l'Imparfait


This is typically the second tense taught when dealing with the past. There are two main past tenses, the Passé Composé and the Imparfait. The Passé Composé is used to indicate actions that are finished and typically more "active." In English it is comparable to verbs ending in "ed" or irregular verbs like "ran" or "did." The imparfait, by comparison, is typically used to indicate actions that are repetitive, on-going or descriptive. The English equivalents are frequently verbs that end in "ing" and are preceded by the word "was" as in, "He was running." The verb "to be" is also a very common verb in the imparfait because it isn't a very "active" verb.

l'Imparfait vs. le Passé Composé

Imparfait
vs.
Passé Composé
  • Used to describe or set the scene

  • Used to express finished actions
  • Denotes repetitive actions

  • Denotes "one-time" actions
  • Indicates a state of being

  • Indicates "active" verbs

How it's made...
The endings for the imparfait are constant (they don't change from ER to IR to RE verbs).

Subject Pronoun

Ending
Je
-
ais
Tu
-
ais
Il/Elle
-
ait
Nous
-
ions
Vous
-
iez
Ils/Elles
-
aient

In order to form the imparfait, conjugate a verb first in the present tense with "nous", remove the "ons" and apply the imparfait endings. I have provided a list of examples below.

Infinitive

Nous (present tense)

Root
avoir

avons

av
faire

faisons

fais
aller

allons

all
parler

parlons

parl
finir

finissons

finiss
prendre

prenons

pren
manger

mangeons

mange
pouvoir

pouvons

pouv
dire

disons

dis
The verb
être is of course, the exception to the rule. It's root cannot be derived by conjugating with "nous" in the present tense. You just have to learn the root. It is
"ét".

Now to put it all together...

  • J'étais malade hier. I was sick yesterday. (This is a perfect example of a sentense that expresses a state of being.)
  • Tu avais dix autres étudiants dans la classe. You had 10 other students in your class.
  • Il faisait ses devoirs chaque soir. He did his homework every evening. (This displays a repetitive action)
  • Nous finissions la l
eçon quand elle est venue. We were finishing the lesson when she came. (The first part of this sentence sets the scene, the second shows the main action).
  • Vous alliez toujours au cinéma. You always go to the cinema.
  • Elles pouvaient faire du ski quand elles étaient jeunes. The could ski when they were young.