Who are Dr & Mrs Vandertramp, and why are they having Adventures in a Draper’s Van?

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:

1. Use the acronym DR & MRS VANDERTRAMP, which stands for:

Devenir
Revenir
&
Monter
Rester
Sortir

Venir
Aller
Naître
Descendre
Entrer
Rentrer
Tomber
Retourner
Arriver
Mourir
Partir

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!

2. Use the acronym DRAPER’S VAN MTM 13.

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!

Descendre
Rester
Aller
Partir
Entrer
Retourner
Sortir

Venir
Arriver
Naître

Monter
Tomber
Mourir

3. Use the acronym ADVENTuRe.

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 soeurshe 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 grenierShe ran up to the attic,
but:
Elle a monté les sacsShe brought up the bags.

Les voleurs sont sortis par la fenêtreThe thieves went out through the window,
but:
Les douaniers ont tout sorti de sa valiseThe customs officers took everything out of his suitcase.

Ils sont rentrés à onze heuresThey came back at eleven o’clock,
but:
Ils ont rentré les chaises They have brought the chairs in.

 
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