The imperfect tense – L’imparfait

The imperfect tense (L’imparfait) is a tense used to talk about the past. This tense is primarily used to talk about something that used to happen or to describe a past situation.

Section 1

How do you form the imperfect tense in French?

  1. Take the stem of a verb in the nous form in the present tense
  2. Let’s use the verb to watch. That’s regarder
  3. Regarder in the nous form in the present tense is: nous regardons (it means we watch or we are watching)
  4. You take the stem – regard
  5. And you add the correct endings depending on what you want to say.

Let’s try to work out how we would say: He was watching TV or He used to watch

  1. You take the stem: regard
  2. Since you want to say he, you have to use il
  3. The ending for il is ait
  4. TV in French is la télévision
  5. Therefore, “he was watching TV” is il regardait la télévision
Section 2

What are the endings of the imperfect tense in French?

Audio Personal pronouns Endings
Je ais
Tu ais
Il ait
Elle ait
On ait
Nous ions
Vous iez
Ils aient
Elles aient
Section 3

Let’s try to work out how we would say I was finishing all my homework or I used to finish all my homework

  1. Finir is to finish in French
  2. Take the stem of the verb in the nous form in the present tense
  3. Finir in the nous form in the present tense is nous finissons (it means we finish or we are finishing)
  4. You take the stem – finiss
  5. Since you want to say I, you have to use Je
  6. The ending for Je is ais
  7. All my homework in French is tous mes devoirs
  8. Therefore, I was finsihing all my homework is Je finissais tous mes devoirs.
Section 4

Some useful rules and one exception to know

If the stem of the verb ends with G or C, you must change them to GE and Ç respectively in front of an A.

For instance, the stem of manger is mang so if you want to say I was eating, you’ll need to take the stem mang and add an e before adding the right ending ais: je mangeais

Let’s take a verb with a stem ending in c like commencer. Its stem is commenc. If you want to say we used to start, you’ll need the stem commenc and change it to commenç and add the correct ending ions: nous commençions

Exceptions

Être is the only exception

Être is the only verb that won’t use the nous form in the present tense, it is therefore the only irregular verb. It will use the following stem in the imperfect tense: ÉT

 

ÊTRE in the imperfect tense English translation
J’étais
I was
Tu étais
You were
Il était
He was
Elle était
She was
On était
One was
Nous étions
We were
Vous étiez
You were
Ils étaient
They were
Elles étaient
They were
Section 5

Useful verbs ending in -ER in the imperfect tense

  Verbs in the infinitive form   Verbs in the imperfect tense   endings (was/were + -ing OR used to)
Jouer (to play)
Je jouais (I was playing OR I used to play)
ais
Visiter (to visit)
Tu visitais (you were visiting OR you used to visit)
ais
Penser (to think)
Il pensait (he was thinking OR he used to think)
ait
Arriver (to arrive)
Elle arrivait (she was arriving OR she used to arrive)
ait
Demander (to ask)
On demandait (one was asking OR one used to ask)
ait
Chanter (to sing)
Nous chantions (we were singing OR we used to sing)
ions
Manger (to eat)
Vous mangiez (you were eating OR you used to eat)
iez
Parler (to speak)
Ils parlaient (they were speaking OR they used to speak)
aient
Écouter (to listen)
Elles écoutaient (they were listening OR they used to listen)
aient
Section 6

Useful verbs ending in -IR in the imperfect tense

  Verbs in the infinitive form   Verbs in the imperfect tense   endings (was/were + -ing OR used to)
Finir (to finish)
Je finissais (I was finishing OR I used to finish)
ais
Partir (to leave)
Tu partais (you were leaving OR you used to leave)
ais
Dormir (to sleep)
Il dormait (he was sleeping OR he used to sleep)
ait
Choisir (to choose)
Elle choisissait (she was choosing OR she used to choose)
ait
Ouvrir (to open)
On ouvrait (one was opening OR one used to open)
ait
Sortir (to go out)
Nous sortions (we were going out OR we used to go out)
ions
Offrir (to offer)
Vous offriez (you were offering OR you used to offer)
iez
Grossir (to put on weight)
Ils grossissaient (they were putting on weight OR they used to put on weight)
aient
Réussir (to succeed)
Elles réussissaient (they were succeeding OR they used to succeed)
aient

 

Section 7

Useful verbs ending in -RE in the imperfect tense

  Verbs in the infinitive form   Verbs in the imperfect tense   endings (was/were + -ing OR used to)
Prendre (to take)
Je prenais (I was taking OR I used to take)
ais
Vendre (to sell)
Tu vendais (you were selling OR you used to sell)
ais
Attendre (to wait)
Il attendait (he was waiting OR he used to wait)
ait
Dire (to say)
Elle disait (she was saying OR she used to say)
ait
Comprendre (to understand)
On comprenait (one was understanding OR one used to understand)
ait
Apprendre (to learn)
Nous apprenions (we were learning OR we used to learn)
ions
Boire (to drink)
Vous buviez (you were drinking OR you used to drink)
iez
Écrire (to write)
Ils écrivaient (they were writing OR they used to write)
aient
Lire (to read)
Elles lisaient (they were reading OR they used to read)
aient

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