French Past Imperfect Tense

The French Past Imperfect Tense "l'imparfait" is used to describe past actions that are still going on, or actions that occurred regularly in the past.


For example:
He was eating when you called.
They were sleeping in the loft.
We used to go to the cinema every Friday night.
She would watch him play.


This Tense should not be used for completed actions.
Form this tense by using the present "nous" form of the verb, dropping the "-ons" and adding the following endings:


French Past Imperfect Tense verb endings

English person French person Imperfect ending
I Je ~ ais
You (informal) Tu ~ais
He/she Il, elle ~ait
We Nous ~ions
You (informal) Vous ~iez
They Ils/elles ~aient

Below are examples for each of the three types of regular verbs:

French Past Imperfect Tense ~ ER verbs
e.g. demander - to ask
Je demandais - I was asking
Tu demandais - you were asking
Il/elle demandait- he/she was asking
Nous demandions - we were asking
Vous demandiez - you were asking
Ils/elles demandaient - they were asking
Example
Je demandais à la femme si.. . - I was asking the woman if ...

French Past Imperfect Tense ~ IR verbs
e.g. finir - to finish
Je finissais - I was finishing
Tu finissais - you were finishing
Il/elle finissait - he/she was finishing
Nous finissions - we were finishing
Vous finissiez - you were finishing
Ils/elles finissaient - they were finishing
Example
Je finissais mon livre. - I was finishing my book.

French Past Imperfect Tense ~ RE verbs
e.g. rendre - to return
Je rendais - I was returning
Tu rendais - he were returning
Il/elle rendait - he/she was returning
Nous rendions - we were returning
Vous rendiez - you were returning
Ils/elles rendaient - they were returning
Example
Il rendait la monnaie. - He was returning the money.

Attention:
Take care using the French Past Imperfect tense. The following expressions can all be translated by the Imperfect tense:

J'allais: - I went; I was going; I used to go; I would go
I went to swimming pool every Wednesday = J'allais à la piscine tous les Mercredis
I was going to eat sooner = J'allais manger plus tôt.
I used to go at the library = J'allais à la bibliothèque.
I would go to see my grandmother = J'allais voir ma grand-mère.

The verb être:
This is the only verb, which is irregular in the French Past Imperfect tense. The stem changes to ét- and adds the Imperfect endings as above.
Therefore:

J'étais - I was
Tu étais - you were
Il/elles était - he/she was
Nous étions - we was
Vous étiez - you were
Ils/elles étaient - they were

Spelling Changes
Verbs that end in -cer and -ger make changes to keep the g and c sounds soft:

-ger verbs:
Before an ending beginning with -a or -o add an e after the g
e.g. manger

e.g. manger - to eat
Je mangeais - I was eating
Tu mangeais - you were eating
Il/elle mangeait- he/she was eating
Nous mangions - we were eating
Vous mangiez - you were eating
Ils/elles mangeaient - they were eating
Example
Je mangeais de la soupe. - I was eating soup.

-cer verbs

Before an ending beginning with -a or -o change the c to a ç
e.g. lancer:

Je lançais - I ate
Tu lançais - you ate
Il/elle lançait - he/she ate
Nous lancions - we ate
Vous lanciez - you ate
Ils/elles lançaient - they ate

Verbs with roots that end with an i will have double ii in the nous and vous forms

e.g. étudier
J'étudiais - I studied
Tu étudiais- you studied
Il/elle étudiait - he/she studied
Nous étudiions - we studied
Vous étudiiez - you studied
Ils/elles étudiaient - they studied


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