Past Perfect


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.

Par exemple…

J’avais fini tout le travail quand je suis parti.   I had finished all the work when I left.
– Tu n’as pas répondu à la porte hier soir.
– Je m’étais couché très tôt.
  – You didn’t answer the door last night.
– I’d gone to sleep very early.

The second action may be stated with avant de + infinitive or avant que + subjunctive, or the verb can even be implied with avant + noun, as long as that noun refers to something in the past.

Par exemple…

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.

Par exemple…

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.

Par exemple…

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.

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French past perfect

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