to write
la cantine
to (eat) lunch
lever (la main) to raise (your hand)
la récré(ation)
la cour
(une question)
to ask (a question)
Schools and Students parler to speak
l’école (f) school écouter to listen (to)
student (m)
student (f)
entendre to hear (of)
le collège
(classes 6-4)
jr. high school
(grades 6-9)
regarder to watch
le collégien jr. high school student déjeuner to (have) lunch
le lycée
(classes 3-terminale)
high school
(grades 10-12)
le lycéen high school student Describing Teachers and Students
l’université (f)
la fac(ulté)
university intelligent(e) intelligent
nul(le) not good, not bright
l’enseignement supérieur higher education
graduate school
strict(e) strict
Des fournitures scolaires – School Supllies
la craie chalk cray
le tableau the board tahbloh
le stylo(-bille) pen steeloh (bee)
le crayon pencil krayoh
la calculatrice calculator
le livre
le bouquin
book leevr
le cahier notebook kie ay
le papier
la feuille de papier
sheet of paper
le bloc-notes (small) notepad block nut
le classeur three-ring binder
le sac à dos backpack sack ah doe
la gomme eraser gum
la règle ruler rehgluh
le feutre marker feuhtr

The word professeur is considered masculine at all times, even if the teacher is female. The only case when “professeur” can be preceded by feminine determinant is either when contracting it in colloquial language “la prof”, or when adding a few words before : “madame/mademoiselle la/le professeur”.
The way that grades are numbered in France is opposite the way they are in the US. Whereas American grade numbers go up as you approach your senior year, they descend in France.
Écrire is an irregular verb. You will learn to conjugate it in the next section.
In French, you do not “own” body parts. While in English, you would say my hand or your hand, the definite article is almost always used in French.

  • la mainmy hand
  • la jambemy leg
  • le brasmy arm

For example, you would say Je me suis cassé la main (I have broken my hand) and never Je me suis cassé ma main. But you must say “Ma main est cassée” (My hand is broken) and not “La main est cassée” (lit. The hand is broken) if you speak about your own hand.
To and of are built into the verbs écouter and entendre respectively. It is not necessary to add a preposition to the verb. Other verbs, such as répondre {à), meaning to respond (to), are almost always followed by a preposition.

Écrire & Lire

Écrire is an irregular french verb, meaning to write. It varies from other ‘-re’ verbs in the plural conjugation, by adding a ‘v’.

French Verb • School
écrire to write
past participle: écrit
Singular Plural
first person j’ écris jay cree I write nous écrivons noozay creevohn we write
second person tu écris tue aycree you write vous écrivez voozay creevay you write
third person il écrit eel aycree he writes ils écrivent eel zaycreeve they write
(masc. or mixed)
elle écrit ell aycree she writes
on écrit ohn aycree one writes elles écrivent ell zaycreeve they write (fem.)

Lire is an irregular french verb, meaning to read. It’s plural conjugation adds an additional ‘s’.

French Verb • School
lire to read
past participle: lu
Singular Plural
first person je lis jeuh lee I read nous lisons noo leezonn we read
second person tu lis tue lee you read vous lisez voo leezay you read
third person il lit eel lee he reads ils lisent eel leez they read
(masc. or mixed)
elle lit ell lee she reads
on lit ohn lee one reads elles lisent ell leez they read (fem.)

School Subjects

French Vocabulary • School
School Subjects Les matières d’enseignement
les langues languages les mathématiques
les maths
l’anglais English l’algèbre (f) algebra
le français French le calcul calculus
l’espagnol Spanish la géométrie geometry
l’allemand German les sciences
le russe Russian l’économie economics
l’italien Italian la géo(graphie) geography
l’histoire (f) history
les sciences
other subjects
la biologie
la bio
biology le dessin drawing
la chimie chemistry l’informatique (f) computer science
la technologie engineering la littérature literature
la physique physics la musique music

Passé Composé with Regular Verbs

The passé composé is a perfect tense, and is therefore composed of an auxiliary verb and a past participle. With most verbs, that auxiliary verb is avoir.


In English, verbs conjugated in the passé composé literally mean have/has ____ed. While there is a simple past tense in French, it is almost only used in formal writing, so verbs conjugated in the passé composé can also be used to mean the English simple tense.

  • For example, the passé composé form of parler (to speak), [avoir] parlé, literally mean has/have spoken, but also means spoke.

Basic Formation

To conjugate a verb in the passé composé, the helping verb, usually avoir, is conjugated in the present indicative and the past participle is then added.

Auxiliary Verb – Avoir

Conjugate avoir in the present indicative.

j’ai I have nous avons we have
tu as you have vous avez you have
il a he has ils ont they have

Past Participle

  • -er verbs – replace -er with é
  • -ir verbs – replace -ir with i
  • -re verbs – replace -re with u
  • irregular verbs – varies, must be memorized.
Formation of the Past Participle
Verb Group Infinitive Stem Past Participle
-er verbs jouer jou joué
-ir verbs finir fin fini
-re verbs répondre répond répondu

Avoir + Past Participle

J’ai joué. I have played Nous avons joué. We have played.
Tu as joué. You have played. Vous avez joué. You have played.
Il a joué. He has played. Ils ont joué. They have played.

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