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As you may know, in French there are two main tenses we use in the past : « Passé composé » and « Imparfait ».

« Passé composé » has been previously explained in another Grammar for Dummies , now time to focus on « Imparfait ».

  1. When is it used ?
  2. How to conjugate it ?


  1. When is it used ?

The French use it to express three different things :


  • A description : if you’re describing a person, a landscape, emotions…

Ex: Il faisait beau, les oiseaux chantaient. Les enfants jouaient dans le parc. Tout le monde avait l’air heureux.


  • A habit in the past : if you’re explaining what you were doing regularly during a certain period of time (that is in the past and over). For example, talking about your childhood:

Ex: Quand j’étais petit(e) j’allais tous les week ends chez ma grand-mère. On faisait des gateaux ensemble et ensuite on les mangeaient à côté de la cheminée.


  • An on-going action interrupted by another one: You were doing something when something else happened.

Ex: Je regardais la télé quand le telephone a sonné.


  1. How to conjugate it ?

There is a “technic” to find the stem of the verb : take the stem of the verb when you conjugate “nous” in the present tense and then add the ending of Imparfait.

The endings are the following :

Je parlais

Tu parlais

Il / elle /on parlait

Nous parlions

Vous parliez

Ils /elles parlaient


Ex: verb PRENDRE

“nous prenons” à I’m keeping “pren” to which I add the Imparfait endings

so je prenais/ tu prenais / il prenait ….


Ex: verb BOIRE

“nous buvons” à I’m keeping “buv” to which I add the Imparfait endings

so: je buvais, tu buvais, il buvait…


There is ONLY 1 exception: ÊTRE

It is an exception because if we were to follow the rule of using “nous”, we would have “nous sommes”, when the stem of Être in imparfait is “ét”



Tu étais

Il /elle / on était

Nous étions

Vous étiez

Ils /elles étaient




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