Tag Archive | Passé Composé

Uses of the Imperfect

The French imperfect corresponds to the English form “was/were doing”. It is used, like the English form, to describe a continuous state in the past.

  • Le soleil brillait et la mer était très calme.
  • The sun was shining and the sea was very calm.

It is also used to record an action which “was happening” at the same time as another action, or when another action intervened.

  • Nous prenions un café alors qu’on a frappé à la port.
  • We were having a coffee when someone knocked on the door.

Since the imperfect conveys this idea of simultaneity, it is used after conjunctions such as comme, or pendant que (even where English uses the simple past).

  • Comme il fermait le robinet il remarqua une fuite d’eau.
  • As he turned off/was turning off the tap, he noticed water dripping.

A second use of the imperfect is to record repeated or habitual actions in the past. This corresponds to the English form “used to” (or “would”).

  • Quand je faisais mes études, je me couchais assez tard.
  • When I was studying, I used to/would go to bed quite late.

I hope you all have a great week!

A bientôt !

Courtney

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Imperfect – Continuing Past Action

French uses the imperfect tense to refer to past actions that are seen as continuing at another point of time in the past. English uses a had been doing something construction for this function. The French construction consists of the following elements:

  • depuis quand + imperfect [OR]
  • depuis combien de temps + imperfect [OR]
  • ça faisait combien de temps que + imperfect (colloquial) [OR]
  • il y avait combien de temps que + imperfect (colloquial)

These patterns are used to ask a question about how long something had been going on.

  • Depuis quand est-ce que tu travaillais à Québec ? | How long had you been working in Quebec?
  • Depuis combien de temps est-ce que vous étiez à la bibliothèque quand vous avez vu votre professeur ? | How long had you been at the library when you saw your professor?
  • Ça faisait combien de temps qu’ils cherchaient un logement quand on leur a offert cet appartement ? | How long had they been looking for a place to live when they were offered that apartment?
  • Il y avait combien de temps qu’elle travaillait dans cette entreprise quand ils lui ont donné une augmentation ? | How long had she been working at that company when they gave her a raise?

  • imperfect + depuis + time expression [OR]
  • ça faisait + time expression + que + imperfect (colloquial) [OR]
  • il y avait + time expression + que + imperfect (colloquial) [OR]
  • imperfect + depuis + starting point of action

These patterns are used to tell how long something had been going on.

  • J’habitais ce quartier depuis un an. | I’d been living in that neighbourhood for a year.
  • Ça faisait un an qu’ils sortaient ensemble quand ils se sont fiancés. | They had been going out for a year when they got engaged.
  • Il y avait une heure que nous attendions l’autobus quand vous nous avez aperçus. | We had been waiting for the bus for an hour when you spotted us.
  • Je travaillais à Québec depuis septembre quand j’ai dû rentrer en Belgique. | I had been working in Quebec since September when I had to go back to Belgium.

End Point Specified for Past Action

Although the imperfect is usually used to express repeated actions in the past, when the end point of those actions is specified, the verb is in the passé composé because the speaker’s focus shifts to the completion of the actions. In the following example, no end point is specified:

  • Quand j’étais petit, j’allais au bord de la mer tous les étés. | When I was a child, I went to the seashore every summer.

Notice the change in tense when an endpoint is specifically mentioned:

  • Jusqu’à l’âge de douze ans, je suis allé au bord de la mer tous les étés. | Until the age of twelve, I went to the seashore every summer.

Have a great week, everyone!

Merci à vous !

Courtney

The Past Subjunctive

Continuing on from last week’s post on the Subjunctive, we’ll be going over the past subjunctive.

The past subjunctive in French is the subjunctive of the passé composé. It consists of the subjunctive of the auxiliary verb (avoir or être) plus the past participle. The same rules of agreement apply as in the passé composé.

parler, finir, vendre

  • que j’aie parlé, fini, vendu
  • que tu aies, fini, vendu
  • qu’il/elle/on ait parlé, fini, vendu
  • que nous ayons parlé, fini, vendu
  • que vous ayez parlé, fini, vendu
  • qu’ils/elles aient parlé, fini, vendu

aller

  • que je sois allé(e)
  • que tu sois allé(e)
  • qu’il soit allé
  • qu’elle soit allée
  • qu’on soit allé(s/es)
  • que nous soyons allé(e)s
  • que vous soyez allé(e)(s)
  • qu’ils soient allés
  • qu’elles soient allées

The past subjunctive is used in the same types of subordinate clauses as the present subjunctive. It is used to indicate that the action of the subordinate clause happened before the action of the main clause.

J’ai peur qu’il parte. | I’m afraid he’ll leave.

J’ai peur qu’il soit parti. | I’m afraid he left.


