Archive | January 2016

Imparfait vs. Passé Composé

Friday bonus post!

Imparfait vs. Passé Composé

The passé composé and imperfect both refer to past time, but express different ways of looking at past actions and events. The imperfect tense denotes an action as going on in the past without any reference to its beginning or end. The passé composé denotes an action that the speaker sees as completed in the past or as having happened once.

Quand j’étais en France, je parlais français.

When I was in France, I spoke French.


Hier j’ai parlé français avec Caroline.

Yesterday I spoke French with Caroline.


Completed Action

The passé composé implies that an action is complete in the past. It also may imply that the action happened once.

Quelqu’un a sonné à la porte d’en bas.

Someone rang the downstairs doorbell.


Tout à coup la porte s’est ouverte.

Suddenly the door opened.


L’avion est arrivé en retard.

The plane arrived late.


Continuous or Repeated Action

The imperfect is used for actions that the speaker sees as going on in the past without reference to the beginning or the end of the action. The imperfect may convey that the action happened repeatedly.

Le quartier devenait de plus en blus bruyant.

The neighbourhood was getting noisier and noisier.


Les enfants faisaient leurs devoirs dans la cuisine.

The children used to do their homework in the kitchen,


Tu te couchais toujours tôt.

You always went to bed early.


Background for Past Actions or Events

The imperfect often provides the background for past actions or events that are expressed in the passé composé.

Philippe lisait quand ses amis sont arrivés.

Philippe was reading when his friends arrived.


Quand je suis entrée, tout le monde travaillait.

When I came in, everyone was working.


J’ai fermé les fenêtres parce qu’il pleuvait.

I closed the windows because it was raining.

Lesson 14 – The Imperfect Tense

Leçon 14 – The Imperfect Tense

L’imparfait, en français. We’ve already learned the passé composé, so now we will move on to another form of past tense – the imperfect.

The imperfect tense is used to described background actions or situations in the past rather than events. The formation of the imperfect tense is simple, the conjugated endings are the same for all verbs. The endings of the imperfect tense are added to the stem of the nous form of the present tense (nous form without the -ons ending).

Infinitive – Imperfect Stem

parler – parl-

finir – finiss-

vendre – vend-

recevoir – recev-

étudier – étudi-

boire – buv-

lire – lis-

avoir – av-

craindre – craign-


  • je parlais
  • tu parlais
  • il/elle/on parlait
  • nous parlions
  • vous parliez
  • ils/elles parlaient


  • je finissais
  • tu finissais
  • il/elle/on finissait
  • nous finissions
  • vous finissiez
  • ils/elles finissaient


  • je vendais
  • tu vendais
  • il/elle/on vendait
  • nous vendions
  • vous vendiez
  • ils/elles vendaient


  • je buvais
  • tu buvais
  • il/elle/on buvait
  • nous buvions
  • vous buviez
  • ils/elles buvaient

craindre (to fear)

  • je craignais
  • tu craignais
  • il/elle/on craignait
  • nous craignions
  • vous craigniez
  • ils/elles craignaient


  • je faisais
  • tu faisais
  • il/elle/on faisait
  • nous faisions
  • vous faisiez
  • ils/elles faisaient


  • je prenais
  • tu prenais
  • il/elle/on prenait
  • nous prenions
  • vous preniez
  • ils/elles prenaient


  • j’avais
  • tu avais
  • il/elle/on avait
  • nous avions
  • vous aviez
  • ils/elles avaient


-er verbs whose imperfect stems end in -i double the letter i in the nous and vous forms.


  • j’étudiais
  • tu étudiais
  • il/elle/on étudiait
  • nous étudiions
  • vous étudiiez
  • ils/elles étudiaient


-er verbs ending in -cer have a ç before the imperfect endings that begin with a.


  • je commençais
  • tu commençais
  • il/elle/on commençait
  • nous commencions
  • vous commenciez
  • ils/elles commençaient


-er verbs ending in -ger have ge before the imperfect endings that begin with a.


  • je mangeais
  • tu mangeais
  • il/elle/on mangeait
  • nous mangions
  • vous mangiez
  • ils/elles mangeaient


The only verb in French with an irregular imperfect stem is être. Despite being an irregular verb, the endings are regular.


  • j’étais
  • tu étais
  • il/elle/on était
  • nous étions
  • vous étiez
  • ils/elles étaient




The imperfect, as opposed to using passé composé, is used in conditions that tell the time at which something happened in the past. This includes not only clock time, but also time words such as tart and tôt.

Il était cinq heures quand nous sommes partis.

It was 5 o’clock when we left.


Il était tard quand je suis sorti.

It was late when I went out.


Il faisait déjà noir quand on a quitté le bureau.

It was already dark when we left the office.



The imperfect is usually, but not always, used to describe weather conditions in the past.

Il pleuvait quand on est rentrés.

