French/Grammar/Tenses/Imperfect

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Imparfait in French

Usage of the Imperfect[edit]

The imperfect is used in French under several different circumstances. The imperfect is used:

  • To refer to previously ongoing and repeated events that are now completely finished.
  • To express an action that happened often in the past, such as a habit that one has grown out of. For example, "I used to eat a kiwi while watching the news." is in French, "Je mangeais un kiwi en regardant les informations."
  • In describing the past, including things such as: time, location, weather, age, physical appearance, physical and emotional conditions or states, attitudes and desires and other mental experiences.
  • Actions that occurred while something else was happening.
  • To compare and contrast events in the present with events in the past.
  • To talk about the emotions or abstract qualities of a person/thing in the past or to discuss an irritating quality or subject.
  • To suggest or ask certain "forceful" questions such as, "Si on faisait une promenade?"
  • When phrases like I used to do... and I would do... are used in English.

Formation of the Imperfect[edit]

Imperfect Stem[edit]

  • For all verbs except for être, the imperfect stem is determined by removing the -ons from the nous form of the present indicative of the verb.
  • Certain verbs (-cer and -ger verbs) are stem-changing in the nous form of the present indicative; these are stem-changing the imperfect also. The stem change that applies in the present indicative is retained when conjugating the je, tu, il, and ils forms of the imperfect. That stem change is reversed when conjugating the nous and vous forms of the imperfect.
  • For être, the imperfect stem is ét-.

Imperfect Ending[edit]

  • To conjugate in the imperfect, add the appropriate ending to the imperfect stem.


Subject

Ending

je

-ais

tu

-ais

il

-ait

nous

-ions

vous

-iez

ils

-aient

Examples[edit]

Aller

Subject

Ending

j'

allais

tu

allais

il

allait

nous

allions

vous

alliez

ils

allaient

Être

Subject

Ending

j'

étais

tu

étais

il

était

nous

étions

vous

étiez

ils

étaient

Exceptions[edit]

Manger

Subject

Ending

je

mangeais

tu

mangeais

il

mangeait

nous

mangions

vous

mangiez

ils

mangeaient

Commencer

Subject

Ending

je

commençais

tu

commençais

il

commençait

nous

commencions

vous

commenciez

ils

commençaient

Exercises[edit]

Translate the following sentences into English: -Je jouais au foot quand javais douze ans, mais maintenant je nage parfois. Quand javais douze ans jétais en forme. Une fois, le douze décembre, je me suis cassé la jambe, et je ne jouais plus au foot. Quelle tristesse! -Quand j'avais dix ans, je mangeais beaucoup de frites.