7.2.2 Use of passé composé

The passé composé is used for actions of the past that are well defined (and limitted) and finished in the past. This includes the following situations:

Passé composé
a) Actions in the past that are finished and lasted a certain period of time.
J' ai habité 30 ans en Aix en Provence.
I lived in Aix en Provence for 30 years. (I do no longer live there)
J' ai lu le livre.
I read the book. (I am finished with it. The last page is read.)
b) Different actions in the past are following one another.
Il est allé à Paris, la il a rencontré avec un ami y aprés il a acheté un cadeau pour sa femme.
He went to Paris, there he met with a friend and afther that he bought a present for his wife.
c) When there are two different actions, the one interrupting the other is described in the passé composé. This is thought as an action that is short and concentrated on a certain point of time.
Je lisais un livre quand le téléphone a sonné.
I was reading a book, when the telephone rang.
d) When actions are finished* in the same period of time, when they are told; OR when actions are finished and their influence is still strong when they are told.
Aujourd' hui je me suis levé à six heures.
This morning I got up at six o'clock.
Cette année il a arrêté de fumer.
This year he has stopped smoking.

* NOTE: Actions have to be finished. English uses the present perfect also when describing that actions are ongoing in the period of time, they are told. Here, French uses the présent.

Present perfect
I have worked for the same company for more than 10 years.
Je travaille dans la même entreprise plus que 10 ans.

The English translation of the passé composé is mostly the simple past tense.

Present perfect  
French English
a) passé composé a) simple past
b) passé composé b) simple past
c) passé composé c) simple past
d) passé composé d) simple past / present perfect

Again we will mention the so called signal words, still under the provision that it is only giving a hint, not giving a perfect rule.

Passé composé signal words  
tout à coup suddenly
d'abord first(ly)
ensuite after
enfin finally
quand when

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