It was raining when we got back.


Il faisait beau quand les enfants jouaient dans le jardin.

The weather was nice when the children were playing in the garden.


*Weather phenomena can also be seen as events, and in these cases they are expressed in the passé composé, and do not serve as backgrounds for other actions.

Example: Hier il a neigé. It snowed yesterday.



The imperfect is used to describe conditions in the past.


Le métro était très bondé et je n’ai pas pu monter.

The subway was very crowded and I couldn’t get on.


On a mangé à la maison parce que tous les restaurants étaient fermés.

We ate at home because all the restaurants were closed.



The imperfect is used to describe people and things in the past.


Sa maison était très grande. Il y avait un joli jardin tout autour.

His house was very big. There was a pretty garden surrounding it.


Les étudiants étaient très nerveux parce que leurs cours étaient très difficiles.

The students were very nervous because their courses were very difficult.


Repeated Actions

The imperfect is used to label repeated actions in the past when the focus is on the actions themselves rather than on when the actions began or ended. Adverbs and adverbial phrases such as toujours, tous les jours/mois/ans, toutes les semaines, souvent, chaque fois, d’habitude, généralement, etc. indicate repeated actions.


Quand j’étais jeune, ma famille et moi, nous allions au bord de la mer tous les étés.

When I was young, my family and I used to go to the seashore every summer.


Elle oubliait toujours ce que je lui disais.

She always forgot what I would tell her.


The Imperfect in Reported Speech

The imperfect usually replaces the present tense in reported speech (indirect speech) when the main verb of the sentence is in a past tense.


Il dit qu’il le sait.

He says that he knows it.

Il a dit qu’il le savait.

He said that he knew it.


Il écrit qu’il ne vient pas.

He writes that he isn’t coming.

Il a écrit qu’il ne venait pas.

He wrote that he wasn’t coming.


Si on mangeait ensemble?

How about if we eat together?


The amount of information given to you seems rather daunting. I promise you that these rules are rather easy to remember once you are able to memorise them! Remember to take notes on these longer posts! Leave any questions you may have in the comment section below.

Merci à vous !


Lesson 13 – Interrogative Sentences

Leçon 13 – Interrogative Sentences

Forming Questions

There are three ways to change a statement into a question in French:

  • In spoken French, statements can be turned into questions by raising the pitch of the voice at the end of the sentence. The word order remains the same as in a statement, and the voice goes higher at the end of the sentence.
    • Tu descends avec moi?
    • Are you coming downstairs with me?
  • In both spoken and formal French, est-ce que may be placed at the beginning of a statement to turn it into a question.
    • Est-ce que vous écoutez souvent les concerts à la radio?
    • Do you often listen to concerts on the radio?
  • In formal speech, especially in writing, statements are turned into questions by placing the subject pronoun after the verb and joining the two with a hyphen. This is called inversion of the subject and the verb. (It’s good to note that the pronoun je is not used in inverted questions.)
    • Travaillez-vous ici, Madame?
    • Do you work here, ma’am?
  • If the third person singular form (il/elle/on) of a verb ends in a vowel, -t- is added between the verb form and the inverted subject pronoun il, elle, or on.
    • Parle-t-il français?
    • Does he speak French?
    • A-t-elle envie de sortir?
    • Does she feel like going out
  • In an inverted question, a noun subject remains before the verb and the corresponding pronoun is added after the verb.
    • Les étudiants tutoient-ils leur professeur?
    • Do the students use the tu form to their teacher?
  • Negative questions with inversion are used only in formal style. The ne and pas surround the inverted pronoun and verb. These questions imply that the speaker expects the answer to be yes.
    • N’appuie-t-il pas notre candidat?
    • Doesn’t he support our candidate?
  • If the subject of a negative question is a noun, it remains in its position before ne and the corresponding pronoun is added after the verb. (It’s good to note that Si not Oui is used to answer yes to a negative question.
    • Les musiciens de cet orchestre ne jouent-ils pas merveilleusement?
    • Don’t the musicians in this orchestra play wonderfully?
  • N’est-ce pas can be added to the end of any statement to ask a question to which the speaker expects the answer to be yes. The meaning is similar to that of negative questions.
    • Les musiciens jouent bien, n’est-ce pas?
    • The musicians play well, don’t they?
  • Negative questions formed with rising intonation and without inversion expect the answer to be no.
    • Tu ne regardes pas la télé?
    • You’re not watching TV?

Lesson 12 – Passé Composé

Leçon 12 – Passé Composé

French has several ways to express a past event. The most important and most useful tense form of the past tense in French is le passé composé. It corresponds to the English simple past tense (I saw, I had, I began), as well as to the English present perfect (I have finished, I have purchased, I have been).

