The Imperfect Tense

Updated: Sep 7, 2020


The imperfect tense is one of the tenses used to talk about the past.



When to use the imperfect tense:


-To describe what things were like.

Example: Il faisait beau. It was nice weather.


-To describe how people felt.

Example: Elle était contente. She was happy


-To talk about what used to happen or what you used to do.

Example: Je faisais de la natation tous les jours. I used to go swimming everyday.


-To say what was happening when something else took place.

Example: Je regardais la télé. I was watching TV.

Note that the second part of this sentence would be in the perfect tense.



How to structure the imperfect tense:


To structure the imperfect tense, you need to use the same stem of the verb as for the present tense and add the imperfect tense endings.


Step 1: take the "nous" form of the verb in the present tense.

we do = (nous) faisons.


Step 2: take off the -ons to get the stem.

fais-


Step 3: add the correct ending

il faisait = he did/ he used to do/ he was doing



Exception:


ÊTRE is the only irregular verb in the imperfect tense. The stem for être is: ét-

Example: Quand j'étais jeune - When I was young


Below is the full conjugation of être in the imperfect tense:



Spelling changes with -ER verbs:


Just like in the present tense, there are some spelling irregularities in the imperfect tense, in particular with verbs ending in -cer (e.g. commencer) and in -ger (e.g. manger).


For verbs in -cer: For pronunciation purposes, the letter c become ç before an a or an o.

Example:

Je commençais toujours la journée avec une promenade dans le parc.

I always used to start the day with a walk in the park.


For verbs in -ger: For pronunciation purposes, the letter g become ge before an a or an o.

Example:

Tu mangeais beaucoup de pizzas.

You used to eat a lot of pizzas.