Le participe composé – the perfect participle in French

What is le participe composé ?

Le participe composé (the perfect participle) has a similar meaning to the English structure having + past participle; it expresses a completed past action that took place prior to another. The French perfect participle is formed by combining the present participle of avoir or être with the past participle of the main verb. Like other participles, the participe composé is impersonal and cannot be conjugated.

Read on to learn how to form the participe composé and when to use it, then put your knowledge to the test in the online exercises.

When to use the participe composé

The French perfect participle has a similar meaning to the English structure having done/finished/seen … or the French structure avoir + past infinitive. The perfect participle is used in participle clauses and allows us to express the sequence of actions; it shows that the action in the participle clause was completed before the action in the main clause.

Example:
Son équipe ayant joué le samedi, Max se reposa le dimanche.Because his team had played on Saturday, Max relaxed on Sunday.

We also use the perfect participle in passive sentences.

Example:
Les paris étant faits, tous sont curieux.With the bets having been placed, everyone was curious.

Given that the past participle also expresses a completed past action, it is sometimes possible to use it interchangeably with the participe composé.

Example:
Le match étant terminé, les spectateurs sont rentrés chez eux.With the match having finished, the fans went home. (participe composé)
= Une fois le match terminé, les spectateurs sont rentrés chez eux.Once the match had finished, the fans went home. (participe passé)

However, in the following cases we may only use the perfect participle:

  • with intransitive avoir verbs in the active voice (these are verbs that do not take a direct object)
    Example:
    Ayant applaudi, le public sortit du stade.Having applauded, the fans left the stadium.
  • with the verb aller
    Example:
    Étant allée au stade en avance, sa famille eut des places au premier rang.Having gone to the stadium early, his family had seats in the front row.

How to form the participe composé

To form the perfect participle, we take the present participle of avoir or être and combine it with the past participle of the main verb.

  • ayant + past participle
    for verbs in the active voice that take avoir as their auxiliary in the passé composé (avoir verbs)
    Example:
    infinitive → jouer
    passé composé → il a joué
    participe composéayant joué
  • étant + past participle
    for être verbs and the passive voice.
    Example:
    infinitive → s’entraîner
    passé composé → il s’est entraîné
    participe composé → s’étant entraîné

When we use the perfect participle with étant, the past participle must agree in gender and number with the subject of the sentence. If the perfect participle appears in a clause without a subject, the past participle agrees with the subject in the main clause.

Example:
S’étant bien entraîné, il gagna le match.Having trained well, he won the match.
but: S’étant bien entraînée, elle gagna le match.Having trained well, she won the match.
the past participle agrees with the subject in the main clause (elle)

Info

When we use the perfect participle in the passive voice, we often omit the auxiliary étant and just use the past participle.

Examples:
Étant encouragé par ses amis, il avait confiance en lui.(Having been) encouraged by his friends, he had confidence in himself.
= Encouragé par ses amis, il avait confiance en lui.