Forming the Passé Composé

The passé composé of most verbs is formed by using the present tense of the verb avoir (to have) and the past participle. The past participle ends in –é for verbs that end in –er (parler, parlé), in –i for verbs that end in –ir (finir, fini), and in –u for verbs that end in –re (vendre, vendu).
Verbs ending in –er

  • j’ai visité – I visited, I have visited
  • tu as visité – you visited, you have visited
  • il/elle/on visité – he/she/we visited, have visited
  • nous avons visité – we visited, have visited
  • vous avez visité – you visited, have visited
  • ils/elles visité – they visited, have visited


Verbs ending in –ir

  • j’ai choisi – I chose, have chosen
  • tu as choisi – you chose, have chosen
  • il/elle/on choisi – he/she/we chose, have chosen
  • nous avons choisi – we chose, have chosen
  • vous avez choisi – you chose, have chosen
  • ils/elles ont choisi – they chose, have chosen


Verbs ending in –re

  • j’ai perdu – I lost, have lost
  • tu as perdu – you lost, have lost
  • il/elle/on – perdu he/she/we lost, have lost
  • nous avons perdu – we lost, have lost
  • vous avez perdu – you lost, have lost
  • ils/elles ont perdu – they lost, have lost

Verbs With Irregular Past Participles

Infinitive Past Participle

s’asseoir (to be seated) – assis (seated)

avoir (to have) – eu (had)

boire (to drink) – bu (drunk)

conduire (to conduct) – conduit (conducted)

connaître (to know) – connu (known)

courir (to run) – couru (run/ran)

croire (to believe) – cru (believed)

devoir (to owe; must) – dû (ought)

dire (to say, tell) – dit (said, told)

être (to be) – été (been, was)

écrire (to write) – écrit (wrote, written)

faire (to do, make) – fait (done, made)

lire (to read) – lu (read)

mettre (to put) – mis (put)

mourir (to die) – mort (died)

naître (to be born) – né (born)

offrir (to offer) – offert (offered)

ouvrir (to open) – ouvert (opened)

partir (to leave) – parti (left)

pouvoir (to be able to) – pu (been able to)

prendre (to take) – pris (taken, took)

recevoir (to receive) – reçu (received)

rire (to laugh) – ri (laughed)

savoir (to know) – su (known)

venir (to come) – venu (came)

voir (to see) – vu (seen, saw)

vouloir (to want) – voulu (wanted)


Verbs Which Use être as the Auxiliary Verb

The following verbs use être instead of avoir as the auxiliary verb to form the passé composé.

aller (to go)

arriver (to arrive)

descendre (to descend)

devenir (to become)

entrer (to enter)

monter (to go up)

mourir (to die)

naître (to be born)

partir (to leave)

rentrer (to return)

rester (to remain, to stay)

retourner (to return)

revenir (to come back)

sortir (to go out)

tomber (to fall)

venir (to come)


The past participle of verbs conjugated with être as the auxiliary verb change endings to agree in gender and number with the subject of the verb. If the subject is feminine singular, an –e is added to the past participle. If the subject is masculine plural, an –s is added, and if feminine plural, an –es is added. These changes do not affect pronunciation (except in the case of the verb mourir past participle- mort, morts, morte, mortes. The addition of the –e in the feminine singular and plural form causes the –t to be sounded).


Some examples:

  • je suis sorti (masculine) – I left, have left
  • je suis sortie (feminine) – I left, have left
  • tu es né (masculine) – you were born
  • tu es née (feminine) – you were born
  • ils sont descendus – (masculine plural) they descended, have descended
  • elles sont descendues – (feminine plural) they descended, have descended


Ils sont arrivés hier et sont allés tout de suite au consulat américain.

They arrived yesterday and went immediately to the American consulate.

Nous sommes restés longtemps.

We stayed a long time.

An vs Année

An vs Année

While “an” and “année” both describe “year,” there are different ways in which to use both. In spoken French, the difference is not always clear, and sometimes you can use these words with the same meaning.

“An” is a point in time, whereas “Année” is a duration of time.

An is used with age:

  • Elle a 20 ans. – She is 20 years old.
  • Dans 10 ans, je suis à la retraite. – In 10 years I will be retired.

A moment in time :

  • L’an dernier, l’an prochain. – Last year, next year.
  • Le nouvel an. – New year.

Année is used for durations of time:

  • L’année 2016 comporte 366 jours. – 2016 gets 366 days.

When both can be used interchangeably:

  • J’ai été malade l’année dernière. – I was sick last year. (Noting : during a large part of the year.)
  • J’ai été malade l’an dernier. – I was sick last year. (Noting : some days of the year.)

Bon Réveillon !

Bon Réveillon à tous et toutes ! Happy New Year, everyone! 
I will be back to posting, I promise. Please leave a comment for anything you’d like to see here. I will be posting weekly – once a week. It takes a lot of planning and prepping for every post, so bear with me. 🙂
Until then, have a happy and safe New Year! See you in 2016!
À bientôt !