French Imperfect Tense – L’imparfait



👉 Watch my video lesson on this French grammar topic at the bottom of this post 👈


French Imperfect Tense

The imparfait is one of the ways you can speak in the past.  You may have already learned the passé composé.  

🎯 What’s the difference between the imparfait and the passé composé?

  • The imparfait does not require a helping verb.
  • The imparfait does not have a past participle. 
  • The imparfait is used to give descriptions about the past.
  • The passé composé is used to talk about things that happened.
  • Use the passé composé to talk about things that had a definite beginning and a definite ending. 
  • Use the passé composé to talk about a sequence of events.

🎯 Sample sequence of events in the passé composé.

I got up this morning.Je me suis levé(e) ce matin.
I brushed my teeth.Je me suis brossé(e) les dents.
I got dressed.Je me suis habillé(e).
I went  to work.Je suis allé(e) au travail. 

🎯 Add description to the sequence of events using the imparfait. The imparfait is what makes the sequence of events interesting! 

anglaispassé composéwhat happenedimparfaitdescription
When I woke up this morning,Quand je me suis levé(e) ce matin,
I really didn’t want to get out of bed because I was tired.Je ne voulais vraiment pas sortir du lit  parce que j’étais fatigué(e).
I got up anyway,Je me suis levé(e) quand même,
and I went into the kitchen.et je suis allé(e) dans la cuisine.
When I got in there, it was dark and I was afraid,Quand j’y suis arrivé(e),il faisait noir et j’avais peur,
but I made the coffee anyway.mais j’ai fait le café de toute façon.

🎯 When exactly should you use the imparfait?

Use the imparfait to say someone was doing something. 

WAS + VERB-ing

WERE + VERB-ing

I was walking.Je marchais.
He was reading.Il lisait.
She was eating.Elle mangeait.

🎯 Also use the imparfait to express what you used to do.  These are not things that only happened once or twice. 

When I was little,Quand j’étais petit(e),
in the summer I used to always go to my grandmother’s house,pendant l’été j’allais toujours chez ma grand-mère,
and we would always climb to the top of a tree and spy on people.et nous grimpions toujours en haut d’un arbre pour espionner des gens.

🎯 Remember, the passé composé is used to give a sequence of events that had specific beginnings and endings.

Once, when I was ten years old,
imparfaitUne fois, quand j’avais 10 ans
I caught a cricket and I ate it!
passé composéJ’ai attrapé un cricket et je l’ai mangé!

🎯 Forming the imparfait

👉 There is only ONE irregular verb stem in the imparfait:  ÊTRE

👉 Besides the verb ÊTRE, what are the last three letters of all verbs in the present tense NOUS form?  -ONS 

  • To form the stem to which  you will add the imperfect endings, you need to know the present tense NOUS form of the verb in question.
  • Find the NOUS form of the verb, take off the -ONS, and there you have your stem.  
finirnous finissonsfiniss-

🎯 Imperfect endings chart

(JE) verb + AIS(NOUS) verb + IONS
(TU) verb + AIS(VOUS) verb + IEZ
(IL – ELLE – ON) verb + AIT(ILS – ELLES) verb + AIENT
I was finishing my homework.
I used to finish my homework. 
Je finissais mes devoirs.
You were finishing your homework.
You used to finish your homework.
Tu finissais tes devoirs.

He was finishing his homework.

She used to finish her homework.

We were finishing our homework.
Il finissait ses devoirs.

Elle finissait ses devoirs.

On finissait nos devoirs.
We were finishing our homework.
We used to finish our homework.
Nous finissions nos devoirs.
You were finishing your homework.
You used to finish your homework.
Vous finissiez vos devoirs.
They were finishing their homework.
They used to finish their homework.
Ils finissaient leurs devoirs.

🎯 Pronouncing the imparfait endings

The JE – TU – IL – ILS endings sound exactly the same.

AISIONS
AISIEZ
AITAIENT

🎯 ÊTRE is the only irregular verb stem in the imparfait.

👉 Pourquoi? What is the present tense NOUS form of être?

We areNous sommes

👉 ÊTRE is the only verb that doesn’t end in -ONS in the present tense.

