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Retourner can be used with avoir or être in Le Passé Composé... and changes meaning

Most verbs use either avoir or être as the auxiliary verb in le Passé Composé (or other compound tense)but retourner uses both, depending on what it means in the sentence*. Let's look at the example of être + retourné and avoir + retourné.

être + retourné 

= to go back [somewhere]
= to return [somewhere]

Je suis retourné dans le village où je t'avais rencontré.
I returned to the village where I had met you.

C'était tellement amusant qu'il y est retourné plus tard.
It was such fun that he went back later!

Notice that in each case where être is the auxilliary, the verb retourner is followed by a preposition (en, sur, dans, à etc.).  So, in these cases retourner is usually about going back somewhereor returning somewhere.

NOTE that retourner means to go back / home whereas revenir means to come back.

See also Agreeing past participle with subject's gender and number with (+ être) verbs in Le Passé Composé

avoir + retourné [quelque chose]

= to turn [something] upside down
= to turn [something] inside out
= to turn [something] back to front 

J'ai retourné ce pull parce qu'il gratte.
I turned this jumper inside out because it itches.

Il a retourné sa casquette pour faire cool.
He turned his cap back to front to look cool.

Tu as retourné la poubelle pour trouver tes clés!
You turned the bin upside down to find your keys!

When retourner is followed immediately by a noun (as opposed to a preposition), it uses avoir as the auxiliary, like most verbs.  
 
ATTENTION: retourner does not mean to return (something) in the context of a shop for example. In French, we will use rapporter (to bring back) or échanger [quelque chose] instead:
 

Elle a rapporté cette jupe comme elle était trop petite.
She returned this skirt as it was too small.

 
*Note for grammar nerds: the technical grammatical distinction between these cases is actually whether the transitive or intransitive version of the verb is used. The transitive version (the version with a direct object) uses avoir.  The intransitive version lacking a direct object, uses être
Here is the list of all "two-auxiliaryverbs in compound tenses:
 

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Elle a rapporté cette jupe comme elle était trop petite.
She returned this skirt as it was too small.


J'ai retourné ce pull parce qu'il gratte.
I turned this jumper inside out because it itches.


Je suis retourné dans le village où je t'avais rencontré.
I returned to the village where I had met you.


Tu as retourné la poubelle pour trouver tes clés!
You turned the bin upside down to find your keys!


C'était tellement amusant qu'il y est retourné plus tard.
It was such fun that he went back later!


Il a retourné sa casquette pour faire cool.
He turned his cap back to front to look cool.


Q&A

John

Kwiziq community member

31 March 2017

1 reply

Turn things up side down in present tense?

Here when the verb retourner goes with avoir in past tense, then it means to turn things up side down or inside out. How do you say it in present tense or in imperative? Merci.

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

31 March 2017

31/03/17

Bonjour John !

The distinction of meaning linked to "avoir" or "être" is only relevant to compound tenses.
When you use "retourner" in simple tenses, like Le Présent, L'Impératif, L'Imparfait etc, it can mean either of these meanings. Here the context will tell which one it is:
"Je retourne ma veste." (I'm turning my jacket inside out.)
"Tu retournais la voir souvent." (You used to go back to see her often.)
"Pour enlever la plante, retourne doucement le pot." (To remove the plant, gently turn the pot upside down.)

I hope that's helpful!
À bientôt !

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

25 November 2016

2 replies

Graham asked: "Il doit y avoir la lettre s à la terminaison du mot retourné? vous êtes retournés "

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

25 November 2016

25/11/16

Bonjour Graham !​

​I understand your confusion but here is the explanation: ''vous'' can, as you know, be used both for plural you, and for polite, formal you.
In the second case, it has a singular meaning, as it relates to a single person.

So in le Passé Composé, when you use the formal 'vous', it will agree with the single person it refers to: it was the case here, therefore ''Vous êtes retourné [...]''.

Moreover, in different contexts, you could also encounter the plural versions ''Vous êtes retournés'' or ''Vous êtes retournées'' (for a whole woman group), as well as the feminine version ''Vous êtes retournée''. "

​You can also have a look at our lesson on agreement with "être" in Le Passé Composé https://french.kwiziq.com/my-languages/french/view/431

I hope that's helpful!
À bientôt !

Graham

Kwiziq community member

26 November 2016

26/11/16

Vous m'avez beaucoup aidé.
Merci.

Joakim

Kwiziq community member

8 May 2016

3 replies

Prepositions

"Marie est retournée le voir le lendemain" - how come there's no preposition ("pour", say) following retournée here, which the lesson says should always follow retourner when conjugated with être?

Almut

Kwiziq community member

15 May 2016

15/05/16

I guess the preposition (one of location! so "pour" wouldn't count anyway) is a good indicator that it is the intransitive version of the verb but the intransitive version of the verb does not necessarily demand a preposition. However the lack of a direct object shows that "retourner" is used intransitively here and therefore has to be conjugated with "être".

Aaron

Kwiziq community member

5 August 2016

5/08/16

"Pour" is optional in this case, as far as I understand it. For the sake of translation, "le voir" is already equivalent to "to see it", but you could add "pour".

"Il vient nous sauver" = "il vient pour nous sauver".

There may be a slight nuance, but it's essentially the same.

Peter

Kwiziq community member

16 February 2018

16/02/18

Getting that for you now.