45 Days of French – Day 20

Just in time to shore up what Essential French (EF) has begun, Hour 9 of Alpha Teach Yourself French in 24 Hours (ATYF) begins covering ways to express yourself in the past. The  more-questions-than-answers treatment of the passé composé seen yesterday is fixed, at least for the most part. What seems like a fundamental feature of French verb – transitivity, and an associated property, whether the verb is action or movement comes to the fore – though I would have liked more specifics.

More Irregular Verbs
First, let’s get some present tense forms of irregular verbs out of the way:

  • courir “to run”; cours, cours, court, courons, courez, courent
  • devoir “to be obligated, ought, should”; dois, dois, doit, devons, devez, doivent
  • mourir “to die”; meurs, meurs, meurt, mourons, mourez, meurent
  • recevoir “to receive”; reçois, reçois, reçoit, recevons, recevez, reçoivent

Note that devoir is usually used with the infinitive of a secondary verb. I’m guessing that devoir is what you would use to say “it is not necessary to do…”, since the negative of il faut translates to “One mustn’t…” But not sure since there may be another impersonal expression to do the job.

Verb Properties
Both ATYF and EF have discussed verb transitivity – the property that describes whether a verb governs a direct object. This is a very important property, as it is tied to whether compound forms will use avoir or être as the helping verb in compounds. But ATYF moves directly from this fact to start describing another feature that seems tied up with this, but never equated with transitivity. Not directly, anyway.

This feature describes whether a verb is an action verb or a movement verb. Action verbs describe an action, movement verbs describe motion to or from points (or the lack of said motion). Most verbs are action verbs. There are only 13 basic movement verbs. I imagine that means other movement verbs are forms that have a prefix on the basic form. But I could be wrong. These basic verbs are:

  • aller [à]
  • venir [de]
  • partir [de]
  • arriver [à]
  • sortir [de]
  • entrer [dans]
  • monter [à]
  • descendre [de]
  • mourir
  • naître
  • tomber
  • retourner [à]
  • rester [à]

Action verbs form compounds with avoir, while movement verbs form compounds with être. Note that all of these are intransitive! I would take this to say that in general, movement verbs are intransitive, and that intransitive verbs are movement verbs. But the book never directly states that, only a couple principles that lead to that conclusion, and close connection between the verb form used and both [in]transitivity and movement. Maybe there will be more definitive statement later.

Of the basic movement verbs, the verbs sortir, descendre and monter can be transitive. When they are, in compounds, they take avoir like action verbs. Makes sense.

Passé Composé
There are two main past tenses in French, the passé composé, and the imperfect. The imperfect will be covered in a future Hour, but it is enough to note here that the passé composé is used of past completed actions, or sequences of past completed actions. The imperfect is used when past completed actions are not related as a sequence of events. Or at least, that’s what I gathered.

As we have already seen in EF, the passé composé is a compound form. It combines the appropriate helping verb (conjugated, of course) with the past participle. There are rules for agreement between the subject and the past participle, but they are not as simple as I made them out to be as I chided EF yesterday. Compound forms in avoir have all been given in the masculine singular, but ATYF has a note that Hour 14 will discuss the rules for agreement. So its not as simple as just using the masculine singular form, I imagine. As for participles with être, they must agree in number and gender with the subject. And note that for the subject vous, that subject may actually be singular – and when it is, the participle will be singular, though the form of être second person plural!

Les Participes Passés
We’ve already looked at the formation of the past participle from the infinitive forms. There are many verbs whose forms are irregular though:

Action Verbs Movement Verbs
Infinitive Past Participle Infinitive Past Participle
avoir eu venir [de] venu
boire bu mourir mort
connaître connu naître
courir courtu
croire cru
écrire écrit
faire fait
falloir fallu
être été
lire lu
mettre mis
pouvoir pu
prendre pris
recevoir reçu
savoir su
suivre suive
tenir tenu
vivre vécu
voir vu
vouloir voulu

I’m not sure how many more irregular past participles of action verbs, but the list for the movement verbs is complete so far as the basic list is concerned. The remaining 10 movement verbs, though many themselves irregular in the present, have a regular formation for the past participle.

Negative Forms of Passé Composé
The construction ne…<negative adverb> surrounds the conjugated form of avoir or être, with the past participle outside the negation, except in the case of ne…personne. Ne…personne surrounds both the verb and the past participle.

As for inverted negative questions, consider the subject pronoun (hyphenated to be a suffix on the verb) part of the verb, and the above rule still applies.

And that about does it. Have yourself a great evening.

About George

I'm interested in theology, languages, translation and various sorts of fermentation.
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2 Responses to 45 Days of French – Day 20

  1. Pingback: 45 Days of French | σφόδρα – exceedingly

  2. Pingback: 45 Days of French – Day 23 | σφόδρα – exceedingly

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