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The past perfect, also called the pluperfect, is a verb tense that distinguishes between two related things that happened in the past, indicating which one occurred before the other. The use of the past perfect is very similar in French and English.
The past perfect is used for the verb that happened first, the one that is further in the past. The action that occurred second is usually stated with another past tense, such as the passé composé or imperfect.
|Le soleil avait déjà commencé à se coucher quand je suis arrivé.||The sun had already started to set when I arrived.|
|Elle avait fini tout le travail quand je suis parti.||She had finished all the work when I left.|
|– Tu n’as pas répondu à la porte hier soir.
– Je m’étais endormi très tôt.
|– You didn’t answer the door last night.
– I’d fallen to sleep very early.
|J’avais fini tout le travail avant de partir.||I had finished all the work before leaving.|
|Il m’avait téléphoné avant la fête.
(avant que nous soyons allés à la fête)
|He’d called me before the party.
(before we went to the party)
It’s important to understand that the past perfect is used when there is a relationship between the two verbs: the one in the past perfect led to or had some bearing on the one that came second. If you’re just making a list of two things that occurred, either one after the other or at the same time, you don’t need the past perfect.
|J’ai fini tout le travail et puis je suis parti.||I finished all the work, then I left.|
|J’ai fait la lessive et Ana a tondu le gazon.||I did the laundry and Ana mowed the lawn.|
The past perfect is used without a subsequent action in hypothetical si clauses – when something could or would have happened if a condition, stated with the past perfect, had been met.
|Si j’avais fini le travail, je serais parti tôt.||If I had finished the work, I would have left early.|
|Tu aurais réussi à l’examen si tu avais étudié.||You would have passed the test if you had studied.|
After certain conjunctions, French requires the future perfect where the past perfect is used in English – learn more.
Think you’ve got it? Test yourself on the French pluperfect with theses fill-in-the-blanks exercises:
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