Compound Tenses and Moods: Word Order

Ordre des mots avec temps composés

French word order
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Compound tenses and moods are verb forms which are conjugated with two parts.

Par exemple…

J’ai dansé.   I danced.
Il avait mangé.   He had eaten.

The word order here is very straightforward:

subject + conjugated auxiliary verb (aka helping verb) + past participle

It gets more complicated when additional grammatical structures are introduced, like

I. Pronouns

All four types of pronouns (adverbial, direct object, indirect object, and reflexive) precede the helping verb.

Par exemple…

J’y ai dansé.   I danced there.
Il en avait mangé.   He had eaten some (of that).
Je l’ai dansé.   I danced it. (e.g., the tango)
Tu t’es levé.   You got up.

When there are two pronouns, the Double pronoun order rules come into play.

Je l’y ai dansé.   I danced it there.
Tu te l’a levé.   You lifted it. (e.g., your foot)

II. Negation

When a simple sentence is negated, ne directly precedes the auxiliary verb and the second part of the negation (pas, plus, jamais …) usually follows it.

Je n’ai pas dansé.   I didn’t dance.
Il n’avait jamais mangé.   He had never eaten.


A – Three negative words (aucun, personnenegative pronouns and nulle partnegative adverb) follow the past participle instead.

Je n’ai dansé nulle part.   I didn’t dance anywhere.
Il n’en avait mangé aucun.   He hadn’t eaten any of them.

B – In the case of the past infinitive, ne and pas stay together in front of the helping verb.

Je suis heureux de ne pas avoir perdu.   I’m happy not to have lost.
Il craint ne pas avoir terminé.   He fears not having finished.

I + II

To make a sentence with one or more pronouns negative, leave the pronouns directly in front of the auxiliary verb. Place ne in front of them and the second part of the negation (pas, plus, jamais …) after the auxiliary verb.

Je n’y ai pas dansé.   I didn’t dance there
Il ne l’avait jamais mangé.   He had never eaten it.
Tu ne te l’a pas levé.   You didn’t lift it. (e.g., your foot)

 À noter

When you have a semi-auxiliary verb (like pouvoir) plus an infinitive plus pronouns, negation, etc, the rules for word order are considerably more complicated:

Word order with semi-auxiliary verbs

 Related lessons

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Word order with compound tenses

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