Perfect Participle

Passé composé du participe présent

When one thing leads to another, you can use the French perfect participle to talk about the first action. In English, this construction is very stilted, so it’s usually loosely translated into more idiomatic phrasing.

Par exemple…

Ayant fait la vaisselle, je suis sorti.   Having done the dishes, I went out.
  > I did the dishes and (then) went out, After doing the dishes, I went out.
Étant tombé, il ne pouvait plus jouer au tennis.   Having fallen, he couldn’t play tennis any more.
  > After falling / Because he fell, he couldn’t play tennis any more.

Comparison Why not just use the passé composé or the past perfect? The perfect participle makes the sentence a bit lighter, and also makes an implicit connection between the two verbs. Compare these with the above:

J’ai fait la vaisselle et puis je suis sorti.
Puisque j’avais fait la vaisselle, j’ai pu sortir.
J’ai fait la vaisselle avant de sortir.
Il est tombé et donc il ne pouvait plus jouer au tennis.
Parce qu’il était tombé, il ne pouvait plus jouer au tennis.
Il ne pouvait plus jouer au tennis après qu’il était tombé.

As you can see, with the passé composé or the past perfect, you have to spell out the relationship between the two clauses with a conjunction. This is not the case with the perfect participle.

Potential French mistake Be careful not to confuse the perfect participle of être verbs (e.g., étant tombé) with the passive voice (étant invité). What’s the difference? If the verb is intransitive, it’s the perfect participle; only transitive verbs can be passive. Some verbs can be either.

Étant sorti pour danser, il ne voulait pas parler.   Having gone out to dance, he didn’t want to talk.   perfect participle
Étant sorti du camion, le sac est resté par terre.   Having been taken out of the truck, the bag stayed on the ground.   passive voice

Perfect Participle with a Different Subject

In the examples at the top, the subject of both verbs is the same, and the perfect participle is therefore interchangeable with après plus the past infinitive (après avoir fait, après être tombé). But you can also use the perfect participle with different subjects.

Par exemple…

Les enfants ayant fait la vaisselle, je me suis relaxé devant la télé.   The kids having done the dishes, I relaxed in front of the TV.
  > Once the kids did the dishes, I relaxed in front of the TV.
Sa voiture étant tombée en panne, il a dû prendre l’autobus.   His car having broken down, he had to take the bus.
  > Since his car broke down, he had to take the bus.

Word Order with the Perfect Participle

Object and adverbial pronouns precede the auxiliary verb like they do for all compound tenses and moods.

Nous ayant expliqué le problème, il a soupiré.   Having explained the problem to us, he sighed.
  > After explaining the problem to us, he sighed.

Negative adverbs surround the auxiliary verb

N’étant pas fatigué, j’ai regardé un film.   Not being tired, I watched a movie.
  > I wasn’t tired, so I watched a movie.

 Related lessons

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French perfect participle


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3 Responses

  1. Yuri 15 March 2015 / 2:19

    Laura, thanks a lot for the explanation on this subject and your lessons in general as they are really useful. The only question I have is could you, please, explain just a bit more the difference between perfect participle and past infinitive. If I understood correct, for the sentence “Having arrived to France I went to Louvre right away”, I can use both. I.e., both “Après être arrivé en France, je suis tout de suite allé au Louvre” and “Étant arrivé en France, je suis tout de suite allé au Louvre” are correct and have the same meaning? Is there any reason why I should prefer one to another? Once case (and it is explained in your lesson) is when there are two subjects (kids… I, his car… he had…). Are there any other cases? I don’t know, one is more formal than another. Or, when I say “ayant fait” instead of “après avoir fait” I want to underline the cause-and-effect relation between the first and the second part of the sentence (only after the kids have done the dishes, I had a chance to relax in front of the TV, which would not have been possible otherwise, as I would have been worried about both the kids and the dishes 🙂 ) etc.? Thanks in advance.

    • lkl 15 March 2015 / 7:43

      Bonjour Yuri,

      I’m already working on a lesson comparing them. I started to include an explanation in this lesson, but I quickly realized that it couldn’t be summed up in a couple of sentences and deserved a detailed lesson.

      Bonne continuation !

      • Yuri 16 March 2015 / 9:37

        Bonjour Laura,

        Merci beaucoup! Je l’attends avec impatience!

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