L'imparfait - A French Past Tense - Imperfect
(The incomplete French past tense)

Imparfait is a past tense that shows an ongoing state of being or a repeated or incomplete action. The beginning and the end of the state of being or the action are not indicated. Imperfect is very often translated in English as "was" or "was _ing".



Imparfait can indicate any of the following:



1. Habitual actions or states of being


For example: Quand j'étais petit, nous allions à la plage chaque semaine.
...................(When I was young, we used to go to beach every week.)

Or this example: L'année dernière, je travaillais avec mon père.
........................(I was working with my father last year.)



2. Physical and emotional descriptions: time, weather, age, feelings

For example: Il était midi et il faisait beau.
.................. (It was noon and the weather was nice.)

Or this example: Quand il avait 5 ans, il avait toujours faim.
..................(When he was 5, he was always hungry.)



3. Actions or states of an unspecified duration

For example: Je faisais la queue parce que j'avais besoin de billets.
................(I stood in line because I needed tickets.)

Or this example: Il espérait te voir avant ton départ.
...................... (He was hoping to see you before you left.)



4. Background information in conjunction with the passé composé

For example: J'étais au marché et j'ai acheté des pommes.
................. (I was at the market and I bought some apples.)

Or this example: Il était à la banque quand il l'a trouvé.
................... (He was at the bank when he found it.)



5. Wishes or suggestions

For example: Ah! Si j'étais riche!
.................. (Oh, if only I were rich!)

Or this example: Nous sortions ce soir?
..................... How about going out tonight?



6. Conditions in 'si clauses'

For example: Si j'avais de l'argent, j'irais avec toi.
................ (If I had money, I would go with you.)

Or this example: S'il voulait venir, il trouverait le moyen.
...................... (If he wanted to come, he would find a way.)



7. The expressions être en train de and venir de in the past

For example: J'étais en train de faire la vaisselle.
................ (I was (in the middle of) doing the dishes.

Or this example: Il venait d'arriver.
................... (He had just arrived.)







Conjugating in Imparfait
French imperfect conjugations are very easy because the imperfect of almost every verb, both regular an irregular, is formed the same way. You drop the -ons ending from the present nous form of the verb and add the imperfect endings.



Etre is the only irregular verb in the imperfect, because the present tense 'nous sommes' has no -ons to drop. So, it has the irregular stem of ét-, but then it uses the same endings as all other verbs.

j'étais
tu étais
il/elle était
nous étions
vous étiez
ils/elles étaient



As in many other tenses, the slightly irregular verbs, such as those that end with -cer and -ger, have minor spelling changes in the imperfect.



Verbs that end in -ier look strange in imperfect because they have a double i in the nous and vous forms. This isn't irregular, it just looks weird.



Here are the imperfect endings and conjugations for the regular verbs parler (to speak) and finir (to finish), the -ier verb étudier (to study), the spelling change verb manger (to eat), and the irregular verb être (to be):


pronom...
ending...
parler.........
finir................
étudier...........
manger...............
être.............


>parl-
>finiss-
>étudi-
>mange-
>ét-
je (j')
-ais
parlais
finissais
étudiais
mangeais
étais
tu
-ais
parlais
finissais
étudiais
mangeais
étais
il/elle
-ait
parlait
finissait
étudiait
mangeait
était
nous
-ions
parlions
finissions
étudiions
mangions
étions
vous
-iez
parliez
finissiez
étudiiez
mangiez
étiez
ils/elles
-aient
parlaient
finissaient
étudiaient
mangeaient
étaient

This little game will give you some practice forming the imperfect tense.

Here, you can practice l'imparfait by putting the verbs at the end of the sentences into their places in imperfect.

This site lets you work with some common verbs like être, avoir, aller, dire, écrire, conduire, faire, prendre, comprendre, apprendre, sortir & partir in imperfect.

This site has several different activities to let you practice l'imparfait.