Il est triste que tu ne puisses pas aller. | It’s sad that you can’t go.

Il est triste que tu n’aies pas pu. | It’s sad that you couldn’t go.


Je ne crois pas qu’ils viennent. | I don’t think they’ll come.

Je ne crois pas qu’ils soient venus. | I don’t think they came.


Nous doutons que l’équipe perde. | We doubt that the team will lose.

Nous doutons que l’équipe ait perdu. | We doubt that the team has lost.


Elle est contente que tu comprennes. | She’s happy that you understand.

Elles est contente que tu aies compris. | She’s happy that you understood.


There will be a couple more posts on this subject coming up in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned for that. Also, I’m taking requests for posts! I hope everyone’s having a great week!

Merci à vous !

Courtney

Omitting the Possessive Adjective

In an imperative or command:

In French, possessive adjectives are used to modify the noun they precede.

Voici ma mère. | This is my mother.


Regarde ma nouvelle voiture ! | Look at my new car!

A common construction is one where the possessive adjective is dropped in an imperative or command (and replaced with a definite article along with a personal pronoun) only if an action is being taken on a physical attribute (head, back, arm etc.). In the following examples, action is not being taken on the physical attribute, therefore the possessive adjective remains.

Regarde mon dos. | Look at my back.


Remarque mes cheveux. | Notice my hair.

In the following examples, an action is being taken on the physical attribute.

Masse-moi le dos. | Massage my back.


Coupe-moi les cheveux. | Cut my hair.


Tiens-moi la main. | Hold my hand.

Verb

Possessive Adjective

Noun

masse

mon

dos

coupe

mes

cheveux

↙↘

Verb

Personal Pronoun

Definite Article

Noun

masse

moi

le

dos

coupe

moi

les

cheveux


In a statement:

The possessive adjective may also be dropped in a statement only if an action is being taken on the physical attribute. In the following examples, an action is not being taken.

Je regarde son dos. | I’m looking at his/her back.


Elle remarque ses cheveux. | She’s noticing his/her hair.

In the following examples, an action is being taken on the physical attribute.

Je lui masse le dos. | I’m massaging his/her back.


Elle me coupe les cheveux. | She’s cutting my hair.

The possessive adjective takes the form of the appropriate personal pronoun and is placed before the verb, and a definite article is placed before the object. The same applies to pronominal verbs (when the action is being done to oneself).

  • I wash my hands. = Je me lave les mains.
  • She brushes her hair. = Elle se brosse les cheveux.

Subject

Verb

Possessive Adjective

Object

je

masse

son

dos

elle

coupe

mes

cheveux

↙↘

Subject

Personal Pronoun

Verb

Definite Article

Object

je

lui

masse

le

dos

elle

me

coupe

les

cheveux


In the past tense (passé composé):

In the past tense as well, the personal pronoun is placed after the subject (just as it is in the present tense).

Subject

Personal Pronoun

Verb

Definite Article

Object

je

lui

masse

le

dos

elle

me

coupe

les

cheveux

↙↘

Subject

Personal Pronoun

Avoir

Past Participle

Definite Article

Object

je

lui

ai

massé

le

dos

elle

m’

a

coupé

les

cheveux


In the past tense using pronominal verbs:

The construction for using pronominal verbs is much like using passé composé with the exception that, as with all reflexive verbs, the past participle is conjugated with être.

Subject

Personal Pronoun

Être

Past Participle

Definite Article

Object

je

me

suis

lavé

les

mains

elle

s’

est

cassé

la

jambe


I hope everyone is doing well and having a wonderful week!

Merci à vous !

Courtney

The Passive Voice

What is the passive voice? It is the manner of constructing a sentence in such a way that the receiver of the action becomes the subject, instead of the one doing the action. The passive in French is usually formed with the auxiliary verb être + past participle. This construction occurs most frequently in the passé composé (use passé composé of être + past participle) and future (use future of être + past participle).

Ces lettres ont été écrites* par mon frère.

These letters were written by my brother.


Un grand édifice sera construit ici par le gouvernement.

A tall building will be constructed here by the government.

*The past participle of verbs conjugated with the auxiliary verb être agrees in gender and number with the subject of the sentence.


The English passive voice sometimes expresses an indefinite idea, such as “it is said”, meaning “people say”; “one says” meaning, “they say”. In such cases, French does not use the passive construction, but rather the pronoun on (one) and the active form of the verb.

On dit qu’il est riche.

One says that he is rich. / It is said that he is rich.


On parle anglais ici.

One speaks English here. / English is spoken here.

Occasionally the English passive is translated by a reflexive in French:

Cela ne se fais pas.

That does not do itself. / That is not  done.


