French Verb Être – Passé Composé vs Imparfait

The passé composé form of the verb être is mostly used for the passive voice.

The passive voice is the form of a verb in which the subject undergoes the action of the verb. The passé composé is used to indicate an event, a change, or what happened. You can say j’ai été when something has changed. Use the imperfect tense for conditions or states of being.

Passive VoiceHe was hit by a ball.
Active VoiceA ball hit him.
La Voix PassiveIl a été frappé par un ballon.
La Voix ActiveUn ballon l’a frappé.
J’ai été surpris(e).At that specific moment in the past, I went from being unaware to finding out.
J’ai été malade.
le passé composé
I became sick at that moment, but now it’s finished.
J’étais malade.
I was sick. 
(condition or state of being) 

J’ai été malade can translate to the colloquial got, which indicates a change of state at a particular moment.  

J’ai été malade.

I got sick.

The passé composé form of être can be used as the equivalent of je suis allé(e) in colloquial French.

J’ai été en France.

Je suis allé(e) en France.
I was in France.
(definite point in time)
I went to France. 
J’étais en France.I was in France.
(no definite point in time)

Another common way to use the passé composé of être is when you ask someone how something went. 

We hear this a lot in restaurants to know if we enjoyed a meal. The most common response to this question is Très bien!

Ça a été?How was it?
How did it go?

Connaître and Savoir 

The verbs connaître and savoir also have different meanings in the passé composé and imperfect tenses.

Passé ComposéJ’ai suI found out
(something changed)
ImparfaitJe savaisI knew
Passé ComposéJ’ai connuI met
(something changed)
ImparfaitJe connaissaisI knew
(person, place, thing)

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