Guide to French Past Tenses : Plus-que-parfait, Imparfait, Passé Composé

how to form plus que parfait and imparfait

When you want to talk about something that happened in the past, you have to make sure you’re using the correct tense: plus-que-parfait with the passé composé or l’imparfait. These are french compound tenses and they can be tricky to master, so today we’ll explore the tenses bit by bit and give examples and grammar tips so you can master this topic.

When to use French imparfait

Let’s just remember how to use the imparfait tense:

It’s used to describe states and actions that were ongoing or repeated in the past. If you wanted to translate the tense, it would be the simple past tense. It is mostly used to tell stories and report on past actions.

A tip we can give you to conjugate the imperfect is to add ais, –ais, –ait, –ions, –iez, and –aient at the root of the present tense of the verb you want to use.

We use it to tell something that happened in the past:

Chaque jour, je rendais visite à ma grand-mère.

I visited my grandma every day.

When we tell something from our childhood:

Quand j’étais petit, je parlais peu et j’aimais écouter les histoires que me racontait mon grand-père.

When I was young, I talked less and I loved listening to the stories my grandfather told me.

When we’re being polite:

Nous souhaitions savoir si …

We wish to know if…

When to Use the passé composé in French

Some might argue that this is the most important and used tense in French. You’d use it when you’re talking about actions that were completed in the past and put an emphasis on the consequences and results in the present.

Let’s remember that this tense is used with an auxiliary and a past participle.

Il est parti en Italie où il a acheté une maison.

He went to Italy where he bought a house.

When you use this tense, you’ll have to choose between the auxiliary verb: être or avoir.

You need to use être with reflexive verbs (se lever, se laver, s’habiller…) and with the fourteen verbs that are used to express a movement or a change of state (entrer/sortir, monter/descendre, passer/rester…)

So, when it comes to avoiryou’ll need to use it with all the other verbs.

Il a bien dormi cette nuit.

He slept well last night.

When to use plus- que- parfait

This tense is used with auxiliary être or avoir in the imparfait tense or in the past participle of the verb, you could translate it to the past perfect tense in English. It has to be used with this auxiliary the same way you’d use it when you’re using the passé composé tense.

You’d use this tense when you’re talking about something that happened before an action in the past, like in an anecdote to give the listener background information on the situation that happened before the main story.

Elle a acheté la veste qu’elle avait vue dans la vitrine.

She bought the jacket she had seen in the window.

If you’re telling a story, you’d tell it in chronological order. So, you’d have to use the passé composé and l’imparfait.

J’ai acheté de bons produits au marché où il y avait beacoup de monde. Ensuite, j’ai préparé le repas avec soin.

I bought good products at the market where there were a lot of people. Then I carefully made the meal.

So, you might have realized that the tense plus-que-parfait has the same characteristics as the passé composé, for example, it has the same formation that the past participle, you use the same auxiliaries (être or avoir), and has the same rules of the agreement.

Learn more about the Passé Composé vs Imparfait : The Biggest Challenge for French Learners

Feel free to use these tenses

Now that you know how to use all of these tenses, how to build sentences with them, and the similarities they have between them, this is your chance to put your knowledge to the test, to go out and practice, but if you want to put your knowledge to the test right now, do it.

Related Posts

AP Spanish Language Practice

Looking to improve your Spanish skills to take your AP exam? Getting the highest score is just a click away! Find the best AP Spanish

English vs Spanish Language

Are you an English speaker and looking to learn Spanish? As siblings descended from Romance languages, they naturally share similarities. Check them out in our

French and Spanish Language Comparison

Do you wanna know how the two most passionate languages are similar? Let’s talk about the differences and similarities between these romance languages! Welcome to

When did Kobe Learn Spanish

Loving father, ideal husband, amazing man, successful Lakers player, businessman, and he also speaks Spanish! Do you know who he is? How could he do

ALTA Spanish Language Test Questions

Are you taking your ALTA language exam? Don’t let it catch you off guard. Check out the ALTA Spanish Language Test Questions for your high

I Hate the Spanish Language

Do you think Spanish is a beautiful and linguistically rich language? What about the negative opinions that hinder your choice to learn it as a

Get a Certificate in French Language

If you ask yourself why should you take the certification course in French, we’ll help you decide in which cases is useful and in which

What does “Doux” mean in French?

