Grammar: Past Tense Revision for Leaving and Junior Certs


In Leaving Cert written work past tense will mainly be tested on the diary/ narrative question, whereas the Junior Cert paper will test the past tense on the postcard/ note and letter.

It may also be tested in the comprehension section where you may have to change verbs to construct an answer.

Le weekend/ mois dernier Last weekend/ month
La semaine/ année dernière Last week/ year (adding “e” due to agreement)
Hier Yesterday


Remember that “ce” (meaning “this/ that”), “il” (meaning “it”) and “le/la” (meaning “the”) use the “il” form in verbs.

Example: Le gouvernement était: The government was- we are using the “il” form here (“il était”).

Remember that “ces” (meaning “these/ those”) and “les” (meaning “the”) use the “ils” form in verb constructions.

Example:  Les ministres avaient: The ministers had- We are using the “les” form here as it is plural.


The majority of verbs use “AVOIR” in past tense.

J’ai/ Il a/ Nous avons/ Ils ont.

For the majority of verbs the rules are simple :

ER VERBS cut off the “er” and are replaced with “é.”

IR VERBS cut off the “ir” and are replaced with “i.”

RE VERBS cut off the “re” and are replaced with “u.”

Examples: J’ai mangé- I ate (from verb “manger”), Nous avons fini- We finished (from verb “finir”).

However, some are irregular- please see below.

Pouvoir — Pu Lire — Lu
Voir — Vu Vouloir – Voulu
Faire — Fait Boire —Bu
Devoir – Dû Dire —Dit


Examples: Nous avons bu- We drank. Je n’ai pas pu aller: I couldn’t go



Some verbs use “être” in past tense. Below are the verbs you will be most likely to use.

Je suis/ Il est/ Nous sommes/ Ils sont.

Remember to use agreement for these: Add an “e” for “elle”, an “s” for “ils” and an “es” for “elles.”

Aller-Allé Naître — Né
Arriver – Arrivé Descendre — Descendu
Passer — Passé (as in to pass by somewhere) Venir –Venu
Sortir — Sorti Partir –Parti


Example: Elle est allée- She went (I have added an “e” as “elle” is feminine)

Reflexive Verbs:

Place the corresponding piece of être (for example “suis” for “je”) between the pronoun (the me/se/nous) and the verb (action word). Place the verb in past tense using passé composé rules. Remember to use agreement.

Je me suis bronzé : I tanned myself

Nous nous sommes lavés : We washed ourselves


  • The imparfait is another past tense in French.
  • Using “être” and “avoir” in the “imparfait” in written work combined with other verbs in passé composé, will show your examiner that you know a variety of tenses and increase your language marks.
J’étais J’avais
Il/ On était Il/ On avait
Nous étions Nous avions
Ils étaient Ils avaient


Example: J’étais sur le point de manger quand j’ai vu le texto : I was about to eat when I saw the text

Test yourself here!


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