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Why is the above sentence considered incorrect to translate 'I climbed/came down the tree'? I am of the understanding that 'Descendre de l'arbre' is the right translation, but I can't understand why.

You can say

J'ai descendu l'escalier, la colline, echelle etc.

But not

J'ai descendu l'arbre

Equally, I find it hard to understand why to translate 'to get off/ out of the (car,plane)' must be 'Je suis descendu de la voiture/avion' rather than 'J'ai descendu la voiture/avion

You are taught that when a direct object follows 'Descendre' you use 'Avoir' as the auxiliary verb. Clearly it mustn't be that simple and there is some nuance that I'm missing.

Can anyone help me?

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You are right.It is a bit mystifying.

When things are complicated I try to just remember the particular examples and hope that it becomes second nature eventually.

There must be rules involved but I am not sure how useful they would be.Perhaps there are not too many other verbs like "descendre "

Let's hope so at least :-)

I am not completely sure whether or not  you are familiar with the fact that verbs of motion always use etre as the auxiliary verb in the past tense...I imagine you are.

Anyway I regard "descendre" being used as a verb of motion in the "Je suis descendu de la voiture" case and as an"ordinary"(ie not a verb of motion)  verb in the case of  "J'ai descendu l'escalier"

Almost two separate verbs with the same spelling as it were.

Hope that helps.



J'ai descendu l'escalier, la colline => OK

J'ai descendu l'échelle => not always. "Je suis descendu de l'échelle" is right too.

J'ai descendu l'arbre. => never right.

There are 2 ways to understand :

1) a direct object follows 'Descendre' you use 'Avoir' as the auxiliary verb and an indirect object follows "Descendre" you use "Etre" as auxiliary.

Can you find if it is a direct object or not ? I will try to explain if you want.

2) But there is another way : "the meaning of the word "descendre"

if you go down from a point X using X as the path : it's "avoir"

J'ai descendu l'escalier : you go from the top of the stairs and you come down the stairs

J'ai descendu la colline : the same

J'ai descendu l'échelle : the same = you want to explain that you were up on a ladder and you used the ladder to come down.

But if you go from a point X and X is the starting point and X is not considered as the path : it's "être"

(we don't know and it's not important if you climbeb or if you came down)

If you say "Je suis descendu de l'échelle" you're right. It means that you were up on a ladder and now you are down.

"Je suis descendu de la voiture" (de l'avion) : it's clear, a car or a plane is not a path. you want to say that you were in a car and after you were not in the car.

For a tree you can't use the tree as a path to come down. Probably you want to say that you were on a tree and after you were not on the tree. So it's "être". I don't know exactly how you can use a tree as a way/path to come down and it's not regular, so we will add words to explain how the tree was a path.

That was nicely explained.

Thank you for your explanation. I think I understand now.

So, regarding point "2)", you could never say : "J'ai descendu la table (sur le sol)", as it's impossible to walk from the table to the ground.

The "Avoir descendu (de l'echelle)" construction also seems puts emphasis on the action whereas "Etre descendu (de l'echelle)" seems to highlight resulting state after the action.

The only question I have concerns what I will call the "path" nouns already mentioned (escalier, colline, echelle).

You would never use "non- path nouns"  like "table, train" with "Avoir descendu" but you used  both Avoir" and "Etre" constructions with "echelle" above.

Can the "path" nouns also be used with "Etre" constructions interchangeably? Is it possible to say

Je suis descendu de la colline

Je suis descendu de l'escalier

Or is this considered awkward and incorrect French? The equivalent of saying something like "I got off the hill" in English.

I imagine your last examples would work and have a different sense to what they would have using "avoir" 

For example it seems to me like you might be hopping of the ladder rather than using it  in the normal way.

And as regards the "Colline"  it seems to ignore the descent and just describe the "arrived" state.

in my opinion.....

Yes I didn't think about that, but I think all "path" nouns can be used with "être" or "avoir".

But often some of them are more used with "être" and others with "avoir".

These two sentences are correct :

Je suis descendu de la colline => this one is regular,  "je suis descendu de la colline à la nuit tombée."

Je suis descendu de l'escalier => this one sounds more odd. Not because it's wrong but because it's less used. Because the goal of stairs is to be the path to go up or down. It's difficult to found another goal for stairs. But it's a right sentence. I think of a child who is on stairs, and his mother says "Descends de là" he may go down and reply "ça y est maman, je suis descendu de l'escalier." and this sentence is right.


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