MYTUTOR SUBJECT ANSWERS

298 views

How do you use the past tense in French?

In French there are three different ways of expressing things which have taken place in the past. It's different to how we do it in English so it can be tricky and confusing to start with. Here I'm just explaining how to use the three forms of the past tense, not how to form them; that's another question entirely!

The first method is what is called the perfect tense or the 'passé composé' in French. This is used to express single actions or events in the past which are now complete. For example:

I went to France - Je suis allé(e) en France

You did this once and now you've finished making the journey to France.

I finished my homework - J'ai fini mes devoirs

You had some homework which you did and now it's finished so it's complete, and you're talking about a single occassion on which you did your homework.

The second method, the impefect tense, or the 'imparfait' in French is used to express repeated actions in the past (this includes the use of 'used to' in English, i.e. 'I used to go to school'; you can't translate this directly into French and must use the imperfect) or to describe things. For example:

We went to France every year - Nous allions en France tous les ans

You went to France every year so you went more than once; therefore it's a repeated action so requires the impefect.

I saw him everyday - Je le voyais tous les jours

You saw him every day so more than once; it therefore requires the imperfect.

When she was young - Quand elle était jeune

My mother was happy - Ma mère était heureuse

These are descriptions so require the imperfect.

You don't really need to worry about the third method that much. The past historic, the 'passé simple' in French, is used in most literary and a few very formal texts. It's not used in modern spoken French so you only need to be able to recognise it in writing; understanding it is very helpful though if you're studying literature as part of your A Level course. Just to show you what some of it looks like, here are a few examples:

The king who lived twice. - Le roi qui vécut deux fois.

They returned home yesterday. - Ils rentrèrent à la maison hier.

It takes time to get it right so keep practising and reading in French!

Jess A. GCSE French tutor, A Level French tutor, GCSE German tutor, A...

7 months ago

Answered by Jess, an A Level French tutor with MyTutor


Still stuck? Get one-to-one help from a personally interviewed subject specialist

81 SUBJECT SPECIALISTS

£20 /hr

Colombe D.

Degree: Business and Management (Bachelors) - Durham University

Subjects offered: French, Spanish

French
Spanish

“Hi! I am currently a 2nd year Durham University undergraduate in Business and Management. I am French and did a French baccalauréat. I will go on my year abroad next year and will come back for my fourth year in main Durham! I've been...”

MyTutor guarantee

£20 /hr

Elizabeth B.

Degree: Modern Languages and Cultures (French and Spanish) (Bachelors) - Durham University

Subjects offered: French, Spanish

French
Spanish

“About Me: I am in my second year of a Modern Languages and Cultures (Spanish and French) degree at Durham University. I believe that learning a language is an invaluable skill that really broadens your horizons and opens an infinite n...”

MyTutor guarantee

£22 /hr

Sabrina H.

Degree: MML: French and Russian (Bachelors) - Cambridge University

Subjects offered: French, Russian+ 6 more

French
Russian
Philosophy and Ethics
Italian
German
English Literature
.MLAT (Modern Languages)

“Hi there! About me and my interests: I am a Cambridge University student, currently in the middle of a French and Russian degree. I have always loved languages and the rich cultural beehives they represent. Within my degree my true ...”

MyTutor guarantee

About the author

Jess A.

Currently unavailable: for new students

Degree: Modern Languages (French and German) (Bachelors) - Oxford Alumni University

Subjects offered: French, Maths+ 5 more

French
Maths
German
Extended Project Qualification
English Literature
.MLAT (Modern Languages)

“About me: I studied French and German at Oxford University (2012 - 2016) and am now a Master's Student at Durham University, working on French literature and culture. Alongside my studies I practice yoga and enjoy travelling, baking, ...”

You may also like...

Posts by Jess

How do you use the past tense in French?

What is the best way to learn vocabulary?

Other A Level French questions

How do I ask a question in French?

What is the French subjunctive?

How do I form the conditional past (conditionnel passé)?

When is the subjunctive used in French?

View A Level French tutors

Cookies:

We use cookies to improve our service. By continuing to use this website, we'll assume that you're OK with this. Dismiss

mtw:mercury1:status:ok