Intransitive verbsOne 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.
La Maison d'êtreThe 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 VANDERTRAMPThis 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.
ADVENTEach 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
DRAPERS VAN MMT13Each letter in DRAPERS VAN MMT stands for one of the 13 verbs.
13 total verbs
Tips from teachersOn 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,
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.
Introduction to être verbs
Remembering être verbs
Être verbs used transitively
Test on être verbs
Repeating auxiliary verbs