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Être Verbs - Mnemonic Devices

Techniques for remembering French être verbs

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There are certain French verbs which require être as the auxiliary verb in the passé composé and other compound tenses, and students sometimes have a hard time remembering them. There are 14 common verbs plus numerous derivatives which take être, and their derivatives usually do too. For example, entrer is an être verb, as is its derivative rentrer. Generally speaking, all of the verbs indicate a particular kind of movement, either literal or figurative - lesson on être verbs.
 

Intransitive verbs

One very important thing to remember is that verbs only use être when they are intransitive (do not have a direct object):
    Je suis passé à huit heures vs J'ai passé la maison.

    Je suis monté avant lui vs J'ai monté la valise.
I can promise you that eventually you will instinctively know which verbs take être, but in the meantime, you might want to try one of these mnemonic devices.
 

La Maison d'être

The French teach être verbs with a visual: La Maison d'être. Draw a house with a door, stairs, windows, etc. and then label it with the être verbs. For example, put someone on the stairs going up (monter) and another going down (descendre).


There are three acronyms that are commonly used to remember être verbs. Strangely, none of them includes passer, which is an être verb when used intransively.
 

DR & MRS VANDERTRAMP

This is perhaps the most popular mnemonic device for être verbs in the United States. Personally, I find DR & MRS VANDERTRAMP redundant since it includes some derivatives, but if it works for you, go for it.
    Devenir
    Revenir
    &
    Monter
    Rester
    Sortir

    Venir
    Aller
    Naître
    Descendre
    Entrer
    Rentrer
    Tomber
    Retourner
    Arriver
    Mourir
    Partir
     

ADVENT

Each letter in ADVENT stands for one of the verbs and its opposite, plus one extra verb, for a total of thirteen.
    Arriver - Partir
    Descendre - Monter
    Venir - Aller
    Entrer - Sortir
    Naître - Mourir
    Tomber - Rester
    Retourner
     

DRAPERS VAN MMT13

Each letter in DRAPERS VAN MMT stands for one of the 13 verbs.
    Descendre
    Rester
    Aller
    Partir
    Entrer
    Retourner
    Sortir

    Venir
    Arriver
    Naître

    Mourir
    Monter
    Tomber
    ---------
    13 total verbs
     

Tips from teachers

On the Profs de français forum, some teachers stated that acronyms don't work - their students remember the letters, but not the verb each one signifies. So they use music or poetry to help students learn and remember être verbs:

1. I have the students sing the past participles of the verbs to the tune of "Ten Little Indians." It's a good way to remember which verbs take être, plus it helps them remember the irregular past participles:

allé, arrivé, venu, revenu,
entré, rentré, descendu, devenu,
sorti, parti, resté, retourné,
monté, tombé, né et mort.



2. I have my students memorize the verbs in a specific order: the 8 -er verbs, which they can learn in about 2 minutes in class. Next is descendre, because it's the opposite of monter. Then the -ir verbs, the venir family, and the beginning and end of life. Passer par brings up the grand finale. Most classes can learn them all in less than 5 minutes. And then I put it all together into a little poem:

Aller, arriver, entrer, rentrer, rester, retourner, tomber, monter,
descendre,
partir, sortir,
venir, devenir, revenir,
naître, mourir, et passer par.
Ces dix-sept verbes sont conjugués avec le verbe être au passé composé. Yé !


Sometimes I do it in a sing-song voice or rap it. I've been known to put on a pair of shades; it seems to make an impression and get them all into it. My students seem to be able to remember this order with no difficulty whatsoever, and I see them scanning their quizzes, silently reciting the order of verbs, marking an asterisk next to the ones that need être, and being quite successful. When I have had those students in more advanced classes through the years, they have remembered my formula. If they slip, all it takes is a gentle reminder: Aller, arriver... and to have them all join in to reinforce the verbs. I've run into students many years later who could still recall them all and wanted to recite them for me.


Keep reading
   Introduction to être verbs
   Remembering être verbs
   Être verbs used transitively
   Test on être verbs


Related lessons
   Repeating auxiliary verbs
   Le passé
   Compound tenses
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