As you guy can see, I’m trying something different with the posts. I’ve eliminated the bullet points and opted for something else. Let me know which you prefer. Also, would anyone be interested in me adding pages to the menu at the top of the blog? If so, what would you like to see there?

I hope everyone is having a good week!

A la prochaine…

Courtney

Lesson 15 – Reflexive Verbs

Leçon 15 – Reflexive Verbs

In French, reflexive verbs, or pronominal verbs (verbes pronominaux), always appear with the pronoun that refers to the person or thing as the subject. It’s not the same as in English, where these types of verbs usually imply that the subject is doing something to him/herself. (Example: I dress myself. The little boy hurt himself.)

Reflexive verbs are always listed in the infinitive with se or s’ in front of the infinitive:

  • se reveiller – to wake up
  • s’amuser – to have fun/a good time
  • se détendre – to relax
  • s’endormir – to fall asleep

 

Formation of Reflexive Verbs

se reveiller

je me réveille

tu te réveilles

il/elle/on se réveille

nous nous réveillons

vous vous réveillent

 

Reflexive and Non Reflexive Verb Pairs

French verbs are either transitive or intransitive. French transitive verbs must appear with a direct object, while French intransitive verbs cannot appear with a direct object. Most pronominal verbs have a transitive counterpart – a non reflexive verb that must have a direct object.

Examples of transitive verbs:

  • s’amuser quelqu’un – to amuse someone
  • approcher la chaise – to move the chair closer
  • ennuyer les enfants – to bore the children
  • habiller le bébé – to dress the baby
  • laver le parquet – to wash the floor
  • offenser quelqu’un – to offend someone
  • promener le chien – to walk the dog
  • réveiller les enfants – to wake up the children

 

Now here are examples of those same verbs but as reflexive verbs:

  • s’amuser – to have a good time
  • s’approcher – to approach/move closer
  • s’ennuyer – to get bored
  • s’habiller – to get dressedd
  • se laver – to wash up
  • s’offenser – to get insulted
  • se promener – to take a walk
  • se réveiller – to wake up

 

The best way to understand French reflexive verbs is to think of the reflexive pronoun (me, te, se, nous, vous, se) as taking place of the required direct object (je, tu, il/elle/on, nous, vous, ils/elles) with the transitive verbs when there is no direct object present.

Reflexive verbs are common in expressing of one’s daily routine:

  • se coucher – to go to bed
  • se débarbouiller – to wash one’s face
  • se déshabiller – to get undressed
  • se détendre – to relax
  • s’endormir – to fall asleep
  • se fatiguer – to get tired
  • s’habiller – to get dressed
  • se laver – to wash up
  • se lever – to get up
  • se maquiller – to put on makeup
  • se peigner – to comb one’s hair
  • se raser – to shave
  • se reposer – to rest
  • se réveiller – to wake up
  • se soigner – to take care of oneself

 

Other expressions related to our daily routine use the reflexive verb followed by a direct object. In these expressions, the reflexive pronouns are indirect objects. This is most common with parts of the body:

  • se brosser les cheveux – to brush one’s hair
  • se brosser les dent – to brush one’s teeth
  • se casser le bras – to break one’s arm
  • se couper le doigt – to cut one’s finger
  • se couper les cheveux – to cut one’s hair
  • se couper/limer les ongles – to cut/file one’s nails
  • se laver les mains – to wash one’s hands
  • se laver la tête – to wash one’s hair
  • se sécher les cheveux – to dry one’s hair

 

Many verbs of motion follow the same pattern.

  • s’allonger – to stretch out, to lie down
  • s’approcher de – to approach, move closer
  • s’arrêter – to stop
  • s’asseoir – to sit down
  • se dépêcher – to hurry up
  • se déplacer – to move, move about, travel
  • se diriger ver – to head toward
  • s’éloigner de – to move away from
  • s’installer – to move in, settle in
  • se mettre debout – to stand up
  • se mettre en route – to set out
  • se promener – to take a walk
  • se réunir – to get together
  • se trouver – to be located

 

Passé Composé of Reflexive Verbs

All reflexive verbs are conjugated with être in the passé composé. In the passé composé of a reflexive verb, the past participle agrees with the reflexive pronoun, not the subject, if that pronoun is a direct object.

s’amuser

je me suis amusé(e)

tu t’es amusé(e)

il s’est amusé

elle s’est amusée

on s’est amusé/amusés/amusées

nous nous sommes amusé(e)s

vous vous êtes amusé(e)(s)

ils se sont amusés

elles se sont amusées

 

Please leave any comments you may have, I love hearing from you! Do you have any fun learning tools for these subjects? Like music, or poems, or videos? Please share if you do!

 

Merci à vous !

Courtney

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.