Imparfait (past tense in French)

When it comes to the rich and intricate world of the French language, one cannot help but be captivated by its various grammar tenses. Among these is the imparfait, a tense that holds a unique place in the hearts of French speakers. The imparfait is not merely a grammatical structure; it is a window into the past, allowing us to relive moments and paint vivid pictures of bygone eras. In this article, we will explore the imparfait tense, its formation, usage, and its significance in the French language.

 

Formation of the imparfait

The imparfait tense is relatively straightforward to form in French. It is constructed by taking the first-person plural (nous) form of a verb in the present tense and replacing the -ons ending with the imparfait endings. Here are the endings for regular -er, -ir, and -re verbs:

-er verbs

  • Je parlais (I was speaking)
  • Tu parlais (You were speaking)
  • Il/elle/on parlait (He/she/one was speaking)
  • Nous parlions (We were speaking)
  • Vous parliez (You were speaking)
  • Ils/elles parlaient (They were speaking)

 

-ir verbs

  • Je finissais (I was finishing)
  • Tu finissais (You were finishing)
  • Il/elle/on finissait (He/she/one was finishing)
  • Nous finissions (We were finishing)
  • Vous finissiez (You were finishing)
  • Ils/elles finissaient (They were finishing)

 

-re verbs

  • Je vendais (I was selling)
  • Tu vendais (You were selling)
  • Il/elle/on vendait (He/she/one was selling)
  • Nous vendions (We were selling)
  • Vous vendiez (You were selling)
  • Ils/elles vendaient (They were selling)

 

Usage of the imparfait

The imparfait tense is primarily used to describe ongoing or habitual actions in the past. It sets the stage for the main event, providing background information and creating a sense of atmosphere. The imparfait can be likened to a snapshot of a moment frozen in time, enabling us to understand the context and emotions surrounding a particular event.

 

Describing Background

The imparfait is often employed to provide descriptions of people, places, and situations in the past. For example:

  • Il faisait beau (It was beautiful)
  • La maison était grande (The house was big)

 

Expressing habits or repeated actions

The imparfait is ideal for expressing habitual or repeated actions in the past. It denotes actions that used to occur regularly but are no longer happening. For instance:

  • Tous les jours, il se promenait dans le parc. (Every day, he used to walk in the park.)
  • Nous jouions au football tous les samedis. (We used to play football every Saturday.)

 

Narrating Past Events

The imparfait is extensively used in storytelling to set the scene and describe ongoing actions in the past. It allows the reader or listener to immerse themselves in the narrative. Consider the following example:

  • Il était une fois, dans une petite ville, un garçon nommé Pierre. Il habitait une maison près de la rivière. Chaque matin, il se réveillait tôt et allait pêcher avec son père. (Once upon a time, in a small town, there was a boy named Pierre. He lived in a house near the river. Every morning, he would wake up early and go fishing with his father.)

 

10 examples

Here are ten phrases where the French grammar tense “imparfait” is used:

    >Quand j’étais jeune, j’allais souvent à la plage. (When I was young, I used to go to the beach often.)
  1. Nous jouions au football tous les week-ends. (We used to play football every weekend.)
  2. Pendant les vacances, tu lisais beaucoup de livres. (During the holidays, you used to read a lot of books.)
  3. Ils regardaient la télévision chaque soir avant de dormir. (They used to watch television every night before going to sleep.)
  4. À cette époque, elle habitait à Paris. (At that time, she used to live in Paris.)
  5. Nous étions en train de discuter quand il est arrivé. (We were talking when he arrived.)
  6. Lorsque j’étais enfant, je rêvais de devenir astronaute. (When I was a child, I used to dream of becoming an astronaut.)
  7. Tous les étés, vous passiez vos vacances à la montagne. (Every summer, you used to spend your holidays in the mountains.)
  8. Quand il pleuvait, nous restions à la maison et jouions aux jeux de société. (When it rained, we would stay at home and play board games.)
  9. Les chiens aboyaient pendant la nuit. (The dogs used to bark during the night.)

 

5 exercises with imparfait

Exercise 1: Rewrite the following sentences in the imparfait tense:

  1. Il étudie le français tous les jours. (He studies French every day.)
  2. Nous partons en vacances chaque été. (We go on vacation every summer.)
  3. Tu joues au tennis le weekend. (You play tennis on weekends.)
  4. Ils regardent la télévision le soir. (They watch television in the evening.)
  5. Elle travaille dans un bureau. (She works in an office.)

 

Exercise 2: Conjugate the following verbs in the imparfait tense:

  1. Aller (to go) – Je _______ à l’école à pied. (I used to go to school on foot.)
  2. Faire (to do/make) – Nous _______ du vélo tous les jours. (We used to ride bikes every day.)
  3. Avoir (to have) – Vous _______ beaucoup d’amis. (You used to have many friends.)
  4. Être (to be) – Ils _______ très gentils avec moi. (They used to be very kind to me.)
  5. Pouvoir (to be able to) – Elle _______ venir à la fête hier soir. (She could come to the party last night.)

 

Exercise 3: Fill in the blanks with the correct form of the imparfait tense:

  1. Quand j’étais enfant, je _______ (aimer) jouer au football.
  2. Nous _______ (habiter) dans une petite maison près de la plage.
  3. Ils _______ (parler) souvent de leurs voyages à l’étranger.
  4. Tu _______ (regarder) la télévision pendant des heures.
  5. Les fleurs _______ (embaumer) la pièce d’un doux parfum.

 

Exercise 4: Create sentences using the imparfait tense based on the given prompts:

  1. (Je) Voyager – Je _______ en Europe chaque été.
  2. (Nous) Étudier – Nous _______ beaucoup pour les examens.
  3. (Tu) Chanter – Tu _______ toujours quand tu étais heureux.
  4. (Elles) Danser – Elles _______ dans la salle de bal hier soir.
  5. (Vous) Manger – Vous _______ souvent au restaurant.

 

Exercise 5: Rewrite the following sentences in the imparfait tense:

  1. Il lit un livre. (He is reading a book.)
  2. Nous visitons Paris. (We are visiting Paris.)
  3. Tu parles français couramment. (You speak French fluently.)
  4. Ils mangent une glace. (They are eating an ice cream.)
  5. Elle écoute de la musique. (She is listening to music.)