Imparfait vs Passé composé

Verbes qui inclinent à l’imparfait

Knowing whether to use the passé composé or imparfait is particularly difficult when translating certain verbs into French. Before reading this lesson, be sure you understand the basics of passé composé vs imparfait.

Very broadly speaking, the French imperfect is equivalent to the English past progressive (was/were + ___ing), but some English verbs are not often used in this form. So when translating things like was, had, and liked into French, you really have to think about the meaning in order to decide which French tense to use.

French verbs that usually describe background information such as situations, states of being, or mental states are most commonly used in the imperfect:

Par exemple…

Je me sentais malade.   I felt sick (ongoing).
J’étais malade.   I was sick.
J’avais la grippe.   I had the flu.
Il faisait froid.   It was cold out (background description).

But they are used in the passé composé when talking about something that happened suddenly, or something that occurred with a clear beginning and/or end.

Par exemple…

Je me suis senti malade.   I (suddenly) felt sick.
J’ai été malade.   I got sick.
J’ai eu la grippe.   I got the flu.
Il a fait froid hier.   It was cold out yesterday.

 When periphrastic tenses are used in the past, the verb is always imperfect:

aller + infinitive (near future)   J’allais voyager en France.   I was going to travel in France.
être en train de   J’étais en train d’acheter le billet.   I was buying the ticket.
venir de + infinitive (recent past)   Je venais de terminer.   I had just finished.

  Remember that in literature and other formal writing, the passé simple takes the place of the passé composé.

More imparfait vs passé composé

French video Video: Passé composé vs imparfait

 Passé composé vs imparfait quizzes

Think you’ve got it? Test yourself on the difference between passé composé and imparfait with these fill-in-the-blank exercises:

Note: You must be logged into your Progress with Lawless French account to take these tests. If you don’t have one, sign up – it’s free!

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Passé composé vs imparfait
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