How do I use the perfect and imperfect tenses?

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There are two different kind of past tense in French: the Perfect Tense and the Imperfect Tense. Both tenses have different uses.

1.Perfect Tense (Passé Composé):

Using the Perfect Tense

The perfect tense is used when you are talking about a one-off, completed action in the past. For example:

Last week, I ate a sandwich = La semaine dernière, j’ai mangé un sandwich.

Yesterday, I spoke to my sister = Hier, j’ai parlé avec ma sœur.

Forming the Perfect Tense

The Perfect Tense is made of two parts: the auxiliary verb AVOIR + the past participle of the main verb.

Most verbs take AVOIR when in the perfect tense (see lesson on ETRE and the Perfect Tense for verbs that take être)

Each pronoun conjugates AVOIR in a different way:

J’ai + past participle of main verb

Tu as + past participle of main verb

Il / Elle / On a + past participle of main verb

Nous avons + past participle of main verb

Vous avez + past participle of main verb

Ils / Elles ont + past participle of main verb

What is the past participle?

To get the past participle for regular verbs that are used with avoir:

For –er verbs, take off the –er and add -é.   Manger > mangé (ate)

For –ir verbs, take off the –ir and add –i.    Finir > fini (finished)

For –re verbs, take off the –re and add –u.    Vendre > vendu (sold)

Common Irregulars:

lire > lu (read)

boire > bu (drank)

voir > vu (saw)

2.Imperfect Tense (Imparfait)

When is the imperfect tense used?

The imperfect tense is used for descriptions or to describe events that used to happen regularly.

Forming the imperfect tense.

When forming the imperfect tense, you need to take the ‘nous’ form of the present tense verb, and then drop the –ons. For example, nous avons à av-

This gives you the stem for your imperfect tense. Then you add the ending that goes with the right pronoun:

Je _____ ais

Tu _____ais

Il / Elle / On ___ ait

Nous ____ ions

Vous ____iez

Ils / Elles ____aient

Examples :

Parler (to talk) à nous parlons

‘Parl’ is the stem for forming the imperfect tense.

Je parlais

Tu parlais

Il / Elle / On parlait

Nous parlions

Vous parliez

Ils / Elles parlaient

Only Irregular:

'Etre' is the only verb that is irregular in the imperfect tense. The stem for ETRE in the imperfect is 'ét'. The same endings still apply. 

Laura V. A Level English Language tutor, GCSE English Language tutor,...

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