🎯 ÊTRE conjugation in the imperfect

I wasJ’étais
You wereTu étais
He wasIl était
She wasElle était
We wereOn était
We wereNous étions
You wereVous étiez
They wereIls étaient
They wereElles étaient

🎯 Verbs ending in -CER:  COMMENCER

👉 The present tense NOUS form has a spelling change that remains in the imperfect. 

Present: nous commençions

STEM:  COMMENÇ-

je commençais
tu commençais
il commençait
The NOUS form doesn’t have a Çnous commencions
The VOUS form doesn’t have a Çvous commenciez
ils commençaient

🎯 Verbs ending in -GER:  MANGER

👉 The present tense NOUS form has a spelling change that remains in the imperfect.

Present: nous mangeons

STEM:  MANGE-

je mangeais
tu mangeais
il mangeait
The NOUS form doesn’t have an Enous mangions
The VOUS form doesn’t have an Evous mangiez
ils mangeaient

🎯 Verbs ending in -IER:  ÉTUDIER

👉 These verbs just look FUNNY  in the imperfect.

Present: nous étudions

STEM:  ÉTUDI-

j’étudiais
tu étudiais
il étudiait
The NOUS form has two iinous étudiions
The VOUS form has two iivous étudiiez
ils étudiaient

🎯 Expressions that imply repetition or habitual actions in the past

autrefoisin the past
chaque jourevery day
chaque semaineevery week
chaque annéeevery year
de temps en tempsfrom time to time
d’habitudeusually
en généralgenerally
fréquemmentfrequently
généralementgenerally
habituellementhabitually
parfoissometimes
quelquefoissometimes
souventoften
toujoursalways
tous les joursevery day
tous les moisevery month
tout le tempsall the time

🎯 Examples

lire = to read

Find the stem:
NOUS LISONS

Take off the -ONS

STEM: LIS-

ADD THE ENDINGS
I was reading the newspaper.
Je lisais le journal.

We were reading a good book.
Nous lisions un bon livre.

They were reading a magazine.
Ils lisaient un magazine.

🎯 Using the imparfait and the passé composé together

We were reading the magazine.On lisait le magazine.
when the phone rang.quand le téléphone a sonné.

Level A2 – French Imperfect Tense

The imparfait is one of the ways you can speak in the past. In this lesson, you will learn the difference between the imperfect and passé composé tenses, how to add description to a sequence of events, exactly when and how to use the imperfect, and how to form it.

This comprehensive French lesson includes the following to help you practice and master your new skill:


STEP 1 👉Download your 12 page cours and use it to follow along while listening to the lesson. There are spaces for you to fill in missing information that you will learn as I explain everything. Taking your own notes directly on paper is a proven way of helping to retain new information.

STEP 2 👉 Download your 11 page lesson guide and add it to your French resources folder. This copy includes all of the essential rules and examples from the lesson.

STEP 3 👉 Watch my 40 minute comprehensive video lesson on forming the imperfect and all of the ways you can use it.

STEP 4 👉 Download Jennifer’s Lesson Notes and review everything that was taught in the lesson. This copy includes supplementary information that is not included in the lesson guide (all of the extras that come up during the lesson).

STEP 5 👉 Listening comprehension audio drill: être, aller, avoir, faire. Follow the instructions on the first page of the accompanying PDF which includes a copy of the drill in written form. Practice and master all imperfect forms of these four verbs.

STEP 6 👉 Listening comprehension audio drill: vouloir, pouvoir, devoir, savoir. Follow the instructions on the first page of the accompanying PDF which includes a copy of the drill in written form. Practice and master all imperfect forms of these four verbs.

STEP 7 👉 Listening comprehension – La Journée de Vanessa. Listen to a story that is told completely in the imperfect tense. Pay close attention to how the verbs are used. A French only copy of the text in written form is provided as well as a French – English copy.

STEP 8 👉 Written exercise – 25 sentences are written in the present tense, passé composé or futur proche. Rewrite them in the imperfect tense. An answer key is provided.

STEP 9 👉50 practice cards. This set of cards will really help you master your new skill. Each card includes a common word or expression from the lesson that is typically used in the imperfect. All cards are numbered, and an answer key is provided.



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