MYTUTOR SUBJECT ANSWERS

241 views

What are the differences between the past tenses and how do I use them?

In French, there are 2 main past tenses - the passé composé, and the imparfait. The passé composé is used when an action has been completed, for example, when in English we would say 'I ate' or 'I have eaten.'

The imparfait is used when an action is incomplete, when in English we would say 'I was eating' or 'I used to eat'. 

Passé Composé

This is formed with the auxiliary verb (either avoir or etre) and the past participle. You just have to learn what the past participles are, but usually the infinitive minus the ending, plus an different ending to make it the past participle. For instance:

'Manger' (to eat) minus ending ER = 'mang,' which doesnt mean anything. We need to add an ending to make it a past participle, so we here add an 'é,' making 'mangé' - and voilà, the past participle. Bear in mind there are different rules for verbs with different endings. 

To make use this in the context of the passé composé, use 'avoir' as an auxiliary verb. Let's take the 'je' form to make it simple. So, the je form of avoir would be 'j'ai' meaning, 'I have'. Then add in the past participle: 'j'ai mangé' - literally, 'I have eaten.' But in French there is no distinction between 'I ate' and 'I have eaten,' so you use this tense for both situations. For different people, use different forms of the verb, so 'she ate' would be 'elle a mangé' and they (male) would be 'ils ont mangé.' 

Sometimes, 'etre' will be the auxiliary verb, and this is used for the following verbs 

Monter - past participle: monté (went up)

Retourner - past participle: retourné (returned)

Sortir - past participle: sorti (went out)

Venir - past participle: venu (came)

Arriver - past participle: arrivé (arrived)

Naître - past participle: né (was born)

Descendre - past participle: descendu (went down)

Entrer - past participle: entré (entered)

Rester - past participle: resté (stayed)

Tomber - past participle: tombé (fell)

Rentrer - past participle: rentré (went back in)

Aller - past participle: allé (went)

Mourir - past participle: mort (died)

Partir - past participle: parti (left)

Imparfait

This is formed differently with ER, IR, and RE verbs. We will take an example of each to show you how they are formed (bear in mind there are some exceptions to these rules, however!)

ER VERBS 

Lets take 'manger' as an example again. For this all imperfect verb foms, you take the nous form of the present tense, in this case making 'mangeons,' and take off the -ons, leaving 'mang'. Then, add different endings depending on the person. The endings for different people are as follows:

je    =    ais  -->  used with manger: 'je mangais'                                                                                                                                                                           tu    =    ais  -->  used with manger: 'tu mangais'                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       il     =    ait  -->   used with manger: 'il mangait'                                                                                                                                                                       nous    =    ions  -->  used with manger: 'nous mangions'                                                                                                                                                                        vous    =    iez  -->  used with manger: 'vous mangiez'                                                                                                                                                                   ils/elles     =    aient  -->  used with manger: 'ils mangaient' 

IR VERBS

Let's take 'finir' as an example. The way you construct the verb is the same as 'manger,' but the 'nous' form is different because it is an 'IR' verb: nous finissons. Take off the -ons, like we did before, which leaves 'finiss.' Then, add the same endings:

je    =    ais  -->  used with manger: 'je finissais'                                                                                                                                                                           tu    =    ais  -->  used with manger: 'tu finissais'                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       il     =    ait  -->   used with manger: 'il finissait'                                                                                                                                                                       nous    =    ions  -->  used with manger: 'nous finissions'                                                                                                                                                                        vous    =    iez  -->  used with manger: 'vous finissiez'                                                                                                                                                                   ils/elles     =    aient  -->  used with manger: 'ils finissaient' 

RE VERBS

This is again the same process - the nous form of the verb, plus the endings. We'll take the verb 'comprendre' as an example. The 'nous' form is 'comprenons,' so without the 'ons,' the stem will just be 'compren'. Then, we can add the endings.

je    =    ais  -->  used with comprendre: 'je comprenais'                                                                                                                                                                           tu    =    ais  -->  used with comprendre: 'tu comprenais'                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       il     =    ait  -->   used with comprendre: 'il comprenait'                                                                                                                                                                       nous    =    ions  -->  used with comprendre: 'nous comprenions'                                                                                                                                                                        vous    =    iez  -->  used with comprendre: 'vous compreniez'                                                                                                                                                                   ils/elles     =    aient  -->  used with comprendre: 'ils comprenaient'

So, there we have it, a comprehensive description of the differences between the two main past tenses and how to use them.

Kitty O. GCSE History tutor, A Level English tutor, GCSE English tuto...

5 months ago

Answered by Kitty, a GCSE French tutor with MyTutor


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

154 SUBJECT SPECIALISTS

£18 /hr

Balraj D.

Degree: PPE (Philsophy, Politics & Economics) (Bachelors) - Warwick University

Subjects offered:French, Philosophy+ 4 more

French
Philosophy
Maths
Economics
Chemistry
.TSA. Oxford.

“Hi! I'm Bal! Currently studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics in my first year at university and really enjoying myself. I got a score of 41 in my IB Diploma, 11 points above the world average. I also gained 10A*s in my GCSEs. In ...”

£18 /hr

George E.

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

Subjects offered:French, Maths

French
Maths

“About me:I am a Languages student at Durham University. Although French is my main foreign language, I hope to create a buzz about more general language learning in my tutorials. Although I am studying an arts subject here in Durham, ...”

MyTutor guarantee

£18 /hr

Hester G.

Degree: Medicine (Bachelors) - Edinburgh University

Subjects offered:French, Biology

French
Biology

“I'm passionate about teaching subjects I love. I stand out as being a fun, thorough, logical, and flexible tutor.”

MyTutor guarantee

About the author

Kitty O.

Currently unavailable: until 01/03/2017

Degree: French (Bachelors) - Oxford, Lincoln College University

Subjects offered:French, History+ 2 more

French
History
English
.MLAT (Modern Languages)

“Hi! I am a recent Oxford University graduate - I studied French literature (with modules in history and English literature). I have over 3 years teaching and tutoring experience, and I strive to make my lessons fun, engaging, and more...”

MyTutor guarantee

You may also like...

Posts by Kitty

How do I compare different authors to each if their works are about different things?

What are the differences between the past tenses and how do I use them?

Other GCSE French questions

What's the difference between imperfect and passé composé?

how do you form and use the near future tense?

How to use properly conjunctions in a French essay?

How can I improve my fluency in French?

View GCSE French tutors

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

mtw:mercury1:status:ok