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Dr. & Mrs. Vandertamp

If you are learning French, you’ve encountered the intransitive verbs. The first verb you learned, être (to be), is intransitive. So when you say je suis…, you are using an intransitive verb.

The definition of an intransitive verb is that it does not take a direct object. This is not really a problem in French, since nouns don’t change, that is to say decline, when they go from being a subject to a direct object or indirect object. However, there are certain verbs that you have to use être with when forming the compound tenses. These verbs are themselves intransitive, which is why they take être instead of avoir, the helping verb used when forming compound tenses with transitive verbs.

Fortunately there’s an easy mnemonic to remember these verbs. It is "Dr. & Mrs. Vandertamp" and goes like this:

• D: descendre

• R: revenir

• M: monter

• R: rentrer

• S: sortir

• V: venir

• A: arriver

• N: naître

• D; devenir

• E; entrer

• R: retourner

• T: tomber

• A: aller

• M: mourir

• P: partir

These are all the common verbs that use être to form compound tenses (e.g.: je suis allé, il est arrivé) in French. Remember, there are a lot of compound tenses in French, and this mnemonic works for all of them. It really is that simple.

You do of course have to change the second verb, the one in the participle form, depending on the gender and number in the subject. Je suis allé works for a man, but not a woman, where it becomes je suis allée, and nous sommes allées if plural. Although the pronunciation of the past participle, allé(e/s) in this case, does not change, the spelling does, so be careful when writing.

Eventually, you'll just know which verb, être or aller, to use, and you’ll become comfortable with the changes to the past participle when writing. But if you've got a test coming up, the mnemonic is quite handy.

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