Le passé antérieur (past anterior)

Introduction

The passé antérieur is rarely used today. We mostly find it in literary texts. It indicates that an act had taken place directly before another act took place in the past.

Beispiel

Lorsqu’il eut reçu son premier salaire, Louis courut acheter une guitare pour chanter une sérénade à sa bien-aimée.

Use

  • a past action that had occured directly before another action (passé simple) occured in the past
    Example:
    Lorsqu’il eut reçu son premier salaire, Louis courut acheter une guitare pour chanter une sérénade à sa bien-aimée.As soon as he had received his first pay, Louis rushed off to buy a guitar so that he could woo his beloved.

Construction

We need the passé simple form of être or avoir and the past participle (participe passé) of the main verb.

Personavoir être
1st person singular j’eus

aimé

fini

vendu

je fus

parti

partie

partis

parties

2nd person singular tu eus tu fus
3rd person singular il/elle/on eut il/elle/on fut
1st person plural nous eûmes nous fûmes
2nd person plural vous eûtes vous fûtes
3rd person plural ils/elles eurent ils/elles furent

In negative sentences, the past participle comes after the second part of the negation.

Example:
J'eus rigolé. → Je n'eus pas rigolé. I had laughed.→ I had not laughed.
Je fus parti.→ Je ne fus pas parti. I had left.→ I had not left.

For reflexive verbs, we put the reflexive pronoun and the auxiliary verb between the two parts of the negation.

Example:
Je ne me fus pas trompé dans mon calcul.I had not made a mistake in my calculations.

Avoir or être

Most verbs construct the passé composé with avoir. The auxiliary verb être is used instead:

  • for 14 verbs of motion and staying still: naître/mourir, aller/venir, monter/descendre, arriver/partir, entrer/sortir,apparaître, rester, retourner, tomber and e.g. their derivative forms: revenir, rentrer, remonter, redescendre, repartir
    Example:
    Je fus arrivé à la gare.I had arrived at the train station.
  • for reflexive verbs
    Example:
    Je me fus trompé dans mon calcul.I had made a mistake in my calculations.

Info

We use avoir when descendre, (r)entrer, (re)monter, rentrer, retourner and sortir are followed by a direct object. In this case, the meaning of the verb often changes.

Example:
À quelle heure fus-tu sorti ce matin-là ? What time had you left that morning?
but: Eus-tu sorti les carottes du frigo hier soir ? Had you taken the carrots out of the fridge yesterday evening?

Participe passé

For regular er/ir/re-verbs, the participe passé is easy to construct:

  • If the infinitive ends in er, the participle ends in é
    Example:
    aimer – aimé
  • If the infinitive ends in ir, the participle ends in i
    Example:
    finir – fini
  • If the infinitive ends in re, the participle ends in u
    Example:
    vendre – vendu

For the irregular verbs, however, we have to look up the participle form in the list of irregular verbs or learn the forms by heart.

Agreement of the participe passé

For some verbs, we need to make the participe passé agree in gender and number with either the subject or the object of the sentence.

  • For verbs that are constructed using être, the participle agrees in gender and number with the subject.
    Example:
    Il fut allé sous le balcon de sa bien-aimée.He had gone under the balcony of his beloved.
    Elle fut allée sur son balcon.She had gone on her balcony.
    Ils furent allés acheter une guitare.They had gone to buy a guitar.
    Elles furent allées ouvrir les fenêtres.They (only women) had gone to open the windows.
  • For verbs that are constructed using avoir, the participle agrees in gender and number with a direct object that comes before the verb; otherwise it is invariable. If a pronoun is being used as a direct object, the pronoun comes before the verb, and the participe passé agrees in gender and number with this object.
    Example:
    Il eut reçu son salaire. → Il l’eut reçu.He had received his first pay.
    Il eut reçu sa paie. → Il l’eut reçue.He had received his first pay.
    Il eut rencontré les parents de sa bien-aimée. → Il les eut rencontrés.He had met the parents of his beloved.
    Il eut acheté des méthodes pour apprendre la guitare. → Il les eut achetées.He had bought books to learn to play guitar.
  • The participe passé of reflexive verbs generally agrees with the subject.
    Example:
    Elle se fut lavée.She had washed herself.

    The subject (elle) and the direct object (s’= reflexive pronoun) are the same person, so the participle agrees with the subject.

    But the participe passé does not agree with the subject if the verb is followed by a direct object which is different from the subject.

    Example:
    Elle se fut lavé les mains.She had washed her hands.

    The subject (elle) and the direct object (les mains) aren’t the same, so the participle is invariable.

    When using the verb se rendre compte, the participe passé does also not agree with the subject. This is because compte acts as a direct object.

    Example:
    Elle se fut rendu compte de son erreur. She had realised her mistake.

    The participe passé does not agree with the subject of the follwing verbs: se téléphoner, se parler, se mentir, se plaire (complaire/déplaire), se sourire, se rire, se nuire, se succéder, se suffire, se ressembler, s’en vouloir. This is because the reflexive pronoun is an indirect object. It is used in the sense of “each other” for these verbs.

    Example:
    Marie et Laurent se furent téléphoné.Marie and Laurent had spoken on the telephone.

Signal Words

The passé antérieur is mostly used in dependant clauses after the following conjunctions:

  • quandwhen
  • lorsquewhen
  • après queafter
  • dès queas soon as
  • aussitôt queas soon as
  • à peine … queno sooner had [sth]… than

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