Every single proper sentence (that is, includes a verb) that you say in French is spoken in one of several tense, and that makes learning each tense of utmost importance. Back in February, I covered the Passé Composé (past tense) and the future tense in this edition. In French recently, we learned a third one.
I consider the Imparfait (or imperfect) tense to be a variation of the past tense, so it’s important to differentiate the two. The Passé Composé speaks to a precise event, like going to the grocery store last Tuesday. The Imparfait can be best explained using childhood events. These were events that took place in the past, but repeated themselves over time (think of them like habits). For example, when I was younger, I loved playing with Legos. While each individual time I played legos can be defined using the passé composé, the act of playing Legos over a general amount of time can be used with the imparfait.
Like with the Passé Composé, Present Tense, and Future Tense, verb conjugation changes based on the tense alongside the pronoun. Each pronoun has its own designated suffix that is added on. Here they are:
For nous and vous, make sure you’re aware of the I, along with the a in ils/elles. For the first three and the last one, they are all pronounced (ay) while nous is pronounced (e-on) and vous (e-ay).
These endings are typically placed after consonants, which can help you in determining where to place them. In order to implement the passé composé, you remove the last two letters (ie er, ir, and re) and place the ending after than.
Vendre -> Je vend -> Je vendais
Finir -> Je fini -> Je finissais
Parler -> Je parle -> Je parlais
There’s a couple important things to note here. First, unlike the passé composé, there is no helping verb needed. You just use the pronoun in its original form. Second, with many ir verbs, when you remove the ir, you place an “iss” before the suffix.
This makes it sound much more natural, like Je choisissais (keep in mind- with this one, there was already an s there before removing the ir). And, at least for me, if I’m unsure, whatever feels most natural when speaking is probably the best way to approach the imparfait in a conversation (once you get to know the basics of the imparfait). For example, J’avais (the imparfait of avoir) wouldn’t sound right if it were j’avoais.
Speaking of avoir, there are three irregular (but commonly used) verbs that I want to go over:
Avoir (to have)
With avoir, the o is removed along with the ir, and the suffix is then added after.
For example: Ils avaient.
Étre (to be)
With être, the re is removed and the suffix is then added after, ie je étais, or j’étais. (The ‘ before a vowel rule still applies here).
Faire (to do)
With faire, you remove the re, add an s, and then add the suffix. Ie: Nous faisions.
As we’ve found with conjugating verbs in the past, sometimes the spelling slightly changes, like when manger becomes mangeons with the nous form. This also occurs with the letter ç. In this case, this spelling also applies, and the e or ç is kept after the base (without the er/ir/re ending) and the suffix follows that.
For example: Vous mangiez.
Knowing the imparfait will make variety and fluency in conversations much easier, especially since once you know the basic bases, with a few exceptions, you can comprehend the entire tense.
In class, we also learned a variety of vocabulary words that go along with the use of the imparfait, so, if you want to further advance your studying of this topic, feel free to check it out on my Quizlet page (available from the Beyond the Blog page above) or from the link below.
Thanks for reading!