Discover the meaning of “doux” in French and its various uses. Learn how to use this common word in everyday conversation and improve your French

Need in French: Avoir Besoin

It’s in the human need to have needs, right? Learning how to express your needs in French is by all means an important step in

German riddles

Looking for some fun ways to practice your German language skills? Check out our collection of German riddles and tongue twisters! Test your wit and

Cheers in French: 8 happy ways to say it

Celebrate in French style! This blog showcases 8 happy ways to say “cheers” in French, perfect for impressing your French-speaking friends. Santé! How to say

Different Ways to Use Fois in French

Fois is a very common French word, used in different contexts. English speakers oftentimes confuse it with the word “temps”. In this lesson, you’ll learn

Funniest French jokes

In this article, we will share some of the funniest French jokes  that will have you laughing out loud. Let’s get started! Funniest French jokes

Funniest Spanish jokes

¡Hola! You’re in for a treat if you love to laugh and speak Spanish. We’ve compiled a list of the funniest Spanish jokes that will

Jokes about French

In this article, we’ll explore the humorous side of French culture through a collection of jokes about French. Let’s get started! Jokes about French Welcome

News in French: free resources

In this article, we will explore a variety of websites, podcasts, TV channels, and other resources that you can use to stay informed about news

Short German jokes

Laugh your way through language learning with our collection of short German jokes. Discover the funniest puns, one-liners, and more in our guide! German humor

The basic Spanish hand gestures

In this blog post, we will explore the most important Spanish hand gestures, and their meanings, providing a guide to effectively communicate with Spanish speakers

Beautiful French words with meaning

Discover the beauty of the French language by learning its meanings. Learn the beautiful French words and its meaning. Beautiful French words A lot of

How do you say “good” in French?

Learn how to say “good” in French with our easy guide. Perfect for beginners and travelers looking to improve their language skills. “Good” in French

How to say “Cat” in French

How to say cat in French? What’s the word for a kitten in French? Learn more about the basic terminologies of our favorite fur pet

Learn French with PDF resources

Do you know that you can learn French with PDF resources? In this article, we will explore the advantages of using PDF resources to learn

Funny French jokes

Welcome to our article on Funny French jokes! Are you ready to simultaneously laugh and learn a little bit about French culture? French humor can

Funny German jokes

Welcome to our article on Funny German jokes! Get ready to chuckle at some of the funniest German jokes. German jokes Germany has a rich

Quotes in France by famous people

In this article, we will explore some of the most memorable and inspiring quotes in France from French people that have been passed down through

Quotes in Spain by famous people

In today’s post, you’ll learn some famous quotes in Spain by famous people. Quotes in Spain Spain has a rich cultural history and has produced

Best German proverbs

This article will explore some of the most popular German proverbs and delve into their meanings and origins. Check this out! German proverbs German proverbs

French Riddles

Learning some French riddles and playing with a French-speaking friend are great ways to practice if you know a little French. French riddles A good

How to translate Good Evening in French

Welcome to our article on translating “Good Evening” into French! Suppose you’re planning a trip to a French-speaking country or want to impress your friends

Some facts about the French mafia

Let’s discover some facts about the French mafia. facts about the French mafia The French Mafia is one of the world’s most dangerous criminal organizations.

Some facts about the Spanish mafia

Let’s discover some facts about the Spanish mafia. Facts about the Spanish mafia The Spanish mafia is one of the most active and widespread criminal

Some facts about the German mafia

Let’s discover some facts about the German mafia.  Facts about the German mafia The German Mafia (; Maffia; from Italian mafiusi, “clan”) is a criminal