Most French verbs use avoir as their auxiliary verb when forming the perfect and other compound tenses, but there are a tricky few that use être instead. So, how do we remember which ones take être? Here are 3 popular methods:
The snag with this mnemonic is that students tend to remember “Mr & Mrs Vandertramp” but forget what the letters stand for! It includes some derivatives of verbs (like entrer and rentrer and venir, devenir and revenir) and that redundancy makes the acronym a bit too long to be very useful, but if it works for you, that is great!
My secondary school French teacher drew the back of a large van with the words “Draper’s Van” in fancy writing across it, and a number plate reading “MTM 13” and that has always stuck firmly in my mind. Again, though, when it comes to remembering what the 13 verbs are, I struggle a bit! On top of that, it had to be explained to me what exactly a draper was (a person selling fabrics and sewing materials) which added an extra level of confusion!
Here, each capital letter stands for one of the verbs and its opposite in meaning, plus one verb on its own, for a total of 13.
Arriver – Partir: to arrive – to depart
Descendre – Monter: to go down – to go up
Venir – Aller: to come – to go
Entrer – Sortir: to go in – to go out
Naître – Mourir: to be born – to die
Tomber – Rester: to fall – to remain
Retourner: to go back
On the whole, I think this mnemonic is the most workable of the three, as you only have to remember half of the verbs then think of their opposite.
None of these, however, include the verb passer which also takes être when used intransitively (with no direct object), e.g.Elle est passé voir sa soeur – she called in to see her sister.
Also, you have to be careful because when these verbs have a direct object, they take avoir! e.g.
Elle est montée en courant jusqu’au grenier – She ran up to the attic,
Elle a monté les sacs – She brought up the bags.
Les voleurs sont sortis par la fenêtre – The thieves went out through the window,
Les douaniers ont tout sorti de sa valise – The customs officers took everything out of his suitcase.
Ils sont rentrés à onze heures – They came back at eleven o’clock,
Ils ont rentré les chaises – They have brought the chairs in.