They say practice makes perfect, so how can one of the most common French past tenses be imperfect? In grammatical terms, "perfect" means "complete," so the French imperfect tense is used to describe an incomplete or ongoing action or state of being.
imparfait is usually equivalent to "was" or "was ___-ing" in English ( past progressive) and is used for all of the following:
Il pleuvait mais j’avais un parapluie.
It was raining but I had an umbrella.
Quand j’avais 6 ans, j’étais souvent malade et je craignais les chiens.
When I was 6 years old, I was often sick and I was afraid of dogs.
2) Habitual actions or states of being
L’année dernière, nous allions au ciné chaque vendredi.
Last year, we went (we would go) to the movies every Friday.
Je m’ennuyais souvent.
I was often bored.
3) Actions or states of being with unspecified endings
J’allais au parc parce que je voulais me promener.
I was going to the park because I wanted to take a walk.
4) Background information
J’étais au bureau quand j’ai appris la nouvelle.
I was at the office when I heard the news.
5) Most verbs followed by the
J’allais te téléphoner.
I was going to call you.
Être en train de
J’étais en train de rénover le garage.
I was (in the process of) renovating the garage.
Je venais de rentrer quand tu as appelé.
I had just gotten home when you called.
(polite request) Vouloir
Je voulais vous poser une question.
I wanted / I would like to ask you a question.
French imperfect after
The imperfect is often used with
si, in which case it’s not a past tense. Instead, it expresses something that is unknown or unreal in the present or future.
Elle m’a demandé si j’étais marié. She asked if I was married.*
Si on allait au ciné demain ? How about going to the movies tomorrow?
Si seulement je gagnais au loto ! If only I won the lottery!
Tu parles comme si tu pouvais prédire l’avenir. You speak as though you can see the future.
Si tu avais un emploi, tu pourrais acheter une voiture. If you had a job, you could buy a car.
* I know this sounds like it’s in the past, but at the time, it wasn’t. She wanted to know if I was married in the present tense of her asking.
The French imperfect is often used alongside the
, which can be very confusing for French students –
French Imperfect Quiz
Think you’ve got it? Test yourself on the French imperfect with this fill-in-the-blank exercise:
Mes dimanches avec Papi
Note: You must be logged into your Progress with Lawless French account to take this test. If you don’t have one, sign up – it’s free!
French imperfect lesson plan
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En español El imperfecto