Monday, October 6, 2008

The Imperfect Past Tense- L'imparfait

The French imperfect (imparfait) is a descriptive past tense which indicates an ongoing state of being or a repeated or incomplete action. The beginning and end of the state of being or action are not indicated, and the imparfait is very often translated in English as "was" or "was ___-ing."

It is formed by adding the following endings to the root of the verb

  • 1st person singular : -ais
  • 2nd person singular : -ais
  • 3rd person singular : -ait
  • 1st person plural : -ions
  • 2nd person plural : -iez
  • 3rd person plural : -aient

Parler- To talk/speak
  • je parlais
  • tu parlais
  • il/elle parlait
  • nous parlions
  • vous parliez
  • ils/elles parlaient
However for some verbs the endings could be different.


finir (to finish)

  • je finissais
  • tu finissais
  • il/elle finissait
  • nous finissions
  • vous finissiez
  • ils/elles finissaient
boire (to drink)

  • je buvais
  • tu buvais
  • il/elle buvait
  • nous buvions
  • vous buviez
  • ils/elles buvaient
être (to be)

  • j'étais
  • tu étais
  • il/elle était
  • nous étions
  • vous étiez
  • ils/elles étaient
avoir (to have)

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

The imperfect can indicate any of the following:


Habitual actions or states of being

Quand j'étais petit, j'avais beaucoup des jeux

When I was young,I had a lot of toys.


Physical and emotional descriptions: time, weather, age, feelings

Il était midi et il faisait beau.

It was noon and the weather was nice.


Actions or states of an unspecified duration

Je faisais la queue parce que j'avais besoin de billets.

I stood in line because I needed tickets.


Background information in conjunction with the passé composé

J'étais au lycée quand j'ai pris une examen .

I was at at school, when I took the exam.


Wishes or suggestions

Ah ! Si j'étais riche !

Oh, if only I were rich!


Conditions in si clauses

Si j'avais de l'argent, j'irais avec toi.

If I had some money, I would go with you.


The expressions être en train de and venir de in the past.

J'étais en train de faire la vaisselle.

I was (in the process of) doing the dishes.


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