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-

parler

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

finir

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

vendre

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

boire

  • 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

faire

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

prendre

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

avoir

  • 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.

étudier

  • 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.

commencer

  • 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.

manger

  • 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.

être

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

 

Examples:

Time

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.

 

Weather*

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.

 

Conditions

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.

 

Description

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 !

Courtney

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3 thoughts on “Lesson 14 – The Imperfect Tense

  1. Pingback: Lesson 17 – The Conditional Tense | Learn French Avec Moi

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