Q: Sometimes I see verbs with both the auxiliary être and avoir in their past participle form. Why?
A: You have learnt that some verbs (16 actually) require the auxiliary être when conjugated in the past participle. However, some of these verbs have a “double nationality”. They can be used with both être (to be) or avoir (to have), depending if the verb has a direct object or not. This is the case for entrer (enter), sortir (get out), monter (go up), descendre (go down), passer (to pass), retourner (return).
I know. As if French past participle wasn’t complicated enough. But it’s easier than it sounds.
When the object moving is the subject itself (no direct object linked to the verb) = ÊTRE
Je suis sorti (I got out. That’s all we know.)
Tu es monté à l’étage (You went upstairs. It’s your own body that you took upstairs, and nothing else.)
Elle est retournée chez elle (She returned home.)
When you are moving something else than yourself (direct object linked to the verb) = AVOIR
J’ai sorti les ordures (I took the garbage out. In this case, it’s the garbage that I took out, not just my body)
Il a monté les livres à l’étage (He took the books upstairs. The books is a direct object here.)
Nous avons monté l’Everest (We climbed Mount Everest. Mount Everest is the mountain that we climbed.)
J’ai passé du temps à la plage (I spent some time at the beach. In this case, passer means “to spend”, and is always linked to an object (time, money, etc.)).
J’ai retourné le livre à la bibliothèque (I returned the book to the library).
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