Past tenses in French
Types of past tenses in French
One of the most remarkable differences between the English and French grammar are the verb tenses. So before you start studying them you have to know that some tenses might be different in English and the other way round.
|In English||In French|
|Past anterior||Pass antérieur|
|Litterary past tense||Passé simple|
Passé composé vs Imparfait
In general we have to make a big difference between the passé composé (present perfect) and the imperfect tense in French. Therefore pay close attention to the following rules:
- The imperfect tense is used to describe continuing actions, habitual actions or past actions of longer duration.
- The completed past is used to express an action which definitely began and was completed in the past.
|L'imparfait (Imperfect)||Le passé composé (Completed past)|
Il jouait au football tous les samedis.
(He played football every saturday.)
Il a joué au football hier.
(He played football yesterday.)
Elle parlait souvent au professeur.
(She often spoke to the teacher.)
Elle a parlé une fois au professeur.
(She spoke to the teacher once.)
Plus-que-parfait vs Passé antérieur
When it comes to the plus-que parfait (past perfect) and the passé antérieur we also have to make several distinctions.
- The plus-que-parfait is used to express actions that took place before a certain point in the past.
- The passé antérieur is used after conjunctions of time (lorsque, quand) and aims to describe actions that have already been completed after another action took place.
|Le plus-que-parfait||Le passé antérieur|
Hier j'ai vu Sandra qui avait été quinze jours sur la Côte d'Azur.
(Yesterday I saw Sandra who had spent fifteen days at the French Riviera.)
Je fus arrivé à la plage.
(I had arrived at the beach.)
Il était allé à l’école de management.
(He had gone to management school.)
Anne et Christiane se furent téléphoné.
(Anne and Christiane had spoken on the telephone.)
For further information concerning the past tenses in French check out our subchapters!
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