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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)
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
Il / Elle / On ___ ait
Nous ____ ions
Ils / Elles ____aient
Parler (to talk) à nous parlons
‘Parl’ is the stem for forming the imperfect tense.
Il / Elle / On parlait
Ils / Elles parlaient
'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.see more
Lots of verbs which are irregular when in the past participle can still be grouped together to make them easier to learn!
Here are a few of the most common irregular past participles. Remember! A past participle is used when forming the perfct tense, the pluperfect tense, or the future perfect tense. It must always have an auxiliary verb before it.
Acquérir > acquis (to acquire)
Apprendre > appris (to learn)
Comprendre > compris (to understand)
Mettre > mis (to put)
Prendre > pris (to take)
Falloir > fallu (to need to)
Voir > vu (to see)
Vouloir > voulu (to want to)
Avoir > eu (to have)
Boire > bu (to drink)
Connaître > connu (to know)
Croire > cru (to believe)
Devoir > dû (to have to do something)
Lire > lu (to read)
Pouvoir > pu (to be able to do something)
Savoir > su (to know)
Tenir > tenu (to hold)
Venir > venu (to come)
Vivre > vécu (to live)
Recevoir > reçu (to receive) (watch out for ç! The cedilla here softens the sound to an ‘s’ rather than a ‘k’. In ‘recevoir’ it is the ‘e’ that follows the ‘c’ that softens the sound.)
Couvrir > couvert (to cover)
Dire > dit (to say)
Faire > fait (to do)
Joindre > joint (to join)
Mourir > mort (to die)
Offrir > offert (to offer)
Ouvrir > ouvert (to open)
Souffrir > souffert (to suffer)
Etre > été (to be)
Naître > né (to be born)see more