How do you conjugate verbs in the pluperfect tense in French?

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To conjugate a verb in the pluperfect tense in French, you need three parts: the subject pronoun (ie. Je, tu il, nous, vous, ils); the imperfect of avoir or être; and the past participle of the verb. It’s important to have a good understanding of the perfect tense before attempting the pluperfect tense.

Let’s break it down.

For all the verbs that use avoir in the normal past perfect tense (that’s most verbs), avoir is also used in the pluperfect.

To form avoir in the imperfect, simply add the imperfect endings to av:

J’                                  av                                            ais                                            avais   

Tu                                av                                            ais                                            avais   

Il/elle/on                     av                                            ait                                            avait

Nous                            av                    +                      ions                  =                      avions

Vous                            av                                            iez                                            aviez   

Ils/elles                        av                                            aient                                        avaient

All the other verbs use être, just like in the perfect tense. This includes all reflexive verbs (eg se lever/s’habiller) and the ‘MRS VAN DE TRAMP’ verbs:



Sortir                                       Remember verbs formed from these verbs also use être, for

Venir                                       example ‘devenir’ from ‘venir’ or ‘rentrer’ from ‘entrer’










To form être in the imperfect, add the imperfect endings to ét:

J’                    ét                                 ais                               étais

Tu                  ét                                 ais                               étais

Il/elle/on         ét                                 ait                                était

Nous              ét               +                ions              =             étions

Vous              ét                                 iez                               étiez

Ils/elles                        ét                                             aient                                        étaient

Once you have the correct form of the imperfect, you just add the past participle of the verb – the same one that is used for the perfect tense.

Examples: aider – aidé

                  faire – fait

                  boire – bu

So, let’s put it together. Imagine you want to say I had eaten. ‘Manger’ means ‘to eat’ so you are working with that verb and because it’s ‘I’ you use the subject pronoun ‘je’. In the perfect tense, ‘manger’ uses ‘avoir’ so that’s the verb you use here, put into the imperfect tense, conjugated in the first person ‘I’ form. Putting it together we have:

Subject pronoun                   Avoir in imperfect                             Past participle of                                                                                                                   manger

J’                                              avais                                                    mangé                        

Another example: She had gone. ‘Aller’ means ‘to go’ and you are using ‘elle’ for ‘she’. Aller is a MRS VAN DE TRAMP verb so you use être instead of avoir.

Subject pronoun                   Etre in imperfect                               Past participle of aller

Elle                                          était                                                     allée

Careful here – remember how in the perfect tense you need to add an ‘e’ to the past participle for females and an ‘s’ if there’s more than one person? The same goes for the pluperfect tense – that’s why there’s an extra ‘e’ on the past participle of aller.

One more example – a tricky one! They (male) had gone to bed. The verb ‘se coucher’ is used to say ‘to go to bed’ – it’s a reflexive! So this time, just like in the perfect tense, we need to include the reflexive part of the verb (me, te, se, nous, vous, se), and it goes in front of the ‘être’ that’s been put in the imperfect tense. So, you are using ‘ils’ for they and être, as with all reflexives.

Subject pronoun       Reflexive bit   Etre in imperfect       Past participle of coucher

Ils                                 s’                      étaient                         couchés

And don’t forget that extra ‘s’ on couché to show more than one person.

So, just remember those three parts – subject pronoun, imperfect of avoir or être, past participle – and, as long as you conjugate them correctly, you can’t go wrong!

Bethany H. A Level History tutor, GCSE Maths tutor, GCSE History tuto...

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